Risk of bias is an inherent quality of primary research and therefore of systematic reviews. This column addresses the Cochrane Collaboration's approach to assessing, risks of bias, the meaning of each, indicators of low, high and uncertain, and ways that risk of bias can be represented in a Cochrane systematic review report. The sources of risk of bias that reviewers evaluate include selection, performance, detection, attrition and reporting bias. Each poses threat to the internal validity of the primary studies and requires the reviewer to judge the level of risk as high, low or unclear. Reviewers need to address how studies of higher risk of bias might impact the pooled effect.