Research is a conversation. Researchers attempt to answer a study question, and then other groups of researchers support, contest or expand on those findings. Over the years, this process produces a body of evidence representing the scientific community’s conversation on a given topic. But what did those research teams have to say? What did they determine is the answer to the question? How did they arrive at that answer?
That is where a systematic review enters the conversation. We know, for example, that a significant amount of research exists exploring gender differences in mathematics achievement, but it is unclear how girls’ math identity contributes to or ameliorates this disparity. In response, we are conducting a systematic review to understand how improving girls’ math identity supports their participation, engagement and achievement in math. This review will assist us in moving from a more subjective understanding of the issue to a rigorous and unbiased assessment of the current evidence to date.
Developing a systematic review protocol requires thoughtful decision-making about how to reduce various forms of bias at each stage of the process. Below we discuss some of the decisions made to reduce bias in our systematic review exploring girls’ math identity, in the hopes that it will inform others undertaking similar efforts.