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Systematic Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and other Knowledge Syntheses

Writing the protocol

Writing the protocol for your knowledge synthesis

What is a protocol?

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."

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. If your methods do change, it is important to document those changes in your final manuscript as well. For example, Cochrane reviews have a section called ‘Differences between protocol and review’ in their completed reviews.

Protocol template

Additional information

For systematic reviews

For scoping reviews

  • Peters, M. D. J., Godfrey, C., McInerney, P., Khalil, H., Larsen, P., Marnie, C., Pollock, D., Tricco, A. C., & Munn, Z. (2022). Best practice guidance and reporting items for the development of scoping review protocols. JBI Evidence Synthesis, 20(4), 953–968.

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 can help prevent unnecessary duplication of research.

Top tip: To identify journals that publish review protocols, try searching a database like Scopus for your topic at a broader level, e.g., "mental health", AND add a field search in the article title field, e.g., AND article title: "scoping review" AND protocol. Using Scopus as the example, you can then view the source titles with the most search results based on your search criteria.

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

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


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Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering

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