Systematic Review Research Proposal
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The following guidance notes are intended to give you a clear idea of what should be included in your systematic review proposal. A proposal is written in a report style, not an essay, and not one free flowing piece of text. This assignment, although requiring a greater degree of critical reflection than the average systematic review proposal, largely follows this structure. It is therefore suggested that when writing your proposal you should use headings such as those listed below
This is the name given to your systematic review proposal and needs to reflect the substance of your research plan. For example, if you were interested in knowing about the effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity in children and adolescents then the title might be; Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity in children and adolescents: systematic review proposal
Although you will be anxious to complete your assignment take some time to think carefully (and refine) your research question. This is a very important part of the research process.
Your abstract should be a concise summary of your proposal, yet it must also be comprehensive enough for the reader to gain an understanding of the proposed project. You may wish to begin with a general statement about the research problem the proposal seeks to address and then summarise the importance of the problem, the methodology you intend using together with a brief description of the SR protocol. The length of the abstract should be between 100-250 words, which are not included in the total word count.
Introduction (rationale for proposed study)
In this section you will need to provide the reader with the context to your research including the reason why you think the research should be undertaken. These reasons are likely to be work related but you will also need to place the research problem within a wider socio-political context. Some discussion of how you envisage your research being used in terms of developing policy and practice within your area of work should also be included in this section. For example, if you were proposing to carry out research on drug abusers you may wish to use the results to develop more effective treatment programmes. Before writing this section you should carefully considered some of the following question:
- _What is the context of your research question/problem?
- _What have others said about your research question/problem? – this section does not include your literature review but you may find it useful to refer to one or two sources which have helped you to identify your research question.
- _Where, when and who are you studying? (Your research population – this is normally interpreted as people, but could be documentary sources or types of equipment).
- _Is your research question identified as an issue within contemporary policy and practice developments?
- _How will your research help to improve practice?
- _State clearly the aim (general statement of intent) and objectives (specific issues to be addressed) of the proposed study.
- _State clearly the research question.
Reviewing and evaluating research literature is central to the research process and in this section you will be discussing related research articles and relevant theoretical or policy perspectives that are most relevant to your research question. A good literature review is far more than a critical appraisal of a series of research studies, it should create a structure in which you legitimise carrying out your proposed study. You should consider some of the following questions in reviewing relevant literature:
_How was the literature search process conducted?
_What are the main theoretical perspectives contained within the literature?
_What are the strengths and weaknesses of the literature you have reviewed?
_What are the similarities and differences in the literature?
_Are there any inconsistencies in the literature?
_Are there any gaps in the literature, which your research would be addressing?
_Have you identified the interrelationships between previous literature and your proposed study?
_Have you justified any constraints in the review of the literature?
Remember that in this section you need to convince the reader that your research is worth doing. Your review will also need to be coherent so think carefully about how you wish to organise your discussion/critique of the relevant literature as well as developing your rationale for carrying out the study.
The literature review for an SR requires also in addition to the above include discussion relating to a scoping review. This involves a quick and unsystematic search of an electronic database to ensure that there will be sufficient research to include in the review and not so much that that review will become unmanageable. During the scoping review it is also important to ensure that research question has not already been answered using an up-to-date and valid systematic review. The details of all papers identified in this scoping review are not necessarily reported in your literature to support the proposal but are part of your rationale for supporting the methodology.
Part of the scoping review should enable you to determine the nature of the research approach adopted in the field i.e. qualitative/quantitative/mixed methods.
In this section you must carefully consider the different research paradigms. You must show that you have an understanding of the overall research approaches. Your choice and defence of a particular methodology will be based on an epistemology (theory of knowledge) relevant to your research question, rather than personal choice. In the context of an SR you will need to determine what type of research
designs will best address your topic. There is never only one way to study a research question so you must critically analyse philosophies underpinning qualitative and quantitative approaches to justify the appropriateness of your chosen methodology.
_What research paradigm is most appropriate and why have you chosen this particular paradigm?
A research protocol for a systematic review is a strategic plan which ensures that the evidence obtained enables you to answer the research question as unambiguously as possible, and would allow another researcher to replicate the review. It is therefore important for the search process to be explicit and unequivocal. In the research protocol the search strategy, quality appraisal, data collection methods, data synthesis are outlined and justified.
Your review protocol should include the following
_Criteria for including studies: Describe and justify the type of studies which you would include, eg qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, surveys etc. In this section use subheadings to discuss and justify the inclusion and exclusion criteria you will apply to the SR question. Eg population, intervention, study design, outcomes etc. You must consider hierarchy of evidence.
_Identification of studies:
Provide a list of search terms. These need to be identified and justified in relation to the research question and scoping review. The list of search terms/keywords should be developed drawing on synonyms and related terms. Each concept identified within the research question should be included in this process
You should detail and justify your electronic database search including which databases (Medline, EMBASE, ISI Web of Knowledge, Google Scholar, etc), between which years. You should also detail which journals you intend to hand search and if you are going to screen review articles and other bibliographies.
_Study selection: Here you would describe how you intend to handle all the studies that you identify and how you make a final selection for the review
_Quality assessment: Appraisal of Rigour. This section requires you to discuss QA process in terms of internal and external validity or trustworthiness and its relevance to ensuing good quality data. You should provide details of an appropriate tool for this purpose with a justification for your decision.
_Quality assessment -: Ethical Appraisal. In this section you should reflect upon what issues you would need to appraise in studies which are part of your review. Which ethical principles do you need to consider in relation to the appraisal of the studies for inclusion in the SR.
In addition you need to consider what steps you will undertake to ensure your SR is ethically sound.
_Data extraction: Here you should describe and justify what data you will extract, eg methods, sample intervention etc, and what type of tool you will use to guide the process. An example of the data abstraction tool should be included as an appendix.
_Data analysis: Here you should describe how you will handle the data. What you do with the data may very much depend on what you will be able to extract from the individual papers. You
need to consider what type of data is most likely to be found (quantitative or qualitative or both) and the proposed data synthesis and presentation strategy eg meta analysis etc
What are the potential limitations of the Systematic Review?
It is also important to identify how you will share your research findings with others, including the different ways in which you would try to ensure that your research improved practice and influenced policy decisions.
The Harvard Referencing System you have used in previous Anglia Ruskin University assignments should be used. Please see the University Library website for Harvard System of referencing guide at: http://libweb.anglia.ac.uk/referencing/referencing.htm
In your appendices you might include an anticipated schedule of your work, a data abstraction form, quality appraisal tool etc