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Good review practice: a researcher guide to systematic review methodology in the sciences of food and health

The importance of the review protocol

The importance of the review protocol

A systematic review protocol lays out the review question, the objective, the eligibility criteria, and planned methods of conduct, to protect the outcomes from bias. Following a well-documented protocol enhances the quality of conduct, allowing a high level of consistency and transparency throughout the process. The protocol is driven from the review question.

Developing a review protocol is an iterative process and changes are likely as the question is refined and the state of literature is examined. The protocol typically consists of the following sections: 

  • Title
  • Background (what is known about the topic and what are the uncertainties)
  • Question (defining the key elements)
  • Eligibility criteria (inclusion and exclusion criteria)
  • Methods of searching for evidence (may include both research studies and grey/non-peer reviewed literature)  
  • Review methods (searching, screening, evaluation, and analysis)
  • References
  • Authors
  • Declarations of interest
  • Funding sources
  • Additional and supplementary materials

The protocol should clearly state the research question, define the scope, and key elements of the review and describe the methods of conduct in sufficient details. (See supplementary materials for more details). Reviewers should read necessary guidelines for their field as well as editorial and journal publication guidelines before structuring a protocol and submission. (See Appendix A for an example template designed by the author)

Good Practice point: For transparency, the protocols are made available through registration on designated platforms provided by funders and relevant stakeholder institutions. Unavoidable changes to protocol should be documented and the protocol needs to be finalised and updated before conduct for the purpose of reproducibility. All reviewers and funders must declare conflicts of interest (may not be limited to financial interests only) when submitting the review protocol for registration and journal publication.