Improving peer review of systematic reviews by involving librarians and information specialists: protocol for a randomized controlled trial

M.L. Rethlefsen*, S. Schroter, L.M. Bouter, D. Moher, A.P. Ayala, J.J. Kirkham, M.P. Zeegers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background: Problems continue to exist with the reporting quality and risk of bias in search methods and strategies in systematic reviews and related review types. Peer reviewers who are not familiar with what is required to transparently and fully report a search may not be prepared to review the search components of systematic reviews, nor may they know what is likely to introduce bias into a search. Librarians and information specialists, who have expertise in searching, may offer specialized knowledge that would help improve systematic review search reporting and lessen risk of bias, but they are underutilized as methodological peer reviewers.Methods: This study will evaluate the effect of adding librarians and information specialists as methodological peer reviewers on the quality of search reporting and risk of bias in systematic review searches. The study will be a pragmatic randomized controlled trial using 150 systematic review manuscripts submitted to BMJ and BMJ Open as the unit of randomization. Manuscripts that report on completed systematic reviews and related review types and have been sent for peer review are eligible. For each manuscript randomized to the intervention, a librarian/information specialist will be invited as an additional peer reviewer using standard practices for each journal. First revision manuscripts will be assessed in duplicate for reporting quality and risk of bias, using adherence to 4 items from PRISMA-S and assessors' judgements on 4 signaling questions from ROBIS Domain 2, respectively. Identifying information from the manuscripts will be removed prior to assessment.Discussion: The primary outcomes for this study are quality of reporting as indicated by differences in the proportion of adequately reported searches in first revision manuscripts between intervention and control groups and risk of bias as indicated by differences in the proportions of first revision manuscripts with high, low, and unclear bias. If the intervention demonstrates an effect on search reporting or bias, this may indicate a need for journal editors to work with librarians and information specialists as methodological peer reviewers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number791
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2021


  • Peer review
  • Librarians and information specialists
  • Systematic reviews
  • Literature searching

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