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Systematic Reviews: Creating inclusion/exclusion criteria


Before beginning your search, you will need to develop a protocol and determine the inclusion and exclusion criteria you will use.

Inclusion criteria is everything that a study must have in order to be included in your review.

Exclusion criteria are the factors that would make a study ineligible to be included in your review.                                                             

These criteria can include dates, how a study was designed, population, outcomes, etc.



Developing a protocol

A protocol is necessary for systematic reviews because it reduces the risk of bias, increases transparency, ensures uniformity amongst the research team, and is ultimately what makes the review systematic.

The protocol includes inclusion and exclusion criteria, eligibility, search strategy, and how you'll assess the studies.

Note that to prevent bias you will need to include studies in other languages. Include in your protocol how you will find and translate these studies.

Your search strategy must be documented: where you are searching and what you are searching for (keywords, synonyms, kinds of studies).

Once you have a protocol, register it. One place you can do that is PROSPERO. In addition to increasing transparency, registering your protocol will let others know what you're researching, so they don't duplicate your work.


protocol tools

Protocol tools


There are several tools available to help develop your protocol:

  • Using the PRISMA checklist will help you cover all of your bases.
  • You can use this tool from Theta Collaborative to create a PRISMA flow chart using your study.
  • The Cochrane Review handbook may help you formulate your protocol.
  • You can also use the AMSTAR checklist to ensure you are performing your review properly.