How to get a systematic review protocol published

Last week my systematic review protocol was published online in Digital Health. This was such an exciting and motivating experience for me and some of my colleagues have also asked about how to get a systematic review protocol published. Hence, this post…

If you are just thinking about starting a systematic review, you may find my previous post 5 Tips for starting a systematic review useful.

The benefits of publishing a protocol

Until quite recently protocols, including trials and systematic reviews, were not published. But this has changed and they are now widely accepted in many journals and fields.

Publishing a systematic review protocol demonstrates you are able to follow a published method, have thought carefully about your study before you start and it gets your research recognised early on.

A protocol clearly sets out what you plan to do from the beginning so arbitrary changes cannot be made during the review process. Changes to the protocol may be necessary after the study has begun, but these will need to be highlighted and reasons for these changes will need to be made clear in the final paper.

Additionally, with the ability to register the review in PROSPERO it promotes transparency, and helps to reduce potential for bias and unnecessary duplication of reviews. The PRISMA guidelines published in 2009 and publication of PRISMA-P in 2015 also help to improve the reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

So, where do I start?

It’s good practice when doing a systematic review that you have a protocol. Or, at the very least a document outlining your objectives, information sources, search strategy, inclusion/exclusion criteria, selection process etc.

So, half the work is already done, why not get this published?

  1. Identify a relevant journal in your area – preferably one that has already published systematic review protocols
  2. Draft a paper according to the submission guidelines (word count, formatting, references etc.)
  3. Follow PRISMA-P making sure everything is covered
  4. Follow the submission process and wait for reviewer’s feedback.

The journal will get back to you hopefully accepting your paper or with some comments to make some changes and resubmit.

Our protocol had some lovely comments from our reviewers and I found the whole process really useful. The feedback highlighted some aspects for me to consider overall improving the protocol.


Best of luck and thank you for reading!

If you are also doing a systematic review, I would love to hear about your topic and experiences. Please get in touch if you have any questions too!

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Further readings:

Stewart, L., Moher, D., & Shekelle, P. (2012). Why prospective registration of systematic reviews makes sense. Systematic Reviews, 1, 7.

The PLoS Medicine Editors (2011) Best Practice in Systematic Reviews: The Importance of Protocols and Registration. PLOS Medicine 8(2): e1001009.


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