Organizing your Systematic Review: Review Protocol Template

What kind of resources do you usually provide researchers when they ask for help on their systematic reviews?

I think we all have little arsenals of handouts and resources we direct people to depending on their experience and comfort level with reviews*, but one thing I pretty well always provide regardless of researcher experience (unless they already have one of course) is a copy of my protocol template.

*See my Research page for conference abstracts relating to online systematic review instruction (and a publication coming soon!)

I created the following Review Protocol Template back when I worked at the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit. What I wanted was something that was a little more streamlined so that it could be used for different kinds of evidence syntheses, since I think scoping reviews benefit from having a protocol just as well as systematic reviews. I also wanted it to be fairly simple so that first-time reviewers wouldn’t get intimidated or turned off (as far as I’m concerned even a simpler protocol is better than no protocol at all!).

Review Protocol Template by Sarah Visintini is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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I find it really helpful especially with first time reviewers in terms of walking them through the steps of the review and the kind of things they should have planned before the searches get run. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of the sections of the protocol when filled out are actually really helpful for me in terms of guiding my search strategy development – added motivation to complete a protocol a priori.

One of my favourite sections of the protocol is the gantt chart at the very end which lays out the various stages of the review and allows the user to plan their review by month (note that I specifically made the gantt chart 12 months long to try and dispel any misconceptions about how long a systematic review project usually takes).

Never seen a gantt chart before? It is my favourite. Thing. Ever. Anyone who has ever worked on a research project with me can probably attest that I whipped one of these out at one point to lay out our projected timeline (don’t look at me like that, I’m a librarian for goodness sake). They’re easy to make – the one in the protocol template is just a table with some of the blocks filled in with colour – and  it can give you a much healthier appreciation of what you’re signing up for short and long term, especially if you’re more of a visual thinker like me!

So. Protocol template. Use it, share it, adapt it and share some more!

Even if you don’t choose to go with my template, using a protocol (any protocol!) will make for more organized reviews, make it easier to register with PROSPERO or to publish a protocol in Systematic Reviews, not to mention making it a whole lot easier to recruit additional team members and just generally for everyone on the team to be on the same page.