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ENG599 Research Skills Guide: Step 2: Develop your protocol

This guide is designed to support students completing ENG599

Step 2: Develop your protocol

The protocol is the detailed plan for your scoping review.  It explains your rationale and methodology, and should be developed right at the beginning. You can refine it as you go on.

The protocol for a scoping review will have similar information to that of a systematic review protocol. As we said earlier, you will not need to register your protocol for a scoping review, but the same process should be followed.

Any deviations from the protocol in the final report, should be highlighted and explained.

What should the protocol include?

PRISMA-ScR for scoping reviews, this page links to the checklist and provides a short video abou the PRISMA-ScR and a list of tip sheets to help you with each of the elements in the checklist.

This is a guideline to help authors prepare protocols for planned scoping reviews that provides them with a minimum set of items to be included in the protocol. Check the PRISMA-ScR checklist and the PRISMA-P statement.

Typically, your scoping review protocol should include:

  • Your rationale and objectives, including your CIMO breakdown (or the relevant framework you are using).
  • Your eligibility criteria (inclusion and exclusion).  “One of the features that distinguishes a systematic review from a narrative review is the pre-specification of criteria for including and excluding studies in the review (eligibility criteria)” Cochrane Handbook, section 5.1.2 This will again match your CIMO elements and might include demographic factors, types of studies or geographical considerations.
  • Where you will search (databases and grey literature) and your search strategy
  • How you will screen your records, extract and manage and analyse the data.
  • Your results and discussion

Where should you publish it?

  • PROSPERO - This is “an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care, welfare, public health, education, crime, justice, and international development, where there is a health related outcome.” 

Once you register your protocol on PROSPERO, it will be available on open access through their database. Your protocol will have a unique registration number which can be cited in publications and reports to provide the link between your planned and completed review.  

Find out more here:  Guidance notes for registering a systematic review protocol with PROSPERO (University of York Centre for Reviews and Dissemination).

  • Cochrane Library - The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews includes protocols of Cochrane Reviews that are planned or in progress. When you search for your topic, Cochrane Protocols are listed as a separate category.
  • Joanna Briggs Institute search for systematic review protocols by selecting them in the Publication Types dropdown menu under the search box.
  • Protocols are also published in a range of BMC journals such as Systematic Reviews and Environmental Evidence

Many journals will publish protocols - check the journals in your field. Authors’ instructions will often have guidelines for the level of detail expected for the protocols they publish.

Further reading

Shamseer, L., Moher, D., Clarke, M., Ghersi, D., Liberati, A., Petticrew, M., . . . Prisma- P. Group. (2015). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015: elaboration and explanationBMJ, 350, g7647. doi:10.1136/bmj.g7647

Tricco, A. C., Lillie, E., Zarin, W., O'Brien, K. K., Colquhoun, H., Levac, D., . . . Weeks, L. (2018). PRISMA extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR): checklist and explanationAnnals of Internal Medicine, 169(7), 467-473.

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