Systematic & scoping reviews

Why do I need a protocol?

“A systematic review protocol describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. It should be prepared before a review is started and used as a guide to carry out the review.” PRISMA statement on protocols.

There are benefits to having a protocol before the beginning of a review:

  • acts as a road map to the team when conducting the review
  • promotes transparency of intention and methods
  • as a way of ‘staking ones claim’ to a topic
  • helps ensure that the review is conducted systematically and in a manner than reduces author bias.

Note: The protocol can be refined through the review process.

What is covered in a protocol?

The protocol should include:

  • the rationale for the review in light of what is already known on the topic
  • the review question/s and objectives (with reference to participants, intervention, comparators and outcomes)
  • eligibility criteria (includes PICO, study design, setting, time frame, years considered, language)
  • description of all intended information sources such as databases, trial registers and grey literature with planned dates of coverage
  • draft of search strategy in at least one electronic database including planned limits
  • the process for managing and selecting studies
  • the process of data extraction
  • methods for assessing risk of bias of individual studies
  • explanation of how data will be synthesised and reported.

The PRISMA-P Checklist for Protocols is a useful tool that can be used in the development of a systematic review protocol. The Checklist contains recommended items to be addressed in a protocol.

Registering your protocol

Registering your protocol is useful because it can:

  • reduce the risk of duplicate reviews
  • potentially increase visibility of your research to potential researchers or editors globally.

Protocol registries

Popular systematic review registries include:

The largest and most-used protocol registry for systematic reviews is PROSPERO. PROSPERO includes details of any ongoing systematic review that has a health related outcome. You can register your own planned systematic review and search other protocols on this site. Creating an account on the site is required to register your protocol, but not to search other protocols.
See Help with Registration on PROSPERO

JBI SUMARI (System for the Unified Management of the Assessment and Review of Information) is a software package designed to assist in the conduct of JBI systematic reviews.
Access to SUMARI is available through the Library’s subscription to the Joanna Briggs Institute EBP database (Ovid).

  • Go to EBP Tools at the top of the screen and select SUMARI.
  • At the login screen click on login through EBP Network/Ovid.

See the SUMARI knowledge base to find information on how to set up your systematic review project and protocol.

Many thousands of people from around the world contribute to Cochrane by writing Cochrane Reviews. Information on proposing and registering new reviews can be found in Cochrane.