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Systematic Reviews - Research Guide

Starting a Systematic Review

Starting a systematic review

It is advisable to document all steps taken to complete your review as this allows your methodology to be accurately compiled.

It is important to define your question and determine if any other systematic review has been conducted on this question.

It is important to develop a review plan or protocol to reduce bias in a systematic review.

Using a protocol to plan a systematic review:

  • promotes a systematic rather than ad hoc approach to the review process
  • improves the validity of a research process that reduces the risk of bias
  • facilitates communication with others and promotes consistency between review team members
  • increases the reliability and usefulness of reviews to health professionals.


A protocol should be developed using the PICO/PICo framework to determine the parameters of the systematic review.
Eligibility criteria such as publication type, date, language and age of subjects should be specified in your protocol.

Determine inclusion/exclusion criteria before beginning the review as the inclusion or exclusion of studies determines the scope and validity of systematic review results.

It is recommended that you read the article Selecting studies for systematic review: Inclusion and exclusion criteria.

You may wish to register your protocol in a publicly accessible way. This will help avoid other people completing a review on your topic. Similarly, before you start a systematic review, check that nobody else has registered a protocol on the same topic.

If you intend to publish a systematic review in the health sciences, it should conform to the IOM Standards for Reporting Systematic Reviews.

If you intend to publish a systematic review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, it should conform to the Methodological Expectations in Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR).