Basics of Registering your Protocol for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses
When setting off to produce either a systematic review or a meta-analysis, you are likely going to be thinking about things that need to be done from a research perspective: formulating your research question, considering your hypothesis, collecting references etc. However, one thing which might not be at the forefront of your mind is registration. Here, we discuss the importance of registering rigorous reviews such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and the factors to consider when doing so.
Considerations for registering your protocol
While registering your protocol on a recognised platform, such as PROSPERO, is not mandatory, your institution may require it, and it is generally accepted as good practice, in order to help produce unbiased pieces of work.
Purpose of registering your protocol
The purpose of registering your study protocol is to ensure absolute transparency, as well as a reduction in duplications by other groups working in similar areas.
a. Ensuring transparency
In terms of transparent and unbiased research, it can be argued that registration of your protocol is as important as it is as for clinical trials, because systematic reviews and meta-analyses are often used for decision-making in fields like healthcare. A piece of work which can result in having such wide-ranging impact should withstand being put under intense scrutiny and being held to very high standards (as all research should be).
b. Informing related researchers
The other main purpose of registering your protocol is for other researchers in your field, or similar fields, to be notified when a study such as yours is being conducted. This will either help them to make decisions about their plans for conducting such a study, or possibly prompt them to reach out to you, should they feel they may be able to contribute.
Registering your protocol (on PROSPERO)
PROSPERO is probably the most widely known and used registration platform currently in use, and is specifically designed for systematic reviews and meta-analyses relevant to human health.
To register, authors are required to include the usual information about themselves and their workplace, as well as the scope and protocol to be used for the work. It is important to note that a fully complete protocol is required for registration.
b. Cost and time
The service is free of charge, but you should expect the process to take at least 30 days (at the time this article was written/published), due to the large amount of submissions being handled. This means that your study may become searchable on the database only after this time has elapsed.
c. Accountability and accessibility
In return for using this service for free, authors are expected to be accountable to the standards they set in their protocols. That is to say, a study should be conducted to the high standards and exact specifications laid out in the submitted protocol.
It is of course possible that plans change, or circumstances do not allow for the exact protocol to be carried out. In this case, you would be able to amend or change the protocol submitted. However, the original protocol will also remain accessible in order to retain a complete audit trail.
Prospectively submitting your systematic review or meta-analysis protocol is a positive step to take, holding you and your colleagues accountable for the quality of your work and helping to foster a culture of transparency in academic research.
In summary, the most important things to note are:
- Your registration should be done once a fully complete protocol has been written.
- Ensure that if any changes occur, these amendments are reflected in your PROSPERO account.
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