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:
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)