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Systematic Reviews: Designing the Protocol

Tool to help you plan the Protocol

PRISMA-P:  a checklist of items you should include in your protocol.

IOM Standard 2.6 for Systematic Reviews Protocols a short checklist and explanation of protocol items

MECIR Standards for Protocols  standards that Cochrane reviews must adhere to. Even if you're not doing a Cochrane review, there is helpful guidance in the section on "Developing the Protocol for the Review."

Registering Your Protocol

Registration is optional but some journals require it.


The most highly-used register, the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews, aims to provide a comprehensive list of completed and in-progress systematic reviews. It helps avoid unplanned duplication and allows you to see what methods other researchers have used. The questions in the online form help you plan your review.


The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews lists protocols as well as published systematic reviews. Reading Cochrane protocols gives you an idea of the items experienced authors have included in their protocols for Cochrane systematic reviews.

Open Science Framework

Allows you to register protocols for other types of reviews such as scoping reviews.  

Elements in a Protocol

Developing a protocol before you begin will help you plan how you'll conduct your systematic review. Many of the elements in the protocol will also be used in your final article. Your protocol should should specify:

  • the rationale for your systematic review,
  • specify your research question in detail (PICO, study design, setting, time-frame) 
  • the information sources you'll search
  • the inclusion/exclusion criteria you'll use to select studies
  • how you'll manage the records, extract data, assess risk of bias, synthesize data, and grade the evidence