Skip to Main Content

Systematic Reviews: A How-To Guide

PRISMA - Transparent Reporting of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

PRISMA stands for Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. It consists of an evidence-based minimum set of items that should be reported when conducting a systematic review or meta-analysis. It is common for medical journals to require that authors submitting systematic reviews for publication follow the PRISMA guidelines.  

The PRISMA 2020 Statement was published in 2021. 

Resources on Methodology

Additional guidance on how to carry out a systematic review. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of these recommendations so you'll know what is expected before you begin.

Writing the Protocol

Depending on who is publishing or funding the systematic review, the inclusion of a protocol may or may not be standard practice. The protocol is the plan of what will be included in the systematic review and how each step of the review will be carried out. The protocol is developed and made public at the start of the project in order to minimize bias, provide transparency to the methods, and reduces the potential for duplication.

Standards 2.6-2.8 of the Institute of Medicine's "Standards for Systematic Reviews" describes the protocol process:

STANDARD 2.6: Develop a systematic review protocol
  • 2.6.1 Describe the context and rationale for the review from both a decision-making and research perspective
  • 2.6.2 Describe the study screening and selection criteria (inclusion/exclusion criteria)
  • 2.6.3 Describe precisely which outcome measures, time points, interventions, and comparison groups will be addressed
  • 2.6.4 Describe the search strategy for identifying relevant evidence
  • 2.6.5 Describe the procedures for study selection
  • 2.6.6 Describe the data extraction strategy
  • 2.6.7 Describe the process for identifying and resolving disagreement between researchers in study selection and data extraction decisions
  • 2.6.8 Describe the approach to critically appraising individual studies
STANDARD 2.7: Submit the protocol for peer review
  • 2.7.1 Provide a public comment period for the protocol and publicly report on disposition of comments
STANDARD 2.8: Make the final protocol publicly available, and add any amendments to the protocol in a timely fashion
Protocol Registries: 
PROSPERO - International prospective register of systematic reviews. 
Additional reading: