A protocol is a document in which a research team lays out in detail what question they are trying to answer, why it is important to answer it in the context of the existing published research as well as the wants and needs of stakeholders, and exactly how the team are going to answer it.
Sometimes a protocol will be required in order for the team to apply for research funding or to submit to a research ethics process. For certain types of studies, like clinical trials and systematic reviews, standards include requirements for protocols and there are a growing number of journals that require a protocol be registered and/or published before the completed paper is submitted for publication.
Even when there isn't an outside body requiring that a research team produce a protocol, writing one can help the team with their research in a number of ways:
The specific requirements for a protocol are a little different depending on the type of study that is being planned, and depending on whether the protocol is to be published, registered, or kept as an internal document for the team to work from.
In general, the team can expect to be addressing variations on some of the following questions:
For specific advice or requirements for your team's research protocol: