The importance of writing a Cochrane protocol
There are four main reasons why the Cochrane Collaboration asks review authors to prepare a protocol for their review:
- once the protocol has been written, the rest of the review follows.
- bias is reduced.
- there is access to peer-review which ensures quality. (PaPaS's policy requires assessment of each protocol by at least one internal editor and two external peer referees prior to publication).
- publication of protocols reduces duplication of effort - anyone interested in researching the same topic will become aware of the work in progress.
Support available to help authors prepare a protocol
Various courses are available to help support writing or preparing to write a Cochrane protocol. Courses are listed on the Cochrane Collaboration's website: www.cochrane.org. Please note however, each Cochrane Centre is resourced differently, so appropriate training may not be available locally within the required time scale. If this is the case, there are other sources of information available to you via your Managing Editor or from the following links and resources.
- The following link may be helpful in the writing of your protocol: http://ims.cochrane.org/support/authors
- Our Trials Search Co-ordinator can help you in designing your search strategy – information is also available on our module text found in the ‘About Cochrane’ section on The Cochrane Library website.
- Training courses are generally organised by Cochrane Centres around the world. A list of training events can be found at: www.cochrane.org/resources/training.htm or you can contact the appropriate centre direct.
- Additional on-line resources to help you prepare your review are available at: www.training.cochrane.org, it is highly recommended that you work through this website to help you get to grips with writing a systematic review. This website is in development and more training resources are being included.
- In addition, a number of training events take place at the Collaboration's annual colloquium in October each year. Further details of this event are available at: www.colloquium.info/.
- Review Manager is the Cochrane Collaboration's software used to prepare reviews for publication in The Cochrane Library.
- The best single guide to the technical aspects of producing a protocol/review in RevMan is the RevMan User Guide, which is available in PDF format at: http://www.cc-ims.net/RevMan/.
- A tutorial in the use of RevMan 5 is also available under the 'Help' menu in RevMan.
- Guidance on systematic review methods is given in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, which is available under the 'Help' menu in RevMan, or via the Collaboration's website: www.cochrane.org. The version on the web site is usually the most up-to-date. The Handbook is also available as PDF chapters via our online system Archie, which you can access once you have a password.
- Also don't forget to get a copy of the Cochrane Style guide when you are ready to start entering text into RevMan, keep a copy of the Cochrane Style Guide to hand. This guide can be downloaded from: http://www.cochrane.org/style/csg.htm. The style guide has been written in liaison with the publishers of The Cochrane Library, Wiley-Blackwell, and gives guidance on text layout, reference format spellings, etc, in order to ensure that your protocol/review complies with their publication requirements.
- The software can be downloaded from the Collaboration's website, or can be obtained from your Cochrane Centre or editorial office (see below). For further technical information, please contact the Managing Editor.
A unique User name and password is required to use 'Archie'. The editorial office will send you an email to set your Archie account up. Familiarise yourself with the Archie program and RevMan 5 which communicates with Archie and saves all your different 'checked in' versions there. You will see that there are standard 'fixed' headings which cannot be edited within RevMan 5. These ensure that all reviews are laid out in the same 'house' style so that frequent users of Cochrane reviews can easily find the information they require, and provide a framework so that authors don't leave out important information. Chapter 4 is particularly helpful as a reference guide to ensure you've completed each section of the review correctly.
The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions
The Cochrane Handbook is an essential guide to writing a Cochrane review, and includes information on preparing a protocol. It is important to read the appropriate chapters relating to 'Writing a Protocol' in the Handbook (chapters 2 and 4) before you start work on your protocol. The Handbook is available through the Cochrane Collaboration's website: www.cochrane.org (see under Guidelines, Manuals and Checklists) or go to www.cochrane-handbook.org and it is now available to purchase as a book or is downloadable as individual Chapters through Archie. After protocol publication, the next stage in the process is to prepare your review.
The Handbook can also be accessed from the 'Help' menu in RevMan. If you don't have access to the Handbook through either of these sources, contact the Managing Editor.
You may find it helpful to read previously published protocols. Peer-reviewed protocols are published in The Cochrane Library. They are listed alphabetically by title in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. To get an idea of the content and depth of information required, browse a few which have a similar focus or might have relevant methodological issues to address.
Read the 'Module' for the Pain, Palliative and Supportive Care Group (PaPaS) in The Cochrane Library. The Cochrane Library contains a section entitled: 'About the Collaboration'. Under that heading is a folder called 'Cochrane Review Groups - CRGs'. This folder contains the 'Modules' of each Cochrane review group. The Module contains information about PaPaS' structure and policies with regard to the preparation and submission of protocols and reviews.