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Systematic Reviews: Protocols

The Glucksman Library's guide to assist researchers with completing systematic reviews.


Developing and publishing your protocol is crucial from the beginning of your review in order to define your question and plan your eligibility criteria and methods.

Why have a protocol?

  1. Sets a framework for the review
  2. Helps planning, scheduling, establishing boundaries
  3. Minimize risk of bias
  4. Access to peer review (Cochrane protocols are peer reviewed)
  5. Less duplication of work
  6. Endorses transparency of methods

Registering your protocol

Registering a protocol is a basic requirement for a trial or systematic review, to check if your study has already been done and whether your proposed review is necessary.

PROSPERO is the international prospective register for Systematic Review Protocols.

Cochrane Library of Systematic Reviews. Search the Cochrane Library to see if there are any protocols or reviews similar to your topic of interest before you develop and register a new review

The Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) evidence based practice database contains over 3,000 records across seven publication types including Best Practice Information Sheets, Systematic Review Protocols and Systematic Reviews.

Campbell Collaboration Co-ordinating Groups providing editorial guidance and support to authors of Campbell reviews and develop links with users of systematic reviews.



Developing your research question

There are a number of frameworks which can help you to develop and focus your research question.

PICO (Quantitative Studies) P Population or problem I Intervention Comparison O Outcome
PIcO  (Qualitative Studies)    Population or problem Intervention  cO Context
PEO (Qualitative Studies)      Population E Exposure  O Outcome
SPIDER (Qualitative & Mixed Methods) S Sample P of I Phenomenon of Interest D Design E Evaluation Research Type
SPICE (Quantitative Studies) S Setting P Perspective I Intervention C Comparison E Evaluation

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, Chapter 2 (Core Methods)

Types of reviews

Literature Reviews: An analysis of new or current literature which can include a wide range of subjects with differing levels of comprehension and completion

Meta-analysis: An approach which statistically combines the results of quantitative studies to produce a more explicit effect of the results

Mixed methods review/Mixed studies review: specifies any mix of methods where a literature review undertaken in a systematic way is an important component. In relation to a review it refers to a combination of review techniques for example integrating qualitative with quantitative research

Narrative reviews: Broad perspective on topic (like a textbook chapter), no specified search strategy, significant bias issues, may not evaluate quality of evidence

Rapid Reviews: Evaluating what is already known about a policy or practice by using a methodology for systematic reviews to search and critically appraise the prevailing literature

Scoping Reviews: An overview of the literature on a broader topic; often done to identify whether a systematic review is feasible

Structured reviews: Includes a structured, but limited search, less bias, but not comprehensive, usually evaluates quality of evidence; a partial systematic review

Systematic reviews: Aims to search systematically, critique and synthesize research evidence while usually complying with guidelines on conducting a review

Sutton, A, Clowes M, Preston L, Booth A (2019) 'Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements', Health Information Libraries Journal, 36 (3), pp. 202-222.

Grant, M.J., Booth A (2009) ‘A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies’, Health Information Libraries Journal, 26 (2), pp. 94-95.