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Systematic Review Process: best practices

Writing Your Protocol

Your protocol is a conceptual description of every stage in your research process. It must explain your research in a way that makes it reproducible by future research teams.

A good way to familiarize yourself with research protocols is to take a look at those registered on PROSPERO. PROSPERO's registration form includes 22 mandatory fields and 18 optional fields which will help you to explain every aspect of your research plan.

Once you have written a draft of your protocol, have it peer reviewed by someone outside of your research team. If it is registered in PROSPERO, it will also be open for peer review by other researchers.

You can also register your protocol with the following organisations, all of which provide instruction on preparing your protocol for submission:

Planning Your Research

It is important to plan your research before beginning your systematic search. Your research plan, or review protocol, gives direction to your project.  Once it is registered, it also serves as a notification of your plans to other researchers, so that no one will attempt the same project.

Planning is also a good way to avoid bias in your research. If you begin searching without defining a research question, you may be more easily influenced by the evidence presented in existing studies. Your research question will make your search process more focused and ultimately more successful.

What is a protocol?

An evidence synthesis protocol states your rationale, hypothesis, and planned methodology.  Much like a blueprint for a house, a protocol outlines the planned framework for the evidence synthesis. Members of the team use the protocol as a guide to conduct the research. It is recommended that you register your protocol prior to conducting your review. This will improve transparency and reproducibility, reduce bias, and will also ensure that other research teams do not duplicate your efforts. A protocol template and checklist are included on this page, as well as a checklist for structured literature reviews that serves as a similar document to an evidence synthesis protocol.

Where to Register Protocols

Though not comprehensive, below is a list of registries to consider. You can send your requests for support, using the Library Trackti.