The Importance of the Protocol
A systematic review is designed to answer a focused health sciences related question in a systematic, reproducible matter. To achieve this goal, researchers should create a Protocol.
A protocol is a document designed to guide researchers through the complete systematic review process. Typically these documents serve as a guide for the research team throughout the life of the review.
Below are various sections found in a comprehensive protocol.
While a systematic review team should have at least two members, a well-rounded team will include the following members:
- Subject matter expert
- Systematic Review methodology expert
- Evidence search expert
- Quantitative methods expert
The Woodruff Health Sciences Library Systematic Review Team can provide you with SR searching and methodology expertise.
Selecting the proper databases to search for the evidence is a key decision every Systematic Review team must face. While health sciences databases such as PubMed (Medline) and Embase are essential to systematic review searching, subject-specific databases can provide you with relevant and timely evidence.
|Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL)||
|Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)|
|Web of Science||
Consider region-specific databases when your study question includes a special population.
|African Index Medicus (AIM)||
|KCI-Korean Journal Database (WoS)||
|Russian Science Citation Index (WoS)||
|ScieELO Citation Index (WoS)||
Grey literature is any documentation that might be relevant for your systematic review that typically isn't found in a database. Government documents, reports, white papers, news articles, dissertations are all types of grey literature.
Including grey literature in your systematic review will diminish publication bias.
|CDC Stacks||Collection of CDC publications including guidelines and recommendations and MMWR reports.||N/A|
|Clinicaltrials.gov||ClinicalTrials.gov is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.||2000-present|
|Factiva||International, national, and local news sources and news wires.||N/A|
|Institutional Repository for Information Sharing (IRIS)||The digital library of the World Health Organization (WHO)s published material and technical information. Its content is freely accessible and searchable in the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian & Spanish).||1948-present|
|National Technical Reports Literature (NTRL)||Access to a large collection of historical and current authenticated government technical reports in a wide range of subject areas, including health care, environmental pollution, medicine, biology, and engineering.||1964-present|
|Nexis Uni||Access to news, business, medical, educational and legal sources. The sources include international, national, and regional newspapers; magazines; trade journals; newsletters; wire service reports; and transcripts of television and radio news programs.||1789-present|
|ProQuest Dissertations & Theses||The official digital dissertations archive for the Library of Congress.||1861-present|
|WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP)||The main aim of the WHO ICTRP is to facilitate the prospective registration of the WHO Trial Registration Data Set on all clinical trials, and the public accessibility of that information.||N/A|
Consider these limits when writing your protocol.
- Time Period
- (Ex. Last 5 years, 2000-2010)
- Study Populations
- Consider age ranges as well as special populations.
- Humans only
- Are there any studies that might feature both humans and animals?
- To avoid bias consider what languages your team members can read and review.
- Study Methodology
- Are you only interested in randomized controlled trials? Cohort studies?
A project timeline should be established within your protocol. Below is a table of a typical Systematic Review timeline.
|1-2||Preparation of protocol|
|3-8||Searches for published and unpublished studies|
|2-3||Pilot test of eligibility criteria|
|3||Pilot test of 'Risk of bias' assessment|
|3||Pilot test of data collection|
|5-11||Follow up of missing information|
|1-11||Preparation of review report|
|12-||Keeping the review up-to-date|
Higgins J.P.T., Green S. (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from http://handbook.cochrane.org
Institute of Medicine. 2011. Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13059.