Background: The prioritisation of relevant and productive systematic reviews is a central concern of The Cochrane Collaboration. It is also of increasing interest to funders. There are many ways in which Cochrane Review Groups (CRGs) can attempt to prioritise review topics. We sought to generate a list of important review topics by analysing the distribution of RCTs in our trials register, and applying an 'expert analysis filter'.
Objectives: To prioritise important and potentially productive systematic reviews in ear, nose and throat (ENT) topics.
Methods: The distribution of randomized and controlled clinical trials in the Cochrane ENT Disorders Group Trials Register was mapped by the group's Trials Search Co-ordinator to a) determine which areas of our field have been evaluated by trials, b) highlight the significant gaps in the evidence and c) map those areas where the evidence is rich and new reviews would be productive and informative. We used the results of this research to generate a list of potential review topics. After removing topics on which there was either a published or ongoing Cochrane review, we then undertook a consultation exercise using the group's Board of Editors to screen further the list for clinical relevance and level of urgency.
Results: From an initial list of 52 topics, we developed a Call for Proposals comprising 28 review titles. This was circulated to the Cochrane ENT Disorders Group members in September 2005. By March 2006, protocols for five of these titles were in preparation and interest had been expressed in a further five.
Conclusions: Mapping the distribution of randomized and controlled clinical trials in the CRG trials register can be a useful strategy for identifying important and productive topics for systematic reviews.