This article is the fourth of six articles addressing systematic reviews in animal agriculture and veterinary medicine. Previous articles in the series have introduced systematic reviews, discussed study designs and hierarchies of evidence, and provided details on conducting randomized controlled trials, a common design for use in systematic reviews. This article describes development of a review protocol and the first two steps in a systematic review: formulating a review question, and searching the literature for relevant research. The emphasis is on systematic reviews of questions related to interventions. The review protocol is developed prior to conducting the review and specifies the plan for the conduct of the review, identifies the roles and responsibilities of the review team and provides structured definitions related to the review question. For intervention questions, the review question should be defined by the PICO components: population, intervention, comparison and outcome(s). The literature search is designed to identify all potentially relevant original research that may address the question. Search terms related to some or all of the PICO components are entered into literature databases, and searches for unpublished literature also are conducted. All steps of the literature search are documented to provide transparent reporting of the process.
Keywords: Bibliographic databases; CAB Abstracts; MEDLINE; information retrieval; literature searching.
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