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Systematic Review: Case Study - Starting - Plan/Method


Cari isn’t sure about where she might publish her completed review, so she looks into the different options. She notes some similarities between the instructions to authors given by different publishers, including requirements for:


  • Multiple reviewers to participate in the process

  • Provision of background to the issue and rationale for the research question

  • Explicit objectives and aims

  • Clear criteria for selection covering everything from participant selection to outcome measures

  • Well documented search strategy

  • Clear explanations of screening, extraction and analysis processes

  • Results discussing quality and content of articles found, not just their main findings

  • Conclusions and implications for practice

In some cases appendices documenting specific parts of the process are also required.

Some key differences included how often the review might need to be updated, whether a protocol needs to be submitted in advance of completing the review itself, and the scale and scope of the review (some need international perspectives, for example).

Cari decides to follow the JBI guidelines for her study. She realises this requires her to involve someone else in the process, so she recruits a colleague, Lee, to be a second reviewer. Cari keeps the protocol requirements in mind as she considers how best to begin searching. She also notes that once her protocol is developed, she can submit it to PROSPERO for recording. As well as allowing Cari and Lee to show that their strategy was pre-determined, recording the protocol also means that others working in similar areas will know that a review is underway, and will avoid duplicating the work. Publishing the protocol also gives Cari and Lee a unique registration number they can cite in their full review.

Before developing the protocol, Cari’s next step is to ensure that no-one else has recently published a review on the topic, or registered a protocol for a similar study.


​After searching each of the relevant repositories using: “cocoa OR cacao OR theobroma OR chocolate OR flavonoids” (or appropriate combinations of those keywords), Cari hasn’t found any published reviews or protocols on her topic. She has found some reviews on similar topics, but with different outcome measures or population groups. Cari carefully files copies of these reviews, as she knows they will be useful for forward searching later. Now that Cari and Lee are happy that there is a need for their review, they arrange a meeting with a specialist subject librarian to check that they are looking in the right places, and get tips for the next stage of their review.