A guide to writing a qualitative systematic review protocol to enhance evidence-based practice in nursing and health care

Ashleigh Butler, Helen Hall, Beverley Copnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The qualitative systematic review is a rapidly developing area of nursing research. In order to present trustworthy, high-quality recommendations, such reviews should be based on a review protocol to minimize bias and enhance transparency and reproducibility. Although there are a number of resources available to guide researchers in developing a quantitative review protocol, very few resources exist for qualitative reviews. Aims: To guide researchers through the process of developing a qualitative systematic review protocol, using an example review question. Methodology: The key elements required in a systematic review protocol are discussed, with a focus on application to qualitative reviews: Development of a research question; formulation of key search terms and strategies; designing a multistage review process; critical appraisal of qualitative literature; development of data extraction techniques; and data synthesis. The paper highlights important considerations during the protocol development process, and uses a previously developed review question as a working example. Implications for Research: This paper will assist novice researchers in developing a qualitative systematic review protocol. By providing a worked example of a protocol, the paper encourages the development of review protocols, enhancing the trustworthiness and value of the completed qualitative systematic review findings. Linking Evidence to Action: Qualitative systematic reviews should be based on well planned, peer reviewed protocols to enhance the trustworthiness of results and thus their usefulness in clinical practice. Protocols should outline, in detail, the processes which will be used to undertake the review, including key search terms, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and the methods used for critical appraisal, data extraction and data analysis to facilitate transparency of the review process. Additionally, journals should encourage and support the publication of review protocols, and should require reference to a protocol prior to publication of the review results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-249
Number of pages9
JournalWorldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Guidelines
  • Meta synthesis
  • Qualitative
  • Systematic review protocol

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