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Getting Started with a Systematic Review Protocol
Developing a protocol for your systematic review helps you develop a plan for your review process and can help to reduce bias. If you begin without clearly defining a research question, you may be more easily influenced by the evidence presented in existing studies. Articulating your plans in a protocol will make your SR process more focused and ultimately more successful.
Systematic Review Standards
PRISMA: Transparent Reporting of Reviews and Meta-Analyses
Reporting guidelines for reviews of interventions, including the PRISMA Checklist and PRISMA Flow Diagram.
Finding What Works in Healthcare: Standards for Systematic Reviews
National Academies of Science, Engineering, & Medicine (Formerly Institute of Medicine (IOM)) Standards for systematic reviews. This report is freely available online and includes their 21 recommended standards for systematic reviews.
EQUATOR: Enhancing the Quality and Transparency of Health Research
The EQUATOR Network is an international initiative that seeks to improve the reliability and value of published health research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting and wider use of robust reporting guidelines.
Equator Reporting Guidelines Decision Tree
A tool to select the appropriate reporting guideline for your review.
MOOSE (Meta-analysis Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology)
Reporting guidelines for observational reviews of cohort, case-control or cross-sectional studies.
Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews for Interventions
A detailed guide for Cochrane reviewers explaining the Cochrane systematic review process. Newest version (6.0) released in July 2019
MECIR: Methodological Expectations of Cochrane Intervention Reviews
These MECIR standards present a guide to the conduct and reporting of Cochrane Intervention Reviews. Each set of standards include links to Cochrane Training resources; the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (the Handbook) and other resources will be added as they are developed.
MECCIR: Methodological Expectations of Campbell Collaboration Intervention Reviews
Standards for the conduct and reporting of Campbell Collaboration systematic reviews of intervention effects. These standards are based on and adapted from Cochrane MECIR conduct and reporting standards.
AHRQ Methods Guide for Effectiveness of Comparative Effectiveness Reviews
Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, systematic reviews of existing research on the effectiveness, comparative effectiveness, and comparative harms of different health care interventions, are intended to provide relevant evidence to inform real-world health care decisions for patients, providers, and policymakers. In an effort to improve the transparency, consistency, and scientific rigor of the work of the Effective Health Care (EHC) Program, through a collaborative effort, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Scientific Resource Center, and the Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPCs) have developed a Methods Guide for Comparative Effectiveness Reviews.
ROBIS - Risk of Bias in Systematic Reviews
ROBIS is a new tool for assessing the risk of bias in systematic reviews (rather than in primary studies). Here you can find the tool itself, information to help you complete a ROBIS assessment, and resources to help you present the results of your ROBIS assessment.
Steps in a Systematic Review
- Planning the review
- Research question development
- Determination of study feasibility
- Protocol development
- Pre-literature search
- Literature Search
- Literature search methodology development
- Management of literature search results and documentation
- Selection Screening
- Screening of articles
- Obtaining full-text articles
- Appraisal and Analysis
- Appraisal of included studies
- Data Extraction
- Statistical Analysis
- Synthesize and interpret results
- Manuscript Preparation
- Complete PRISMA checklist
- Write and edit manuscript draft
- Update literature searches
- Supply figures
- Write structured abstract
- Documentation of reproducible search strategy
- Publication and Dissemination
- Clearly present your findings, search strategies, selection criteria, etc.
- Use of checklist and flow diagram to disseminate your result, for example, PRISMA reporting items, CONSORT statement, etc.
- Provide recommendations for practice and policy making if high quality evidence found
- Oral presentation, poster presentation at a conference
- Manuscript for publication
Guides on how to complete Systematic Reviews
Instructions for Authors
We recommend checking for requirements from the journal(s) you are considering submitting your manuscript while your team is in the process of developing your protocol to ensure that your work fits their requirements from the beginning. It may also be helpful to look at examples of completed SRs from your desired publications, especially if they do not have specific instructions for SRs.
Here are some selected journals with specific instructions for authors for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses.
Who can be part of a Systematic Review Team?
According to the National Academies Standards for Systematic Reviews, teams should be multidisciplinary to better break from preconceived opinions and include the members with the following types of expertise. A single team member can have multiple areas of expertise and the size of the team may vary depending on the complexity of the topic. The number of team members with each type of expertise needs to be carefully balanced so that one group of experts is not overly influential and to reduce the risk of bias.
- Topic expert
- Systematic review methodology expert
- Search expert
- Others as appropriate (stakeholders, key users)
According to the Cochrane Handbook Chapter 2: Preparing a Cochrane review the review team should include enough people that each task can be completed independently by at least two people to increase the likelihood that errors are detected.
Suggested Time Frame for Systematic Reviews
Systematic reviews significantly more time and effort to complete than traditional narrative literature reviews. The Cochrane Collaboration is known for providing high quality systematic reviews and in the they suggest that a reasonable time frame is rarely less than one year. Timeline for a Cochrane review Table.
An analysis of data from the PROSPERO registry on systematic review protocols marked as completed found that the mean time to complete the SR in weeks was 67.3 weeks with a range reported from 6-186 weeks. The authors also estimate that the time was likely longer since the time reported was from the date the protocol was registered until publication and did not include the time to assemble the team, determine feasibility of the project, and develop the protocol.
Another suggested timeline for Systematic Reviews is available from the University of Syndey Library: click here to view.
Common Errors: A resource for Cochrane Editors
COMMON ERRORS is a suite of five learning modules for Cochrane Editors to enhance their editorial skills. The modules are designed to help Editors learn to recognise and address many of the common errors that occur as Cochrane reviews are carried out.
The resource consists of four learning modules and an exercise module.
Inconsistency and inaccuracy
GRADE and interpretation of findings
Interpretation of statistical results
Summary versions of a review
Check your knowledge (exercise module)
You must register for a **free** Cochrane Account to access this training.