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Preparing for a Comprehensive Literature Review

Developing a Protocol


A protocol is a document used to describe the research topic, rationale, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and planned methods for the review. It is prepared prior to the start of the review and acts as a blueprint to keep the project on track.

Why You Should Register a Protocol

The major review organizations that produce systematic reviews (e.g. Cochrane Collaboration, Joanna Briggs Institute) require that a protocol be developed and registered before a review is begun.  

Decisions by journal peer reviewers regarding whether a systematic review will be published or not may be based on whether a protocol has been registered in PROSPERO as well as whether it is clear that standard review guidelines have been followed, and therefore you increase your chances of publication if you register your protocol. 

The protocols published in the resources below will provide examples of the type of information that should be included in a review protocol or project proposal.

Protocol Registration/Publication

Protocols of eligible reviews can be published in JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports.  Eligible protocols are included in PROSPERO.

In addition to completed reviews, the BioMed Central journal Systematic Reviews also publishes protocols.   


The PRISMA-P checklist provides a list of items that should be considered when planning your review and that should be included in any protocol that you develop.  The accepted guidelines for comprehensive reviews is PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses).  While the guidelines were developed for systematic reviews and meta-analyses, the guidelines have been frequently adapted by authors of other types of reviews, e.g. scoping reviews, integrative reviews.  Following PRISMA guidelines and including a PRISMA Flow Diagram in a manuscript will increase the chances of the review being published.   Likewise, indicating that your team will be following PRISMA guidelines will strengthen any proposals you make to granting agencies.  

The PRISMA Checklist provides a list of elements that should be included in the review manuscript.  The PRISMA Flow Diagram provides a standard means of illustrating the review process.

Indicating that you or you review team will be following the PRISMA guidelines will strengthen your review proposal, and if you have followed the guidelines in completing the review, your chances of publication will be increased.