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Systematic Reviews- Legacy (2020-2022): Develop a Protocol

Created by Health Science Librarians

Role of the librarian in this stage

When writing your protocol, a librarian can help you:

  • Develop and refine your research plan according to systematic review best practices 
  • Advise on your literature searching methods documentation 
  • Determine if/where to publish or share your completed protocol

Contact HSL About Your Review

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Ready to start a systematic review? HSL Librarians can help!

Fill out the Systematic Review Request Form and the best-suited librarian will get back to you promptly. Our systematic review service is only available to faculty, staff, students, and others who are affiliated with UNC Chapel Hill.

Necessity of a protocol

Protocols are necessary for several reasons:

  1. They describe the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the project before the review has begun. This acts as a roadmap for the research for teams and reduces bias in the review process by pre-defining methods.
  2. They allow readers of completed reviews to identify deviations from planned methods and determine whether the bias impacts the interpretation of review results and conclusions (PRISMA - P 2015 Statement)
  3. They let others know what reviews are planned or in process. This helps teams make decisions about which reviews to work on and which to avoid due overrepresentation in the literature. This can also be a way to identify other experts in your field to collaborate or consult on future reviews.

Determine eligibility criteria

In order to reduce bias, eligibility criteria need to be determined early in the systematic review planning process. The term "eligibility criteria" refers to what you plan to include and exclude from your systematic review. These criteria are decided after the research question is developed but before searches are completed. Criteria to consider include study design, dates of interest, whether you will include non-English studies, study duration, and setting. Below is a list of criteria that may be used to determine inclusion or exclusion.

Type of criteria Example
Date of publication Date ranges may be applied when updating a systematic review or when specific to an intervention or therapy
Language of publication Include studies in any language or limit to those that can be read by the review team
Type of participants May be limited to specific groups of people or age ranges
Study design May include specific study designs and exclude others based on best to answer the research question
Intervention of interest Includes interventions of interest and excludes any others
Outcomes of interest Includes outcomes of interest and may exclude studies reporting outcomes not of interest
Setting May be limited to a specific setting like inpatient, ambulatory, classroom, etc.
Type of publication Reviews, editorials, commentaries, and letters are often excluded

Guidelines and standards


Use any of the templates below to assist in writing a systematic review protocol.

Make your protocol visible

You can upload your protocol to a website or registry and make it accessible to others. While not an inclusive list, several options of places to upload or deposit your protocol can be found below.