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Literature review methods

Tags: English, General

Protocol registration

What is a review protocol and why do I need one?

A protocol is a description of your proposed review.  It provides in advance a rationale for the review and a description of your proposed methods. A protocol can serve many functions including: 

  • a way to "stake a claim" to your topic
  • a road map for your team on the process of the project
  • promoting transparency of your methods
  • ensuring that you conduct the review in a way that will help eliminate bias.

How do I write a protocol?

All team members of a review project should be involved in creating the protocol.  Normally the lead author is responsible for registering the protocol and serving as contact author.

Ideally, your protocol should include essential aspects of your research plan such as:

  • what is already known on the topic and why the review is needed (your rationale)
  • the question/s and objectives of the review (what you want to study)
  • eligibility criteria (limitations to the search such as language, years of publication, study design) 
  • databases to be searched and additional sources (such as grey literature)
  • keywords to be used in the search strategy
  • a draft for a search strategy in at least one database
  • the process for study selection
  • the process for data extraction
  • methods for assessing risk of bias of individual studies
  • an explanation of how data will be synthesised and reported
  • a declaration of interests
  • an estimated time-frame for the project.


Where do I register a protocol?

If you plan to do a systematic review:


If you plan to do some other type of review like a mapping or scoping review:

  • Campbell Collaboration - evidence and gap maps within a number of disciplines, including business, disability, education, and social welfare
  • Check the journals you are interested in publishing in.
  • Consider an online repository such as OSF or figshare.


Additional resources

  • Basic protocol template in Word from the University of Warwick for a systematic review in the health sciences
  • PRISMA-P - Minimum set of items to report in systematic review and meta-analysis protocols