Frequently Asked Questions

I have a topic for a review in mind. How do I know if this topic falls within the scope of CBN and that it has not already been covered in another Cochrane review?

The scope of CBN covers the areas of primary and secondary prevention and treatment of neck and back pain and other spinal disorders, excluding inflammatory diseases and fractures. Musculoskeletal inflammatory diseases are generally covered by the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group; fractures are generally covered by the Cochrane Bone, Joint and Muscle Trauma Group; reviews that specifically relate to workplace-based neck and back-related interventions and outcomes are generally covered by the newly-formed Cochrane Occupational Safety and Health Review Group. In areas of overlapping clinical interest, the relevant editorial teams collaborate on the review.

You should check the registered titles and published protocols/reviews on our website to ensure minimal overlap between your topic and an already registered topic. Please also see our list of priority review topics here. You may also find more information in section 2.3.2 of the Handbook.

My colleagues and I would like to collaborate on a review. How can we put together a successful review team?

Cochrane requires that review groups have (1) experience with clinical trials and systematic reviews, (2) a mix of content, methodological, and statistical experts, and (3) representation from more than one country.

In addition, the Back Group requires that new author teams have at least one author with previous experience writing systematic reviews and conducting clinical trials. Moreover, at least one person on the team must have strong English writing skills. Please refer to section 2.3.4 of the Handbook.

I would like to write a Cochrane review as part of my Master’s thesis. Will the Cochrane Back and Neck Group support this?

CBN does not accept titles from review teams led by Master’s students. However, if you are conducting a systematic review as part of your program, we would be happy to assist you with your search.

What’s the difference between an Intervention Review and a Diagnostic Test Accuracy (DTA) Review?

An intervention review is a systematic review of studies looking at a particular intervention such as massage or surgical technique. The aim of intervention reviews is to examine the effectiveness of a given intervention for a medical condition. In contrast, DTA reviews look at the ability of diagnostic tests to distinguish between patients with a disease and those without. Please visit the website of the DTA Working Group for more information.

Please note that we have separate Title Proposal Forms for intervention and DTA reviews.

How can I keep track of the tasks needed to register a title?

Use our title registration checklists! For Intervention reviews or Diagnostic Test Accuracy (DTA) reviews.

My title was rejected. Can I submit a revised Title Proposal Form?

Yes, you are welcome to submit a revised Title Proposal Form. Depending on the feedback you received following your initial submission, you may want to make adjustments to your title and/or review team. Please contact the editorial office if you have questions about how you can improve your application.

I’ve heard that Cochrane Systematic Reviews are very involved?  Why is this?

Writing a Cochrane Review is a big commitment. Authors with the Back Group must adhere to the methodological standards set out in The Cochrane Handbook and the CBRG Method Guidelines. This can be very time-consuming, especially for new review authors who are not yet familiar with Cochrane methods.

Cochrane authors are required to publish a protocol before conducting the literature search and writing up the full review. Peer review is required at both the protocol and review stages.

Finally, there is an expectation that authors will publish updated versions of their reviews every two years. This may involve updating methodological aspects of the review in compliance with the most recent version of the Cochrane Handbook.

Is there a deadline for writing and submitting my protocol?

Protocols should be submitted to the Editorial Office within six months of title registration. If a protocol has not been received within one year, the Editorial Office reserves the right to make the title available to other interested review teams.

Is there a deadline for writing and submitting my review?

Completed reviews should be submitted to the Editorial Office within one year of publication of the protocol. If a review has not been received within two years, the Editorial Office reserves the right to make the title available to other interested review teams.

Is there a deadline for updating my review?

Reviews should be updated and submitted to the Editorial Office within two years of publication of the review. If an updated review has not been received within four years, the Editorial Office reserves the right to make the title available to other interested review teams.

Can I publish my Cochrane review in a print journal?

It is expected that the review authors will publish their review first, or at least simultaneously, in the Cochrane Library. If publication in another journal is a goal of the review team, they should discuss this with the Managing Editor so that mutual expectations can be realized.

Does the Back Group have specific methodological standards?

Yes, the CBN Editorial Board updated their methods guidelines by Furlan and colleagues (2015).

How long is the abstract?

700 words (with a maximum of 1000).

How long should my review be?

Although we are not as restricted for space as paper journals, authors should remember that their review is reporting the synthesis of the results of the included studies. The biggest mistake we see from new authors is giving too many details in the text on individual studies. A rough guide is 1500 words for reviews of fewer than five studies, and 3500 words for reviews of more than five. Details of individual trials, potential sources of bias and search strategies should be included as tables, figures, graphs or appendices.

How long should the plain language summary be?

No more than 400 words.

I want to update a review, but I think the original search strategy missed some important references. Can I draft a new search strategy and run it?

Each review team should review the search strategy with the TSC before an update. Strictly speaking, the concept of updating the literature search is to re-run the same search for new publications, but search terms are frequently added to reflect new developments, for example new drug names. In addition, all search strategies used by CBN are updated periodically by the TSC. For example, when new Medical Subject Headings are introduced by the US National Library of Medicine, or when Cochrane updates the guidance on searching for studies in the Cochrane Handbook, CBN search strategies are updated accordingly. Beyond this, major changes to a search strategy should be identified in the "published notes" section and in the "search strategy" section, with appropriate changes and comments throughout the review. If you believe that a search strategy has missed important references, please let us know so we can make the necessary revisions. Chapter 6 of the Handbook covers all aspects of searching for studies.

It has been over a year since we completed our literature search, and we’re wondering if new studies have been published in the meantime. Should we go ahead and submit our review for publication or update the literature search first?

Reviews must be submitted to CBN within a year of completing the literature search. If more than a year has lapsed, then you should update your search, especially if you suspect new trials have been published. Depending on the number of new trials, you will need to decide if you will include them, or publish the review you have just completed, add the relevant trials to the ‘awaiting classification” reference list and update the review as soon as possible to include the new trials. Chapter 6 of the Handbook covers all aspects of searching for studies.

Is there one database that references all the trials on neck and back pain?

Each review group maintains its own Specialized Trials Register, comprised of all trials relevant to its scope of study. CBN's Specialized Trials Register includes RCTs, CCTs, conference proceedings, thesis manuscripts, guidelines and book chapters on neck and back pain. References are identified through regularly updated electronic searches of MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINHAL and CENTRAL; and on an ad hoc basis, by checking the references of newly-released guidelines, references of new reviews (Cochrane and non-Cochrane), and personal libraries.

You can find more information about the Trials Register here.

Why search a journal by hand when we now have electronic databases?

The main reason for searching journals by hand is to capture items that electronic database searches miss. This includes conference proceedings, journals, supplements and grey literature sources that are not indexed, as well as papers that are indexed inconsistently with the criteria of our electronic database search strategies. Handsearching offers a higher level of sensitivity than our electronic searches, which are designed to maximize both sensitivity and precision. More information on handsearching can be found in Chapter 6 of the Handbook.

How does Cochrane keep abreast of new and emerging research?

Cochrane is committed to providing the most reliable evidence of the effectiveness of health care through systematic reviews of RCTs, and recognizes the importance of prospectively registering trials to ensure that the evidence assessed is complete and unbiased. Cochrane has supported the prospective registration of clinical trials since 2004, and recently issued a statement calling for free access to all data from all clinical trials.

The Back and Neck Group conducts regular searches for ongoing trials of back and neck pain treatments in the U.S National Institute of Health database of clinical trials, ClinicalTrials.gov, as well as via the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform Search Portal.

We are always looking for new ways to stay abreast of new and emerging research. If you discover something new, please let us know by sending an email to cochrane@iwh.on.ca.

What if I run my literature search and do not identify any trials that meet my inclusion criteria?

The introductory, objectives and methods sections remain the same, because they describe what you did. Once the search has been conducted, it will become clear whether there is sufficient evidence on the topic. In the case of an empty review (no RCTs), the authors will be guided to stop their review after reporting the results of the literature search and to refrain from drawing any conclusions. Instead, they will end with a standard sentence indicating that there is insufficient evidence to draw any conclusions about effectiveness and safety of the intervention, because no randomised trials were identified.

In the case of empty reviews, it will be particularly important that author teams are committed to keeping the review up-to-date. Review authors will be asked to run a search every six months to see whether there are any RCTs published.

What is Archie?

Archie is Cochrane's central server for managing documents and contact details. If you are an author, your Archie account will enable you to check reviews in and out using Review Manager (RevMan).

Archie Username and Password

If your contact information changes, please remember to update your Archie user profile by logging in and clicking on your name in the top right corner of the screen, under the Quick Search bar. This is particularly important for CBN authors because we send out important notifications via Archie prior to publication.

If you lose track of your password, simply click on the Forgot Your Password? link on the Archie login page. If you have forgotten your username, please contact the editorial office at cochrane@iwh.on.ca

What is RevMan 5?

RevMan 5 is the software that review authors use to write and edit their review(s).

How do I use the Archie system?

Once you have registered your title, we will send you and each of your co-authors instructions for activating a user account in Archie. Having a user account will allow you to (1) access and edit the RevMan file and (2) complete two required electronic publication forms – Conflict of Interest and License for Publication.

How do I check out my review for editing?

When you are ready to begin work on a new or existing review, you will need to check out the review from Archie into RevMan 5. To do this, go to File > My Reviews or click the My Reviews button on the main toolbar. In the My Reviews window, click the review you want to edit and click OK. A ‘Confirm Action’ window will open – click ‘Check Out’ to confirm that you want to check out the review. This will prevent others from accessing the review while you are working on it.

You can find other helpful Archie and RevMan tips here.

If you have not found an answer to your question, please contact the editorial office at cochrane@iwh.on.ca.