Developing and submitting a protocol is the second step in the publication process. A protocol should give a detailed outline of:
- the Population, Intervention, Comparisons and Outcomes (PICO) you plan to examine.
- how you plan to search the literature, select and appraise the methodological quality of relevant articles, and extract and analyze the data.
The thought of doing a systematic review can be daunting for new review authors. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you get started. Since expectations and methods of completing Cochrane reviews are constantly evolving, experienced review authors are also advised to review the materials before going further.
Cochrane Back and Neck (CBN) encourages new review authors to attend a "Developing a protocol for a review" training workshop before beginning work. At the very least, the team should review the materials forwarded by the Managing Editor or available on the Cochrane Collaboration web site. It may seem like a lot of extra work when you want to get started on answering your clinical question, but it is time well spent.
These materials include:
- Articles to assist review authors
- The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions - in particular:
- Sections 1 - 5;
- Introduction, Format of a Cochrane review, Developing a protocol, Formulating the problem, Locating and selecting studies
You can also find up-to-date training resources at http://www.cochrane.org/training/authors, including links to the Cochrane Training website, new online learning materials and webinars, information on how to register a title, how to fill out the online Licence for Publication forms and more.
The software used by Cochrane to develop and submit reviews is called Review Manager (RevMan). All protocols and reviews must be submitted to CBN Managing Editor in RevMan. As with any new software, it may take some time to learn how it works. We strongly advise taking time to familiarize yourself with RevMan before starting. Within RevMan you will find a comprehensive exercise for beginners. It takes a couple of hours to complete. Please do not hesitate to contact the CBN Managing Editor if you are still experiencing problems.
The CBN Review Process
Once the Managing Editor receives a protocol, she sends it to one member of the Editorial Board and one member of the Associate Editorial Board to be refereed (evaluated). Once all comments are received from the referees, the Managing Editor summarizes them and forwards them to the lead author. This should take four to five weeks.
It is then up to the review team to draft a written response to the editors' comments, revise the protocol as necessary, and return the revised protocol and their responses to the Managing Editor. This package is then circulated to the co-ordinating editors for review and comment. When they are satisfied with the product, they will give publication approval.
The development of a protocol is an iterative process and authors are invited to discuss concerns with the Managing Editor. In the event a consensus cannot be reached at this level, the matter can be referred to the co-ordinating editors, or in extreme cases, to the Publication Arbiter.
Copy editing of the protocol is done at the coordinating office, but review authors are asked to refer to the Cochrane Style Guide before their final submission.
The Managing Editor will send the lead author an official notification of publication and the published RevMan version of the protocol. Review authors are asked to use this version to complete the review.
Once the protocol has been approved, it may be referred to as a Cochrane protocol. The review team has one year to submit a completed review. Failure to do so may result in the title being withdrawn from the list of registered titles and the topic freed up again for other authors.