Systematic Review: 2. Plan/Method

Starting - Step-by-step

Develop question


Develop criteria


Depending on the purpose of the systematic review, there are many things that need to be considered early in the process. Before starting, it’s really important that you ensure the question has not already been effectively answered in a recent review, and that no reviews on the topic are planned or already in progress.

A prospective systematic review may be referred to as a protocol. A protocol clearly documents what the reviewers intend to do in their systematic review. The registration of a protocol provides a means of ascertaining that the screening, selection and reporting in a completed review are based on the pre-defined eligibility criteria and the methodological approach outlined at the outset, rather than influenced by study findings. Utilising the PRISMA-P guideline and checklist in completing the protocol may optimise the quality of reporting. Making protocols publicly available increases transparency and can reduce duplication of effort. This is usually done in a registry (such as Prospero) or a dedicated journal (such as Systematic Reviews) during the planning stages of the review.

Check the following sources for protocols or published systematic reviews on your topic:

Campbell Collaboration
Best Evidence Medical and Health Professional Education Collaboration (BEME)
Prospero International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews
Health Services Research Projects in Progress (HSRProj)
Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI)
Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE)

For reviews intended for publication, it is important to check the requirements of the organisation or journal where you wish to submit your work.

There are other places where you might also need to look - it would be a good idea to consult a specialist librarian at this stage in your review process.


PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) is the name of the commonly used minimum set of items for transparent reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The website includes the PRISMA statement, the 24-item checklist and the flow diagram, as well as PRISMA extensions such as the PRISMA-P for protocols.


Organisations which have developed standards for systematic reviews include:


EPPI - Centre
National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine Standards
JBI - Joanna Briggs Institute
Some useful reference/data management software you might want to investigate for in-depth reviews:
Covidence Collaborative screening tool
EndNote Bibliographic
Equator Reporting guidelines

Tool for Cochrane protocols and reviews


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Case Study

             ​Exercise 2 - Planning and protocols