A systematic review (SR), like any other high-quality research study, begins with the development of a detailed protocol. A well-written protocol describes a clear rationale for undertaking the review, provides a detailed description of research questions or objectives, lists the primary outcomes of interest, and clearly describes the methods that will be used to find, screen, select, and synthesize data. Documenting this information serves several purposes:
- It allows investigators conducting the review to plan in advance and anticipate potential problems or issues with their methods.
- It minimizes the opportunity for arbitrary or “on-the-fly” decision-making during the course of the review that may introduce bias into data collection or synthesis.
- If the protocol is made publicly available, journal reviewers can assess the likelihood of selective outcome reporting in the final report.
The HSLS SR Program currently requires a protocol from all eligible patrons who request assistance with a systematic review or any other type of comprehensive review. Beginning in February 2022, all submitted protocols will be internally reviewed by two senior members of the SR Program, and patrons may be required to revise their protocols before an HSLS librarian is assigned to the review project. The purpose of this internal review is to ensure that the protocol meets current standards for the design and conduct of complex reviews and contains the detailed topic information required for HSLS librarians to develop comprehensive literature searches.
To assist patrons in preparing detailed protocols for submission, the SR Program offers:
- Information about current standards for development of a protocol
- Templates for protocol development (use of our templates is required)
- Links to published examples of review protocols
Please note that we will not accept a Prospero registration form in lieu of a detailed protocol. If you would like assistance with a review type other than systematic or scoping, we can provide additional information on an appropriate protocol format. The SR Program may decline any request for assistance due to limited librarian availability or concerns about project feasibility.
~Mary Lou Klem