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The preparation of a protocol is an important step in conducting a high-quality systematic review. The protocol ensures that a systematic review is carefully planned and that what is planned is explicitly documented before the review starts. It promotes:
- Consistent conduct by the review team
- Research integrity
- Transparency of the eventual completed review
The protocol allows you to describe the purpose of your review, what your hypothesis is and how you plan to conduct the review. Planning provides an opportunity for your team to anticipate potential problems, which may reduce arbitrary decisions throughout the process.
A well-planned systematic review may be more likely to be completed, adhere to guidelines and reach publication.
A 17-item checklist designed to help with the preparation and reporting of systematic review protocols.
Fillable PRISMA-P checklist
Operationalized checklist from BMC Reviews.
Scoping Review Protocols
As with systematic reviews, it is important to prepare a protocol when conducting a scoping review.
PRISMA for Scoping Reviews
A checklist of 20 essential and 2 optional reporting items for inclusion in scoping review publications.
Registering your Review Protocol
When systematic and scoping review protocols are made publicly and permanently available, readers can identify any deviations from the planned methodology and whether these deviations may have biased the review's results and conclusions.
Registering your protocol also:
- Helps establish that you are conducting your review
- May reduce the risk of multiple reviews addressing the same question
- Helps the review process remain systematic, unbiased and well-defined
- Helps ensure the quality of the review
PROSPERO is an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care. PROSPERO enables permanent documentation of a review's design and planned methodology. Scoping review protocols are not eligible for submission to PROSPERO.
Open Science Framework (OSF) is a platform for many open science functions, including registration of protocols. This site is a good alternative to PROSPERO if you are conducting a scoping review.
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognized as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. If you are conducting a Cochrane Review, you can publish your protocol in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
The Campbell Collaboration (C2) is an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions. C2 helps people make well-informed decisions by preparing, maintaining and disseminating systematic reviews in education, crime and justice, social welfare and international development. Protocols can be published in their journal, Campbell Systematic Reviews.