Skip to Main Content

Systematic Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and other Knowledge Syntheses

Writing the protocol

Writing the protocol for your knowledge synthesis

A protocol is a document that serves as a work plan for your knowledge synthesis. It is important to write one to help guide you through the process, even if things change along the way.

The PRISMA guidelines for the transparent reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses define a protocol as a document that  "describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. It should be prepared before a review is started and used as a guide to carry out the review."

For systematic reviews, the PRISMA website provides several sources of guidance on writing a protocol

For scoping reviews, the Joanna Briggs Institute provides guidance for writing a protocol in section 11.2 of their chapter on scoping reviews.

In general, your protocol should have the following elements:

  • Background literature review
  • Review question
  • Criteria for inclusion/exclusion of studies
  • Types of studies, populations, interventions/exposures, outcome measures
  • Search strategy for identification of studies
  • Study selection methods
  • Assessment of methodological quality (if applicable)
  • Data extraction and synthesis
  • Timeframe for conducting the review

(Adapted from: Booth, A., Sutton, A. and Papaioannou, D. (2016). Defining the scope. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review, 2nd edition.)

Registering the protocol

Registering or publishing a completed protocol

Once you have written your protocol, consider registering or publishing it. Registration and/or publication improves transparency and prevents unnecessary duplication of research.

More information and guidance on registering in PROSPERO can be found on their website.

Contact us


Due to a large influx of requests, there may be an extended wait time for librarian support on knowledge syntheses.


Find a librarian in your subject area to help you with your knowledge synthesis project.


Or contact the librarians at the
Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering

Need help? Ask us!

Online training resources

Online training resources

McGill LibraryQuestions? Ask us!
Privacy notice