Meet with the research team to clarify:
With a librarian's assistance, find any existing or in-process systematic reviews on your topic.
Use the PICO framework to identify the key concepts of the question:
See the AHRQ report from January 2013: The Refinement of Topics for Systematic Reviews: Lessons and Recommendations From the Effective Health Care Program: This report details guiding principles and methodological recommendations that may help investigators to better refine topics for systematic reviews. The primary goal of topic refinement is to formulate research questions that can be addressed by a systematic review;
A protocol should include:
Publish the protocol in a public registry, such as Prospero.
The protocol can be altered as necessary during the project, but the inclusion/exclusion criteria should be set before the actual search is conducted in order to reduce bias.