High Level Reviews (systematic, integrative, scoping)

Integrative Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and Systematic Reviews are high level literature reviews.

Guidelines and protocols

Scoping reviews  Systematic reviews


The Cochrane Handbook emphasises the importance of the development of a protocol:

“Publication of a protocol for a review prior to knowledge of the available studies reduces the impact of review authors’ biases, promotes transparency of methods and processes, reduces the potential for duplication, allows peer review of the planned methods before they have been completed, and offers an opportunity for the review team to plan resources and logistics for undertaking the review itself”.

Cochrane Handbook, Section 1.5 opens in a new window


PLoS Medicine editors published the following article on the importance of protocols in systematic reviews:

Best Practice in Systematic Reviews: The Importance of Protocols and Registration (2011) PLoS Med 8(2): e1001009. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001009 opens in a new window


Video Watch a short video on guidelines and protocols (1:15).

Developing a high level review protocol

The development of a review protocol not only helps in establishing the researcher’s approach to a high level review, but can also act as a 'live' document that the researcher can draw on and use during the lifetime of the review.

A high level review is an important piece of research therefore a protocol should clearly define the journey the review will take. Not all of these steps apply to the Integrative review. Please see the Integrative Overview to identify the steps required for your protocol.

The protocol include:

  • Background
  • Summary of current literature
  • The research question and the aims of the research
  • Method
    • The search strategy
      • Inclusion and exclusion
      • Resources to be searched
    • Screening and selecting
      • Who is going to be involved in this process
      • Criteria to be implemented during this process
    • Quality assessment
      • How do you plan to assess the quality of the included studies
    • Data Extraction
      • What tool you plan to use for extracting data
    • Data Analysis/Synthesis
      • Need to clarify if you intend to undertake a meta-analysis or meta-synthesis
    • Time frame
      • How long to you expect to take in completing the review
      • Development of a Gantt chart can assist in keeping to timeframes


There are several standards and guidelines available to assist in developing the protocol for the systematic review.

Eligibility criteria

The inclusion and exclusion criteria are critical components in a high level review, as the search needs to be replicable. Researchers need to ensure that they are clear on the exact results they want to locate from their search.

The criteria help in eliminating any bias during the selection and extraction phases.

Some examples of what you may include in criteria might be:

  • Age groups
  • Language of Publication
  • Publication year/range
  • Study design

Register your protocol

It is best practice to register your protocol, as you do not want anyone else to do exactly same review you are doing or start undertaking a review to later find out someone is already undertaking the same review.

A good place to register a health review is PROSPERO opens in a new window. (Systematic Reviews only)

PROSPERO is an international, free to search database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care. Before registering your review check to see if your protocol is eligible for registration. Once you register, your review will:

  • Be available open access through the PROSPERO database
  • Have a unique registration number. This number can be cited in publications and reports to provide the link between your planned and completed review. This is recommended by PRISMA opens in a new window (2009) and many publishers.


For more information, see the Guidance notes for registering a systematic review protocol with Prospero opens in a new window (2016) prepared by the University of York and the National Institute for Health Research (NHS).

Publish your protocol

You can publish your protocol in the following journals and databases:


For further information about publishing your review please visit the Scholarly Publishing Guide.


Additional Readings

Further Readings

'Provide registration information for the review, including register name and registration number, or state that the review was not registered.'

'Indicate where the review protocol can be accessed, or state that a protocol was not prepared.'

'Describe and explain any amendments to information provided at registration or in the protocol.'

- PRISMA 2020 Explanation and Elaboration, p. 28