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Systematic Review: 3. Plan/Method


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

1. Check if your question has been answered in another review

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. Reviews in progress (or prospective systematic reviews) may be referred to as protocols. A protocol clearly documents what the reviewers intend to do in their systematic review.

Some of the sources listing current protocols or published systematic reviews include:


     Campbell Collaboration

     Best Evidence Medical and Health Professional Education Collaboration (BEME)

     Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI)

     Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE)

     Health Services Research Projects in Progress (HSRProj)

     Prospero International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews


2. Refer to relevant standards and guidelines

If you conduct a systematic review for an organisation which commissions or sponsors reviews, such as Cochrane, you will need to ensure that you adhere to their guidelines and standards. Specific journals may also have particular requirements you need to follow.

Organisations which have developed standards for systematic reviews include:




     EPPI - Centre


     National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine Standards


     JBI - Joanna Briggs Institute


3. Reporting standards

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-anaylses. 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.

Some organisations or journals might have their own reporting requirements. For example, the ROSES  reporting standards for environmental research were created in partnership with the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) .

4. Develop and register your own protocol

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. PRISMA-P is a useful template for developing a systematic review protocol.

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.

5. Software

Investigate relevant reference/data management software that will assist in undertaking an in-depth review:


The Equator Network has a comprehensive listing of relevant reporting guidelines including PRISMA for systematic reviews and PRISMA-ScR for scoping reviews.


Monash has a site licence for Endnote bibliographic software. It is often used to store and manage references identified in searches, and to provides a means to document and report on key elements for PRISMA, such as duplicate records. EndNote is compatible with both Covidence and Rayyan.


Covidence is a subscription tool made available to Monash researchers. Covidence is particularly useful for screening and extraction. A free alternative is Rayyan


Another common tool for systematic reviews is RevMan, developed by Cochrane for managing the systematic review process

Things to consider