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Systematic Reviews

Search Protocol



Write a protocol for your review which sets out in advance your review question and methods you intend to use.  The protocol will also state where you intend to search and how you will appraise and synthesise the retrieved studies.   Doing this will help you minimise bias and avoid getting sidetracked and including studies just because they look interesting. ‚Äč

Background to the protocol

Describe the setting and context of your research - why have you chosen and why is it important.  If there are other reviews, discuss them and identify any weaknesses and how your review plugs the gap.  Use data, other research to back up your rationale.  Remember you are trying to show where there are gaps in systematic reviews, not the literature. 

Before starting on your protocol consider the following

  • have you done a preliminary search and reading on your proposed topic so you are clear there are materials for you to find and use and you fully understand your topic?
  • If this is part of an assessed piece of work , have you discussed it with your tutor/supervisor?
  • Could your topic be cross-disciplinary, if so have you looked into this?

Background to the review 

The purpose of the background section is to provide an overview of the specific area of the review, highlight the clinical problems associated with the area or question, discuss the relevant reviews within the specific clinical area and clarify the gap in systematic reviews in this area


Step 3: 

Purpose of the Review 

Why are you doing it?  Have you identified a gap in the knowledge/literature? 


Specify inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

These will include specific criteria on the types of subjects, interventions (or exposure), comparative group and outcomes, and the types of studies you plan to include. It will also specify explicitly what is going to be excluded.  Stating this will keep you on track. 


Search Strategy

Where you intend to search  - include details of your proposed search strategy



Selecting/Appraising Extracting Data

How are you going to go through the papers? Evaluate them, extract the data from them.