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Ethical Considerations – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

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Ethical Considerations

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations in research refer to the principles and guidelines that researchers must follow to ensure that their studies are conducted in an ethical and responsible manner. These considerations are designed to protect the rights, safety, and well-being of research participants, as well as the integrity and credibility of the research itself

Some of the key ethical considerations in research include:

  • Informed consent: Researchers must obtain informed consent from study participants, which means they must inform participants about the study’s purpose, procedures, risks, benefits, and their right to withdraw at any time.
  • Privacy and confidentiality : Researchers must ensure that participants’ privacy and confidentiality are protected. This means that personal information should be kept confidential and not shared without the participant’s consent.
  • Harm reduction : Researchers must ensure that the study does not harm the participants physically or psychologically. They must take steps to minimize the risks associated with the study.
  • Fairness and equity : Researchers must ensure that the study does not discriminate against any particular group or individual. They should treat all participants equally and fairly.
  • Use of deception: Researchers must use deception only if it is necessary to achieve the study’s objectives. They must inform participants of the deception as soon as possible.
  • Use of vulnerable populations : Researchers must be especially cautious when working with vulnerable populations, such as children, pregnant women, prisoners, and individuals with cognitive or intellectual disabilities.
  • Conflict of interest : Researchers must disclose any potential conflicts of interest that may affect the study’s integrity. This includes financial or personal relationships that could influence the study’s results.
  • Data manipulation: Researchers must not manipulate data to support a particular hypothesis or agenda. They should report the results of the study objectively, even if the findings are not consistent with their expectations.
  • Intellectual property: Researchers must respect intellectual property rights and give credit to previous studies and research.
  • Cultural sensitivity : Researchers must be sensitive to the cultural norms and beliefs of the participants. They should avoid imposing their values and beliefs on the participants and should be respectful of their cultural practices.

Types of Ethical Considerations

Types of Ethical Considerations are as follows:

Research Ethics:

This includes ethical principles and guidelines that govern research involving human or animal subjects, ensuring that the research is conducted in an ethical and responsible manner.

Business Ethics :

This refers to ethical principles and standards that guide business practices and decision-making, such as transparency, honesty, fairness, and social responsibility.

Medical Ethics :

This refers to ethical principles and standards that govern the practice of medicine, including the duty to protect patient autonomy, informed consent, confidentiality, and non-maleficence.

Environmental Ethics :

This involves ethical principles and values that guide our interactions with the natural world, including the obligation to protect the environment, minimize harm, and promote sustainability.

Legal Ethics

This involves ethical principles and standards that guide the conduct of legal professionals, including issues such as confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and professional competence.

Social Ethics

This involves ethical principles and values that guide our interactions with other individuals and society as a whole, including issues such as justice, fairness, and human rights.

Information Ethics

This involves ethical principles and values that govern the use and dissemination of information, including issues such as privacy, accuracy, and intellectual property.

Cultural Ethics

This involves ethical principles and values that govern the relationship between different cultures and communities, including issues such as respect for diversity, cultural sensitivity, and inclusivity.

Technological Ethics

This refers to ethical principles and guidelines that govern the development, use, and impact of technology, including issues such as privacy, security, and social responsibility.

Journalism Ethics

This involves ethical principles and standards that guide the practice of journalism, including issues such as accuracy, fairness, and the public interest.

Educational Ethics

This refers to ethical principles and standards that guide the practice of education, including issues such as academic integrity, fairness, and respect for diversity.

Political Ethics

This involves ethical principles and values that guide political decision-making and behavior, including issues such as accountability, transparency, and the protection of civil liberties.

Professional Ethics

This refers to ethical principles and standards that guide the conduct of professionals in various fields, including issues such as honesty, integrity, and competence.

Personal Ethics

This involves ethical principles and values that guide individual behavior and decision-making, including issues such as personal responsibility, honesty, and respect for others.

Global Ethics

This involves ethical principles and values that guide our interactions with other nations and the global community, including issues such as human rights, environmental protection, and social justice.

Applications of Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations are important in many areas of society, including medicine, business, law, and technology. Here are some specific applications of ethical considerations:

  • Medical research : Ethical considerations are crucial in medical research, particularly when human subjects are involved. Researchers must ensure that their studies are conducted in a way that does not harm participants and that participants give informed consent before participating.
  • Business practices: Ethical considerations are also important in business, where companies must make decisions that are socially responsible and avoid activities that are harmful to society. For example, companies must ensure that their products are safe for consumers and that they do not engage in exploitative labor practices.
  • Environmental protection: Ethical considerations play a crucial role in environmental protection, as companies and governments must weigh the benefits of economic development against the potential harm to the environment. Decisions about land use, resource allocation, and pollution must be made in an ethical manner that takes into account the long-term consequences for the planet and future generations.
  • Technology development : As technology continues to advance rapidly, ethical considerations become increasingly important in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and genetic engineering. Developers must ensure that their creations do not harm humans or the environment and that they are developed in a way that is fair and equitable.
  • Legal system : The legal system relies on ethical considerations to ensure that justice is served and that individuals are treated fairly. Lawyers and judges must abide by ethical standards to maintain the integrity of the legal system and to protect the rights of all individuals involved.

Examples of Ethical Considerations

Here are a few examples of ethical considerations in different contexts:

  • In healthcare : A doctor must ensure that they provide the best possible care to their patients and avoid causing them harm. They must respect the autonomy of their patients, and obtain informed consent before administering any treatment or procedure. They must also ensure that they maintain patient confidentiality and avoid any conflicts of interest.
  • In the workplace: An employer must ensure that they treat their employees fairly and with respect, provide them with a safe working environment, and pay them a fair wage. They must also avoid any discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or any other characteristic protected by law.
  • In the media : Journalists must ensure that they report the news accurately and without bias. They must respect the privacy of individuals and avoid causing harm or distress. They must also be transparent about their sources and avoid any conflicts of interest.
  • In research: Researchers must ensure that they conduct their studies ethically and with integrity. They must obtain informed consent from participants, protect their privacy, and avoid any harm or discomfort. They must also ensure that their findings are reported accurately and without bias.
  • In personal relationships : People must ensure that they treat others with respect and kindness, and avoid causing harm or distress. They must respect the autonomy of others and avoid any actions that would be considered unethical, such as lying or cheating. They must also respect the confidentiality of others and maintain their privacy.

How to Write Ethical Considerations

When writing about research involving human subjects or animals, it is essential to include ethical considerations to ensure that the study is conducted in a manner that is morally responsible and in accordance with professional standards. Here are some steps to help you write ethical considerations:

  • Describe the ethical principles: Start by explaining the ethical principles that will guide the research. These could include principles such as respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.
  • Discuss informed consent : Informed consent is a critical ethical consideration when conducting research. Explain how you will obtain informed consent from participants, including how you will explain the purpose of the study, potential risks and benefits, and how you will protect their privacy.
  • Address confidentiality : Describe how you will protect the confidentiality of the participants’ personal information and data, including any measures you will take to ensure that the data is kept secure and confidential.
  • Consider potential risks and benefits : Describe any potential risks or harms to participants that could result from the study and how you will minimize those risks. Also, discuss the potential benefits of the study, both to the participants and to society.
  • Discuss the use of animals : If the research involves the use of animals, address the ethical considerations related to animal welfare. Explain how you will minimize any potential harm to the animals and ensure that they are treated ethically.
  • Mention the ethical approval : Finally, it’s essential to acknowledge that the research has received ethical approval from the relevant institutional review board or ethics committee. State the name of the committee, the date of approval, and any specific conditions or requirements that were imposed.

When to Write Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations should be written whenever research involves human subjects or has the potential to impact human beings, animals, or the environment in some way. Ethical considerations are also important when research involves sensitive topics, such as mental health, sexuality, or religion.

In general, ethical considerations should be an integral part of any research project, regardless of the field or subject matter. This means that they should be considered at every stage of the research process, from the initial planning and design phase to data collection, analysis, and dissemination.

Ethical considerations should also be written in accordance with the guidelines and standards set by the relevant regulatory bodies and professional associations. These guidelines may vary depending on the discipline, so it is important to be familiar with the specific requirements of your field.

Purpose of Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations are an essential aspect of many areas of life, including business, healthcare, research, and social interactions. The primary purposes of ethical considerations are:

  • Protection of human rights: Ethical considerations help ensure that people’s rights are respected and protected. This includes respecting their autonomy, ensuring their privacy is respected, and ensuring that they are not subjected to harm or exploitation.
  • Promoting fairness and justice: Ethical considerations help ensure that people are treated fairly and justly, without discrimination or bias. This includes ensuring that everyone has equal access to resources and opportunities, and that decisions are made based on merit rather than personal biases or prejudices.
  • Promoting honesty and transparency : Ethical considerations help ensure that people are truthful and transparent in their actions and decisions. This includes being open and honest about conflicts of interest, disclosing potential risks, and communicating clearly with others.
  • Maintaining public trust: Ethical considerations help maintain public trust in institutions and individuals. This is important for building and maintaining relationships with customers, patients, colleagues, and other stakeholders.
  • Ensuring responsible conduct: Ethical considerations help ensure that people act responsibly and are accountable for their actions. This includes adhering to professional standards and codes of conduct, following laws and regulations, and avoiding behaviors that could harm others or damage the environment.

Advantages of Ethical Considerations

Here are some of the advantages of ethical considerations:

  • Builds Trust : When individuals or organizations follow ethical considerations, it creates a sense of trust among stakeholders, including customers, clients, and employees. This trust can lead to stronger relationships and long-term loyalty.
  • Reputation and Brand Image : Ethical considerations are often linked to a company’s brand image and reputation. By following ethical practices, a company can establish a positive image and reputation that can enhance its brand value.
  • Avoids Legal Issues: Ethical considerations can help individuals and organizations avoid legal issues and penalties. By adhering to ethical principles, companies can reduce the risk of facing lawsuits, regulatory investigations, and fines.
  • Increases Employee Retention and Motivation: Employees tend to be more satisfied and motivated when they work for an organization that values ethics. Companies that prioritize ethical considerations tend to have higher employee retention rates, leading to lower recruitment costs.
  • Enhances Decision-making: Ethical considerations help individuals and organizations make better decisions. By considering the ethical implications of their actions, decision-makers can evaluate the potential consequences and choose the best course of action.
  • Positive Impact on Society: Ethical considerations have a positive impact on society as a whole. By following ethical practices, companies can contribute to social and environmental causes, leading to a more sustainable and equitable society.

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What Are the Ethical Considerations in Research Design?

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When I began my work on the thesis I was always focused on my research. However, once I began to make my way through research, I realized that research ethics is a core aspect of the research work and the foundation of research design.

Research ethics play a crucial role in ensuring the responsible conduct of research. Here are some key reasons why research ethics matter:

Why Research Ethics Matter

Let us look into some of the major ethical considerations in research design.

Ethical Issues in Research

There are many organizations, like the Committee on Publication Ethics , dedicated to promoting ethics in scientific research. These organizations agree that ethics is not an afterthought or side note to the research study. It is an integral aspect of research that needs to remain at the forefront of our work.

The research design must address specific research questions. Hence, the conclusions of the study must correlate to the questions posed and the results. Also, research ethics demands that the methods used must relate specifically to the research questions.

Voluntary Participation and Consent

An individual should at no point feel any coercion to participate in a study. This includes any type of persuasion or deception in attempting to gain an individual’s trust.

Informed consent states that an individual must give their explicit consent to participate in the study. You can think of consent form as an agreement of trust between the researcher and the participants.

Sampling is the first step in research design . You will need to explain why you want a particular group of participants. You will have to explain why you left out certain people or groups. In addition, if your sample includes children or special needs individuals, you will have additional requirements to address like parental permission.


The third ethics principle of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) states that: “The confidentiality of the information supplied by research subjects and the anonymity of respondents must be respected.” However, sometimes confidentiality is limited. For example, if a participant is at risk of harm, we must protect them. This might require releasing confidential information.

Risk of Harm

We should do everything in our power to protect study participants. For this, we should focus on the risk to benefit ratio. If possible risks outweigh the benefits, then we should abandon or redesign the study. Risk of harm also requires us to measure the risk to benefit ratio as the study progresses.

Research Methods

We know there are numerous research methods. However, when it comes to ethical considerations, some key questions can help us find the right approach for our studies.

i. Which methods most effectively fit the aims of your research?

ii. What are the strengths and restrictions of a particular method?

iii. Are there potential risks when using a particular research method?

For more guidance, you can refer to the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics .

Ethical issues in research can arise at various stages of the research process and involve different aspects of the study. Here are some common examples of ethical issues in research:

Examples of Ethical Issues in Research

Institutional Review Boards

The importance of ethics in research cannot be understated. Following ethical guidelines will ensure your study’s validity and promote its contribution to scientific study. On a personal level, you will strengthen your research and increase your opportunities to gain funding.

To address the need for ethical considerations, most institutions have their own Institutional Review Board (IRB). An IRB secures the safety of human participants and prevents violation of human rights. It reviews the research aims and methodologies to ensure ethical practices are followed. If a research design does not follow the set ethical guidelines, then the  researcher will have to amend their study.

Applying for Ethical Approval

Applications for ethical approval will differ across institutions. Regardless, they focus on the benefits of your research and the risk to benefit ratio concerning participants. Therefore, you need to effectively address both in order to get ethical clearence.


It is vital that you make it clear that individuals are provided with sufficient information in order to make an informed decision on their participation. In addition, you need to demonstrate that the ethical issues of consent, risk of harm, and confidentiality are clearly defined.

Benefits of the Study

You need to prove to the panel that your work is essential and will yield results that contribute to the scientific community. For this, you should demonstrate the following:

i. The conduct of research guarantees the quality and integrity of results.

ii. The research will be properly distributed.

iii. The aims of the research are clear and the methodology is appropriate.

Integrity and transparency are vital in the research. Ethics committees expect you to share any actual or potential conflicts of interest that could affect your work. In addition, you have to be honest and transparent throughout the approval process and the research process.

The Dangers of Unethical Practices

There is a reason to  follow ethical guidelines. Without these guidelines, our research will suffer. Moreover, more importantly, people could suffer.

The following are just two examples of infamous cases of unethical research practices that demonstrate the importance of adhering to ethical standards:

  • The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) aimed to investigate the psychological effects of power using the relationship between prisoners and prison officers. Those assigned the role of “prison officers” embraced measures that exposed “prisoners” to psychological and physical harm. In this case, there was voluntary participation. However, there was disregard for  welfare of the participants.
  • Recently, Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced his work on genetically edited babies . Over 100 Chinese scientists denounced this research, calling it “crazy” and “shocking and unacceptable.” This research shows a troubling attitude of “do first, debate later” and a disregard for the ethical concerns of manipulating the human body Wang Yuedan, a professor of immunology at Peking University, calls this “an ethics disaster for the world” and demands strict punishments for this type of ethics violation.

What are your experiences with research ethics? How have you developed an ethical approach to research design? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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Ethical considerations in research: Best practices and examples

what is ethical considerations in research

To conduct responsible research, you’ve got to think about ethics. They protect participants’ rights and their well-being - and they ensure your findings are valid and reliable. This isn’t just a box for you to tick. It’s a crucial consideration that can make all the difference to the outcome of your research.

In this article, we'll explore the meaning and importance of research ethics in today's research landscape. You'll learn best practices to conduct ethical and impactful research.

Examples of ethical considerations in research

As a researcher, you're responsible for ethical research alongside your organization. Fulfilling ethical guidelines is critical. Organizations must ensure employees follow best practices to protect participants' rights and well-being.

Keep these things in mind when it comes to ethical considerations in research:

Voluntary participation

Voluntary participation is key. Nobody should feel like they're being forced to participate or pressured into doing anything they don't want to. That means giving people a choice and the ability to opt out at any time, even if they've already agreed to take part in the study.

Informed consent

Informed consent isn't just an ethical consideration. It's a legal requirement as well. Participants must fully understand what they're agreeing to, including potential risks and benefits.

The best way to go about this is by using a consent form. Make sure you include:

  • A brief description of the study and research methods.
  • The potential benefits and risks of participating.
  • The length of the study.
  • Contact information for the researcher and/or sponsor.
  • Reiteration of the participant’s right to withdraw from the research project at any time without penalty.

Anonymity means that participants aren't identifiable in any way. This includes:

  • Email address
  • Photographs
  • Video footage

You need a way to anonymize research data so that it can't be traced back to individual participants. This may involve creating a new digital ID for participants that can’t be linked back to their original identity using numerical codes.


Information gathered during a study must be kept confidential. Confidentiality helps to protect the privacy of research participants. It also ensures that their information isn't disclosed to unauthorized individuals.

Some ways to ensure confidentiality include:

  • Using a secure server to store data.
  • Removing identifying information from databases that contain sensitive data.
  • Using a third-party company to process and manage research participant data.
  • Not keeping participant records for longer than necessary.
  • Avoiding discussion of research findings in public forums.

Potential for harm

​​The potential for harm is a crucial factor in deciding whether a research study should proceed. It can manifest in various forms, such as:

  • Psychological harm
  • Social harm
  • Physical harm

Conduct an ethical review to identify possible harms. Be prepared to explain how you’ll minimize these harms and what support is available in case they do happen.

Fair payment

One of the most crucial aspects of setting up a research study is deciding on fair compensation for your participants. Underpayment is a common ethical issue that shouldn't be overlooked. Properly rewarding participants' time is critical for boosting engagement and obtaining high-quality data. While Prolific requires a minimum payment of £6.00 / $8.00 per hour, there are other factors you need to consider when deciding on a fair payment.

First, check your institution's reimbursement guidelines to see if they already have a minimum or maximum hourly rate. You can also use the national minimum wage as a reference point.

Next, think about the amount of work you're asking participants to do. The level of effort required for a task, such as producing a video recording versus a short survey, should correspond with the reward offered.

You also need to consider the population you're targeting. To attract research subjects with specific characteristics or high-paying jobs, you may need to offer more as an incentive.

We recommend a minimum payment of £9.00 / $12.00 per hour, but we understand that payment rates can vary depending on a range of factors. Whatever payment you choose should reflect the amount of effort participants are required to put in and be fair to everyone involved.

Ethical research made easy with Prolific

At Prolific, we believe in making ethical research easy and accessible. The findings from the Fairwork Cloudwork report speak for themselves. Prolific was given the top score out of all competitors for minimum standards of fair work.

With over 25,000 researchers in our community, we're leading the way in revolutionizing the research industry. If you're interested in learning more about how we can support your research journey, sign up to get started now.

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  • Original article
  • Open access
  • Published: 13 July 2021

Assisting you to advance with ethics in research: an introduction to ethical governance and application procedures

  • Shivadas Sivasubramaniam 1 ,
  • Dita Henek Dlabolová 2 ,
  • Veronika Kralikova 3 &
  • Zeenath Reza Khan 3  

International Journal for Educational Integrity volume  17 , Article number:  14 ( 2021 ) Cite this article

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Ethics and ethical behaviour are the fundamental pillars of a civilised society. The focus on ethical behaviour is indispensable in certain fields such as medicine, finance, or law. In fact, ethics gets precedence with anything that would include, affect, transform, or influence upon individuals, communities or any living creatures. Many institutions within Europe have set up their own committees to focus on or approve activities that have ethical impact. In contrast, lesser-developed countries (worldwide) are trying to set up these committees to govern their academia and research. As the first European consortium established to assist academic integrity, European Network for Academic Integrity (ENAI), we felt the importance of guiding those institutions and communities that are trying to conduct research with ethical principles. We have established an ethical advisory working group within ENAI with the aim to promote ethics within curriculum, research and institutional policies. We are constantly researching available data on this subject and committed to help the academia to convey and conduct ethical behaviour. Upon preliminary review and discussion, the group found a disparity in understanding, practice and teaching approaches to ethical applications of research projects among peers. Therefore, this short paper preliminarily aims to critically review the available information on ethics, the history behind establishing ethical principles and its international guidelines to govern research.

The paper is based on the workshop conducted in the 5th International conference Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond, in Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania in 2019. During the workshop, we have detailed a) basic needs of an ethical committee within an institution; b) a typical ethical approval process (with examples from three different universities); and c) the ways to obtain informed consent with some examples. These are summarised in this paper with some example comparisons of ethical approval processes from different universities. We believe this paper will provide guidelines on preparing and training both researchers and research students in appropriately upholding ethical practices through ethical approval processes.


Ethics and ethical behaviour (often linked to “responsible practice”) are the fundamental pillars of a civilised society. Ethical behaviour with integrity is important to maintain academic and research activities. It affects everything we do, and gets precedence with anything that would include/affect, transform, or impact upon individuals, communities or any living creatures. In other words, ethics would help us improve our living standards (LaFollette, 2007 ). The focus on ethical behaviour is indispensable in certain fields such as medicine, finance, or law, but is also gaining recognition in all disciplines engaged in research. Therefore, institutions are expected to develop ethical guidelines in research to maintain quality, initiate/own integrity and above all be transparent to be successful by limiting any allegation of misconduct (Flite and Harman, 2013 ). This is especially true for higher education organisations that promote research and scholarly activities. Many European institutions have developed their own regulations for ethics by incorporating international codes (Getz, 1990 ). The lesser developed countries are trying to set up these committees to govern their academia and research. World Health Organization has stated that adhering to “ ethical principles … [is central and important]... in order to protect the dignity, rights and welfare of research participants ” (WHO, 2021 ). Ethical guidelines taught to students can help develop ethical researchers and members of society who uphold values of ethical principles in practice.

As the first European-wide consortium established to assist academic integrity (European Network for Academic Integrity – ENAI), we felt the importance of guiding those institutions and communities that are trying to teach, research, and include ethical principles by providing overarching understanding of ethical guidelines that may influence policy. Therefore, we set up an advisory working group within ENAI in 2018 to support matters related to ethics, ethical committees and assisting on ethics related teaching activities.

Upon preliminary review and discussion, the group found a disparity in understanding, practice and teaching approaches to ethical applications among peers. This became the premise for this research paper. We first carried out a literature survey to review and summarise existing ethical governance (with historical perspectives) and procedures that are already in place to guide researchers in different discipline areas. By doing so, we attempted to consolidate, document and provide important steps in a typical ethical application process with example procedures from different universities. Finally, we attempted to provide insights and findings from practical workshops carried out at the 5th International Conference Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond, in Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania in 2019, focussing on:

• highlighting the basic needs of an ethical committee within an institution,

• discussing and sharing examples of a typical ethical approval process,

• providing guidelines on the ways to teach research ethics with some examples.

We believe this paper provides guidelines on preparing and training both researchers and research students in appropriately upholding ethical practices through ethical approval processes.

Background literature survey

Responsible research practice (RRP) is scrutinised by the aspects of ethical principles and professional standards (WHO’s Code of Conduct for responsible Research, 2017). The Singapore statement on research integrity (The Singapore Statement on Research integrity, 2010) has provided an internationally acceptable guidance for RRP. The statement is based on maintaining honesty, accountability, professional courtesy in all aspects of research and maintaining fairness during collaborations. In other words, it does not simply focus on the procedural part of the research, instead covers wider aspects of “integrity” beyond the operational aspects (Israel and Drenth, 2016 ).

Institutions should focus on providing ethical guidance based on principles and values reflecting upon all aspects/stages of research (from the funding application/project development stage upto or beyond project closing stage). Figure  1 summarizes the different aspects/stages of a typical research and highlights the needs of RRP in compliance with ethical governance at each stage with examples (the figure is based on Resnik, 2020 ; Žukauskas et al., 2018 ; Anderson, 2011 ; Fouka and Mantzorou, 2011 ).

figure 1

Summary of the enabling ethical governance at different stages of research. Note that it is imperative for researchers to proactively consider the ethical implications before, during and after the actual research process. The summary shows that RRP should be in line with ethical considerations even long before the ethical approval stage

Individual responsibilities to enhance RRP

As explained in Fig.  1 , a successfully governed research should consider ethics at the planning stages prior to research. Many international guidance are compatible in enforcing/recommending 14 different “responsibilities” that were first highlighted in the Singapore Statement (2010) for researchers to follow and achieve competency in RRP. In order to understand the purpose and the expectation of these ethical guidelines, we have carried out an initial literature survey on expected individual responsibilities. These are summarised in Table  1 .

By following these directives, researchers can carry out accountable research by maximising ethical self-governance whilst minimising misconducts. In our own experiences of working with many researchers, their focus usually revolves around ethical “clearance” rather than behaviour. In other words, they perceive this as a paper exercise rather than trying to “own” ethical behaviour in everything they do. Although the ethical principles and responsibilities are explicitly highlighted in the majority of international guidelines [such as UK’s Research Governance Policy (NICE, 2018 ), Australian Government’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (Difn website a - National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (NSECHR), 2018 ), the Singapore Statement (2010) etc.]; and the importance of holistic approach has been argued in ethical decision making, many researchers and/or institutions only focus on ethics linked to the procedural aspects.

Studies in the past have also highlighted inconsistencies in institutional guidelines pointing to the fact that these inconsistencies may hinder the predicted research progress (Desmond & Dierickx 2021 ; Alba et al., 2020 ; Dellaportas et al., 2014 ; Speight 2016 ). It may also be possible that these were and still are linked to the institutional perceptions/expectations or the pre-empting contextual conditions that are imposed by individual countries. In fact, it is interesting to note many research organisations and HE institutions establish their own policies based on these directives.

Research governance - origins, expectations and practices

Ethical governance in clinical medicine helps us by providing a structure for analysis and decision-making. By providing workable definitions of benefits and risks as well as the guidance for evaluating/balancing benefits over risks, it supports the researchers to protect the participants and the general population.

According to the definition given by National Institute of Clinical care Excellence, UK (NICE 2018 ), “ research governance can be defined as the broad range of regulations, principles and standards of good practice that ensure high quality research ”. As stated above, our literature-based research survey showed that most of the ethical definitions are basically evolved from the medical field and other disciplines have utilised these principles to develop their own ethical guidance. Interestingly, historical data show that the medical research has been “self-governed” or in other words implicated by the moral behaviour of individual researchers (Fox 2017 ; Shaw et al., 2005 ; Getz, 1990 ). For example, early human vaccination trials conducted in 1700s used the immediate family members as test subjects (Fox, 2017 ). Here the moral justification might have been the fact that the subjects who would have been at risk were either the scientists themselves or their immediate families but those who would reap the benefits from the vaccination were the general public/wider communities. However, according to the current ethical principles, this assumption is entirely not acceptable.

Historically, ambiguous decision-making and resultant incidences of research misconduct have led to the need for ethical research governance in as early as the 1940’s. For instance, the importance of an international governance was realised only after the World War II, when people were astonished to note the unethical research practices carried out by Nazi scientists. As a result of this, in 1947 the Nuremberg code was published. The code mainly focussed on the following:

Informed consent and further insisted the research involving humans should be based on prior animal work,

The anticipated benefits should outweigh the risk,

Research should be carried out only by qualified scientists must conduct research,

Avoiding physical and mental suffering and.

Avoiding human research that would result in which death or disability.

(Weindling, 2001 ).

Unfortunately, it was reported that many researchers in the USA and elsewhere considered the Nuremberg code as a document condemning the Nazi atrocities, rather than a code for ethical governance and therefore ignored these directives (Ghooi, 2011 ). It was only in 1964 that the World Medical Association published the Helsinki Declaration, which set the stage for ethical governance and the implementation of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process (Shamoo and Irving, 1993 ). This declaration was based on Nuremberg code. In addition, the declaration also paved the way for enforcing research being conducted in accordance with these guidelines.

Incidentally, the focus on research/ethical governance gained its momentum in 1974. As a result of this, a report on ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research was published in 1979 (The Belmont Report, 1979 ). This report paved the way to the current forms of ethical governance in biomedical and behavioural research by providing guidance.

Since 1994, the WHO itself has been providing several guidance to health care policy-makers, researchers and other stakeholders detailing the key concepts in medical ethics. These are specific to applying ethical principles in global public health.

Likewise, World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), and International Convention for the Protection of Animals (ICPA) provide guidance on animal welfare in research. Due to this continuous guidance, together with accepted practices, there are internationally established ethical guidelines to carry out medical research. Our literature survey further identified freely available guidance from independent organisations such as COPE (Committee of Publication Ethics) and ALLEA (All European Academics) which provide support for maintaining research ethics in other fields such as education, sociology, psychology etc. In reality, ethical governance is practiced differently in different countries. In the UK, there is a clinical excellence research governance, which oversees all NHS related medical research (Mulholland and Bell, 2005 ). Although, the governance in other disciplines is not entirely centralised, many research funding councils and organisations [such as UKRI (UK-Research and Innovation; BBSC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; MRC (Medical Research Council); EPSRC (Economic and Social Research Council)] provide ethical governance and expect institutional adherence and monitoring. They expect local institutional (i.e. university/institutional) research governance for day-to-day monitoring of the research conducted within the organisation and report back to these funding bodies, monthly or annually (Department of Health, 2005). Likewise, there are nationally coordinated/regulated ethics governing bodies such as the US Office for Human Research Protections (US-OHRP), National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) in the USA and Canada respectively (Mulholland and Bell, 2005 ). The OHRP in the USA formally reviews all research activities involving human subjects. On the other hand, in Canada, CIHR works with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). They together have produced a Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS) (Stephenson et al., 2020 ) as ethical governance. All Canadian institutions are expected to adhere to this policy for conducting research. As for Australia, the research is governed by the Australian code for the responsible conduct of research (2008). It identifies the responsibilities of institutions and researchers in all areas of research. The code has been jointly developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council (ARC) and Universities Australia (UA). This information is summarized in Table  2 .

Basic structure of an institutional ethical advisory committee (EAC)

The WHO published an article defining the basic concepts of an ethical advisory committee in 2009 (WHO, 2009 - see above). According to this, many countries have established research governance and monitor the ethical practice in research via national and/or regional review committees. The main aims of research ethics committees include reviewing the study proposals, trying to understand the justifications for human/animal use, weighing the merits and demerits of the usage (linking to risks vs. potential benefits) and ensuring the local, ethical guidelines are followed Difn website b - Enago academy Importance of Ethics Committees in Scholarly Research, 2020 ; Guide for Research Ethics - Council of Europe, 2014 ). Once the research has started, the committee needs to carry out periodic surveillance to ensure the institutional ethical norms are followed during and beyond the study. They may also be involved in setting up and/or reviewing the institutional policies.

For these aspects, IRB (or institutional ethical advisory committee - IEAC) is essential for local governance to enhance best practices. The advantage of an IRB/EEAC is that they understand the institutional conditions and can closely monitor the ongoing research, including any changes in research directions. On the other hand, the IRB may be overly supportive to accept applications, influenced by the local agenda for achieving research excellence, disregarding ethical issues (Kotecha et al., 2011 ; Kayser-Jones, 2003 ) or, they may be influenced by the financial interests in attracting external funding. In this respect, regional and national ethics committees are advantageous to ensure ethical practice. Due to their impartiality, they would provide greater consistency and legitimacy to the research (WHO, 2009 ). However, the ethical approval process of regional and national ethics committees would be time consuming, as they do not have the local knowledge.

As for membership in the IRBs, most of the guidelines [WHO, NICE, Council of Europe, (2012), European Commission - Facilitating Research Excellence in FP7 ( 2013 ) and OHRP] insist on having a variety of representations including experts in different fields of research, and non-experts with the understanding of local, national/international conflicts of interest. The former would be able to understand/clarify the procedural elements of the research in different fields; whilst the latter would help to make neutral and impartial decisions. These non-experts are usually not affiliated to the institution and consist of individuals representing the broader community (particularly those related to social, legal or cultural considerations). IRBs consisting of these varieties of representation would not only be in a position to understand the study procedures and their potential direct or indirect consequences for participants, but also be able to identify any community, cultural or religious implications of the study.

Understanding the subtle differences between ethics and morals

Interestingly, many ethical guidelines are based on society’s moral “beliefs” in such a way that the words “ethics”‘and “morals” are reciprocally used to define each other. However, there are several subtle differences between them and we have attempted to compare and contrast them herein. In the past, many authors have interchangeably used the words “morals”‘and “ethics”‘(Warwick, 2003 ; Kant, 2018 ; Hazard, GC (Jr)., 1994 , Larry, 1982 ). However, ethics is linked to rules governed by an external source such as codes of conduct in workplaces (Kuyare et al., 2014 ). In contrast, morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. Quinn ( 2011 ) defines morality as “ rules of conduct describing what people ought and ought not to do in various situations … ” while ethics is “... the philosophical study of morality, a rational examination into people’s moral beliefs and behaviours ”. For instance, in a case of parents demanding that schools overturn a ban on use of corporal punishment of children by schools and teachers (Children’s Rights Alliance for England, 2005 ), the parents believed that teachers should assume the role of parent in schools and use corporal or physical punishment for children who misbehaved. This stemmed from their beliefs and what they felt were motivated by “beliefs of individuals or groups”. For example, recent media highlights about some parents opposing LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) education to their children (BBC News, 2019 ). One parent argued, “Teaching young children about LGBT at a very early stage is ‘morally’ wrong”. She argued “let them learn by themselves as they grow”. This behaviour is linked to and governed by the morals of an ethnic community. Thus, morals are linked to the “beliefs of individuals or group”. However, when it comes to the LGBT rights these are based on ethical principles of that society and governed by law of the land. However, the rights of children to be protected from “inhuman and degrading” treatment is based on the ethical principles of the society and governed by law of the land. Individuals, especially those who are working in medical or judicial professions have to follow an ethical code laid down by their profession, regardless of their own feelings, time or preferences. For instance, a lawyer is expected to follow the professional ethics and represent a defendant, despite the fact that his morals indicate the defendant is guilty.

In fact, we as a group could not find many scholarly articles clearly comparing or contrasting ethics with morals. However, a table presented by Surbhi ( 2015 ) (Difn website c ) tries to differentiate these two terms (see Table  3 ).

Although Table 3 gives some insight on the differences between these two terms, in practice many use these terms as loosely as possible mainly because of their ambiguity. As a group focussed on the application of these principles, we would recommend to use the term “ethics” and avoid “morals” in research and academia.

Based on the literature survey carried out, we were able to identify the following gaps:

there is some disparity in existing literature on the importance of ethical guidelines in research

there is a lack of consensus on what code of conduct should be followed, where it should be derived from and how it should be implemented

The mission of ENAI’s ethical advisory working group

The Ethical Advisory Working Group of ENAI was established in 2018 to promote ethical code of conduct/practice amongst higher educational organisations within Europe and beyond (European Network for Academic Integrity, 2018 ). We aim to provide unbiased advice and consultancy on embedding ethical principles within all types of academic, research and public engagement activities. Our main objective is to promote ethical principles and share good practice in this field. This advisory group aims to standardise ethical norms and to offer strategic support to activities including (but not exclusive to):

● rendering advice and assistance to develop institutional ethical committees and their regulations in member institutions,

● sharing good practice in research and academic ethics,

● acting as a critical guide to institutional review processes, assisting them to maintain/achieve ethical standards,

● collaborating with similar bodies in establishing collegiate partnerships to enhance awareness and practice in this field,

● providing support within and outside ENAI to develop materials to enhance teaching activities in this field,

● organising training for students and early-career researchers about ethical behaviours in form of lectures, seminars, debates and webinars,

● enhancing research and dissemination of the findings in matters and topics related to ethics.

The following sections focus on our suggestions based on collective experiences, review of literature provided in earlier sections and workshop feedback collected:

a) basic needs of an ethical committee within an institution;

b) a typical ethical approval process (with examples from three different universities); and

c) the ways to obtain informed consent with some examples. This would give advice on preparing and training both researchers and research students in appropriately upholding ethical practices through ethical approval processes.

Setting up an institutional ethical committee (ECs)

Institutional Ethical Committees (ECs) are essential to govern every aspect of the activities undertaken by that institute. With regards to higher educational organisations, this is vital to establish ethical behaviour for students and staff to impart research, education and scholarly activities (or everything) they do. These committees should be knowledgeable about international laws relating to different fields of studies (such as science, medicine, business, finance, law, and social sciences). The advantages and disadvantages of institutional, subject specific or common (statutory) ECs are summarised in Fig.  2 . Some institutions have developed individual ECs linked to specific fields (or subject areas) whilst others have one institutional committee that overlooks the entire ethical behaviour and approval process. There is no clear preference between the two as both have their own advantages and disadvantages (see Fig. 2 ). Subject specific ECs are attractive to medical, law and business provisions, as it is perceived the members within respective committees would be able to understand the subject and therefore comprehend the need of the proposed research/activity (Kadam, 2012 ; Schnyder et al., 2018 ). However, others argue, due to this “ specificity ”, the committee would fail to forecast the wider implications of that application. On the other hand, university-wide ECs would look into the wider implications. Yet they find it difficult to understand the purpose and the specific applications of that research. Not everyone understands dynamics of all types of research methodologies, data collection, etc., and therefore there might be a chance of a proposal being rejected merely because the EC could not understand the research applications (Getz, 1990 ).

figure 2

Summary of advantages and disadvantages of three different forms of ethical committees

[N/B for Fig. 2 : Examples of different types of ethical application procedures and forms used were discussed with the workshop attendees to enhance their understanding of the differences. GDPR = General Data Protection Regulation].

Although we recommend a designated EC with relevant professional, academic and ethical expertise to deal with particular types of applications, the membership (of any EC) should include some non-experts who would represent the wider community (see above). Having some non-experts in EC would not only help the researchers to consider explaining their research in layperson’s terms (by thinking outside the box) but also would ensure efficiency without compromising participants/animal safety. They may even help to address the common ethical issues outside research culture. Some UK universities usually offer this membership to a clergy, councillor or a parliamentarian who does not have any links to the institutions. Most importantly, it is vital for any EC members to undertake further training in addition to previous experience in the relevant field of research ethics.

Another issue that raises concerns is multi-centre research, involving several institutions, where institutionalised ethical approvals are needed from each partner. In some cases, such as clinical research within the UK, a common statutory EC called National Health Services (NHS) Research Ethics Committee (NREC) is in place to cover research ethics involving all partner institutions (NHS, 2018 ). The process of obtaining approval from this type of EC takes time, therefore advanced planning is needed.

Ethics approval forms and process

During the workshop, we discussed some anonymised application forms obtained from open-access sources for qualitative and quantitative research as examples. Considering research ethics, for the purpose of understanding, we arbitrarily divided this in two categories; research based on (a) quantitative and (b) qualitative methodologies. As their name suggests their research approach is extremely different from each other. The discussion elicited how ECs devise different types of ethical application form/questions. As for qualitative research, these are often conducted as “face-to-face” interviews, which would have implications on volunteer anonymity.

Furthermore, discussions posited when the interviews are replaced by on-line surveys, they have to be administered through registered university staff to maintain confidentiality. This becomes difficult when the research is a multi-centre study. These types of issues are also common in medical research regarding participants’ anonymity, confidentially, and above all their right to withdraw consent to be involved in research.

Storing and protecting data collected in the process of the study is also a point of consideration when applying for approval.

Finally, the ethical processes of invasive (involving human/animals) and non-invasive research (questionnaire based) may slightly differ from one another. Following research areas are considered as investigations that need ethical approval:

research that involves human participants (see below)

use of the ‘products’ of human participants (see below)

work that potentially impacts on humans (see below)

research that involves animals

In addition, it is important to provide a disclaimer even if an ethical approval is deemed unnecessary. Following word cloud (Fig.  3 ) shows the important variables that need to be considered at the brainstorming stage before an ethical application. It is worth noting the importance of proactive planning predicting the “unexpected” during different phases of a research project (such as planning, execution, publication, and future directions). Some applications (such as working with vulnerable individuals or children) will require safety protection clearance (such as DBS - Disclosure and Barring Service, commonly obtained from the local police). Please see section on Research involving Humans - Informed consents for further discussions.

figure 3

Examples of important variables that need to be considered for an ethical approval

It is also imperative to report or re-apply for ethical approval for any minor or major post-approval changes to original proposals made. In case of methodological changes, evidence of risk assessments for changes and/or COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations) should also be given. Likewise, any new collaborative partners or removal of researchers should also be notified to the IEAC.

Other findings include:

in case of complete changes in the project, the research must be stopped and new approval should be seeked,

in case of noticing any adverse effects to project participants (human or non-human), these should also be notified to the committee for appropriate clearance to continue the work, and

the completion of the project must also be notified with the indication whether the researchers may restart the project at a later stage.

Research involving humans - informed consents

While discussing research involving humans and based on literature review, findings highlight the human subjects/volunteers must willingly participate in research after being adequately informed about the project. Therefore, research involving humans and animals takes precedence in obtaining ethical clearance and its strict adherence, one of which is providing a participant information sheet/leaflet. This sheet should contain a full explanation about the research that is being carried out and be given out in lay-person’s terms in writing (Manti and Licari 2018 ; Hardicre 2014 ). Measures should also be in place to explain and clarify any doubts from the participants. In addition, there should be a clear statement on how the participants’ anonymity is protected. We provide below some example questions below to help the researchers to write this participant information sheet:

What is the purpose of the study?

Why have they been chosen?

What will happen if they take part?

What do they have to do?

What happens when the research stops?

What if something goes wrong?

What will happen to the results of the research study?

Will taking part be kept confidential?

How to handle “vulnerable” participants?

How to mitigate risks to participants?

Many institutional ethics committees expect the researchers to produce a FAQ (frequently asked questions) in addition to the information about research. Most importantly, the researchers also need to provide an informed consent form, which should be signed by each human participant. The five elements identified that are needed to be considered for an informed consent statement are summarized in Fig.  4 below (slightly modified from the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects ( 2018 ) - Diffn website c ).

figure 4

Five basic elements to consider for an informed consent [figure adapted from Diffn website c ]

The informed consent form should always contain a clause for the participant to withdraw their consent at any time. Should this happen all the data from that participant should be eliminated from the study without affecting their anonymity.

Typical research ethics approval process

In this section, we provide an example flow chart explaining how researchers may choose the appropriate application and process, as highlighted in Fig.  5 . However, it is imperative to note here that these are examples only and some institutions may have one unified application with separate sections to demarcate qualitative and quantitative research criteria.

figure 5

Typical ethical approval processes for quantitative and qualitative research. [N/B for Fig. 5 - This simplified flow chart shows that fundamental process for invasive and non-invasive EC application is same, the routes and the requirements for additional information are slightly different]

Once the ethical application is submitted, the EC should ensure a clear approval procedure with distinctly defined timeline. An example flow chart showing the procedure for an ethical approval was obtained from University of Leicester as open-access. This is presented in Fig.  6 . Further examples of the ethical approval process and governance were discussed in the workshop.

figure 6

An example ethical approval procedures conducted within University of Leicester (Figure obtained from the University of Leicester research pages - Difn website d - open access)

Strategies for ethics educations for students

Student education on the importance of ethics and ethical behaviour in research and scholarly activities is extremely essential. Literature posits in the area of medical research that many universities are incorporating ethics in post-graduate degrees but when it comes to undergraduate degrees, there is less appetite to deliver modules or even lectures focussing on research ethics (Seymour et al., 2004 ; Willison and O’Regan, 2007 ). This may be due to the fact that undergraduate degree structure does not really focus on research (DePasse et al., 2016 ). However, as Orr ( 2018 ) suggested, institutions should focus more on educating all students about ethics/ethical behaviour and their importance in research, than enforcing punitive measures for unethical behaviour. Therefore, as an advisory committee, and based on our preliminary literature survey and workshop results, we strongly recommend incorporating ethical education within undergraduate curriculum. Looking at those institutions which focus on ethical education for both under-and postgraduate courses, their approaches are either (a) a lecture-based delivery, (b) case study based approach or (c) a combined delivery starting with a lecture on basic principles of ethics followed by generating a debate based discussion using interesting case studies. The combined method seems much more effective than the other two as per our findings as explained next.

As many academics who have been involved in teaching ethics and/or research ethics agree, the underlying principles of ethics is often perceived as a boring subject. Therefore, lecture-based delivery may not be suitable. On the other hand, a debate based approach, though attractive and instantly generates student interest, cannot be effective without students understanding the underlying basic principles. In addition, when selecting case studies, it would be advisable to choose cases addressing all different types of ethical dilemmas. As an advisory group within ENAI, we are in the process of collating supporting materials to help to develop institutional policies, creating advisory documents to help in obtaining ethical approvals, and teaching materials to enhance debate-based lesson plans that can be used by the member and other institutions.

Concluding remarks

In summary, our literature survey and workshop findings highlight that researchers should accept that ethics underpins everything we do, especially in research. Although ethical approval is tedious, it is an imperative process in which proactive thinking is essential to identify ethical issues that might affect the project. Our findings further lead us to state that the ethical approval process differs from institution to institution and we strongly recommend the researchers to follow the institutional guidelines and their underlying ethical principles. The ENAI workshop in Vilnius highlighted the importance of ethical governance by establishing ECs, discussed different types of ECs and procedures with some examples and highlighted the importance of student education to impart ethical culture within research communities, an area that needs further study as future scope.


The manuscript was entirely written by the corresponding author with contributions from co-authors who have also taken part in the delivery of the workshop. Authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article. We can also confirm that there are no potential competing interests with other organisations.

Availability of data and materials

Authors confirm that the data supporting the findings of this study are available within the article.


ALL European academics

Australian research council

Biotechnology and biological sciences research council

Canadian institutes for health research

Committee of publication ethics

Ethical committee

European network of academic integrity

Economic and social research council

International convention for the protection of animals

institutional ethical advisory committee

Institutional review board

Immaculata university of Pennsylvania

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender

Medical research council)

National health services

National health services nih national institute of health (NIH)

National institute of clinical care excellence

National health and medical research council

Natural sciences and engineering research council

National research ethics committee

National statement on ethical conduct in human research

Responsible research practice

Social sciences and humanities research council

Tri-council policy statement

World Organization for animal health

Universities Australia

UK-research and innovation

US office for human research protections

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Sivasubramaniam, S., Dlabolová, D.H., Kralikova, V. et al. Assisting you to advance with ethics in research: an introduction to ethical governance and application procedures. Int J Educ Integr 17 , 14 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-021-00078-6

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Nih clinical research trials and you, guiding principles for ethical research.

Pursuing Potential Research Participants Protections

Female doctor talking to a senior couple at her desk.

“When people are invited to participate in research, there is a strong belief that it should be their choice based on their understanding of what the study is about, and what the risks and benefits of the study are,” said Dr. Christine Grady, chief of the NIH Clinical Center Department of Bioethics, to Clinical Center Radio in a podcast.

Clinical research advances the understanding of science and promotes human health. However, it is important to remember the individuals who volunteer to participate in research. There are precautions researchers can take – in the planning, implementation and follow-up of studies – to protect these participants in research. Ethical guidelines are established for clinical research to protect patient volunteers and to preserve the integrity of the science.

NIH Clinical Center researchers published seven main principles to guide the conduct of ethical research:

Social and clinical value

Scientific validity, fair subject selection, favorable risk-benefit ratio, independent review, informed consent.

  • Respect for potential and enrolled subjects

Every research study is designed to answer a specific question. The answer should be important enough to justify asking people to accept some risk or inconvenience for others. In other words, answers to the research question should contribute to scientific understanding of health or improve our ways of preventing, treating, or caring for people with a given disease to justify exposing participants to the risk and burden of research.

A study should be designed in a way that will get an understandable answer to the important research question. This includes considering whether the question asked is answerable, whether the research methods are valid and feasible, and whether the study is designed with accepted principles, clear methods, and reliable practices. Invalid research is unethical because it is a waste of resources and exposes people to risk for no purpose

The primary basis for recruiting participants should be the scientific goals of the study — not vulnerability, privilege, or other unrelated factors. Participants who accept the risks of research should be in a position to enjoy its benefits. Specific groups of participants  (for example, women or children) should not be excluded from the research opportunities without a good scientific reason or a particular susceptibility to risk.

Uncertainty about the degree of risks and benefits associated with a clinical research study is inherent. Research risks may be trivial or serious, transient or long-term. Risks can be physical, psychological, economic, or social. Everything should be done to minimize the risks and inconvenience to research participants to maximize the potential benefits, and to determine that the potential benefits are proportionate to, or outweigh, the risks.

To minimize potential conflicts of interest and make sure a study is ethically acceptable before it starts, an independent review panel should review the proposal and ask important questions, including: Are those conducting the trial sufficiently free of bias? Is the study doing all it can to protect research participants? Has the trial been ethically designed and is the risk–benefit ratio favorable? The panel also monitors a study while it is ongoing.

Potential participants should make their own decision about whether they want to participate or continue participating in research. This is done through a process of informed consent in which individuals (1) are accurately informed of the purpose, methods, risks, benefits, and alternatives to the research, (2) understand this information and how it relates to their own clinical situation or interests, and (3) make a voluntary decision about whether to participate.

Respect for potential and enrolled participants

Individuals should be treated with respect from the time they are approached for possible participation — even if they refuse enrollment in a study — throughout their participation and after their participation ends. This includes:

  • respecting their privacy and keeping their private information confidential
  • respecting their right to change their mind, to decide that the research does not match their interests, and to withdraw without a penalty
  • informing them of new information that might emerge in the course of research, which might change their assessment of the risks and benefits of participating
  • monitoring their welfare and, if they experience adverse reactions, unexpected effects, or changes in clinical status, ensuring appropriate treatment and, when necessary, removal from the study
  • informing them about what was learned from the research

More information on these seven guiding principles and on bioethics in general

This page last reviewed on March 16, 2016

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A guide to ethical considerations in research

Last updated

12 March 2023

Reviewed by

Miroslav Damyanov

Whether you are conducting a survey, running focus groups , doing field research, or holding interviews, the chances are participants will be a part of the process.

Taking ethical considerations into account and following all obligations are essential when people are involved in your research. Upholding academic integrity is another crucial ethical concern in all research types. 

So, how can you protect your participants and ensure that your research is ethical? Let’s take a closer look at the ethical considerations in research and the best practices to follow.

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  • The importance of ethical research

Research ethics are integral to all forms of research. They help protect participants’ rights, ensure that the research is valid and accurate, and help minimize any risk of harm during the process.

When people are involved in your research, it’s particularly important to consider whether your planned research method follows ethical practices.

You might ask questions such as:

Will our participants be protected?

Is there a risk of any harm?

Are we doing all we can to protect the personal data and information we collect?

Does our study include any bias?

How can we ensure that the results will be accurate and valid?

Will our research impact public safety?

Is there a more ethical way to complete the research?

Conducting research unethically and not protecting participants’ rights can have serious consequences. It can discredit the entire study. Human rights, dignity, and research integrity should all be front of mind when you are conducting research.

  • How to conduct ethical research

Before kicking off any project, the entire team must be familiar with ethical best practices. These include the considerations below.

Voluntary participation

In an ethical study, all participants have chosen to be part of the research. They must have voluntarily opted in without any pressure or coercion to do so. They must be aware that they are part of a research study. Their information must not be used against their will. 

To ensure voluntary participation, make it clear at the outset that the person is opting into the process.

While participants may agree to be part of a study for a certain duration, they are allowed to change their minds. Participants must be free to leave or withdraw from the study at any time. They don’t need to give a reason.

Informed consent

Before kicking off any research, it’s also important to gain consent from all participants. This ensures participants are clear that they are part of a research study and understand all of the information related to it.

Gaining informed consent usually involves a written consent form—physical or digital—that participants can sign.

Best practice informed consent generally includes the following:

An explanation of what the study is

The duration of the study

The expectations of participants

Any potential risks

An explanation that participants are free to withdraw at any time

Contact information for the research supervisor

When obtaining informed consent, you should ensure that all parties truly understand what they are signing and their obligations as a participant. There should never be any coercion to sign.

Anonymity is key to ensuring that participants cannot be identified through their data. Personal information includes things like participants’ names, addresses, emails, phone numbers, characteristics, and photos.

However, making information truly anonymous can be challenging, especially if personal information is a necessary part of the research.

To maintain a degree of anonymity, avoid gathering any information you don’t need. This will minimize the risk of participants being identified.

Another useful tool is data pseudonymization, which makes it harder to directly link information to a real person. Data pseudonymization means giving participants fake names or mock information to protect their identity. You could, for example, replace participants’ names with codes.


Keeping data confidential is a critical aspect of all forms of research. You should communicate to all participants that their information will be protected and then take active steps to ensure that happens.

Data protection has become a serious topic in recent years and should be taken seriously. The more information you gather, the more important it is to heavily protect that data.

There are many ways to protect data, including the following:

Restricted access: Information should only be accessible to the researchers involved in the project to limit the risk of breaches.

Password protection : Information should not be accessible without access via a password that complies with secure password guidelines.

Encrypted data: In this day and age, password protection isn’t usually sufficient. Encrypting the data can help ensure its security.

Data retention: All organizations should uphold a data retention policy whereby data gathered should only be held for a certain period of time. This minimizes the risk of breaches further down the line.

In research where participants are grouped together (such as in focus groups), ask participants not to pass on what has been discussed. This helps maintain the group’s privacy.

Data falsification

Regardless of what your study is about or whether it involves humans, it’s always unethical to falsify data or information. That means editing or changing any data that has been gathered or gathering data in ways that skew the results.

Bias in research is highly problematic and can significantly impact research integrity. Data falsification or misrepresentation can have serious consequences.

Take the case of Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk, for example. Woo-suk, once considered a scientific leader in stem-cell research, was found guilty of fabricating experiments in the field and making ethical violations. Once discovered, he was fired from his role and sentenced to two years in prison.

All conflicts of interest should be declared at the outset to avoid any bias or risk of fabrication in the research process. Data must be collected and recorded accurately, and analysis must be completed impartially.

If conflicts do arise during the study, researchers may need to step back to maintain the study’s integrity. Outsourcing research to neutral third parties is necessary in some cases.

Potential for harm

Another consideration is the potential for harm. When completing research, it’s important to ensure that your participants will be safe throughout the study’s duration. 

Harm during research could occur in many forms.

Physical harm may occur if your participants are asked to perform a physical activity, or if they are involved in a medical study.

Psychological harm can occur if questions or activities involve triggering or sensitive topics, or if participants are asked to complete potentially embarrassing tasks.

Harm can be caused through a data breach or privacy concern.

A study can cause harm if the participants don’t feel comfortable with the study expectations or their supervisors.

Maintaining the physical and mental well-being of all participants throughout studies is an essential aspect of ethical research.

  • Gaining ethical approval

Gaining ethical approval may be necessary before conducting some types of research. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise that approval is likely required for studies involving people.

To gain approval, it’s necessary to submit a proposal to an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The board will check the proposal and ensure that the research aligns with ethical practices. It will allow the project to proceed if it meets requirements.

Not gaining appropriate approval could invalidate your study, so it’s essential to pay attention to all local guidelines and laws.

  • The dangers of unethical practices

Not maintaining ethical standards in research isn’t just questionable—it can be dangerous too. Many historical cases show just how widespread the ramifications can be.

The case of Korean researcher Hwang Woo-suk shows just how critical it is to obtain information ethically and accurately represent findings.

A case in 1998, which involved fraudulent data reporting, further proves this point.

The study, now debunked, was completed by Andrew Wakefield. It suggested there may be a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism in children. It was later found that the data was manipulated to show a causal link when there wasn’t one. Wakefield’s medical license was removed as a result, but the fraudulent study was still widely cited and continues to cause vaccine hesitancy among many parents.

Large organizational bodies have also been a part of unethical research. The alcohol industry, for example, was found to be highly influential in a major public health study in an attempt to prove that moderate alcohol consumption had health benefits. Five major alcohol companies pledged approximately $66 million to fund the study.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear that research shows there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. After pressure from many organizations, the study was eventually pulled due to biasing by the alcohol industry. Despite this, the idea that moderate alcohol consumption is better than abstaining may still appear in public discourse.

In more extreme cases, unethical research has led to medical studies being completed on people without their knowledge and against their will. The atrocities committed in Nazi Germany during World War II are an example.

Unethical practices in research are not just problematic or in conflict with academic integrity; they can seriously harm public health and safety.

  • The ethical way to research

Considering ethical concerns and adopting best practices throughout studies is essential when conducting research.

When people are involved in studies, it’s important to consider their rights. They must not be coerced into participating, and they should be protected throughout the process.

Accurate reporting, unbiased results, and a genuine interest in answering questions rather than confirming assumptions are all essential aspects of ethical research.

Ethical research ultimately means producing true and valuable results for the benefit of everyone impacted by your study.

What are ethical considerations in research?

Ethical research involves a series of guidelines and considerations to ensure that the information gathered is valid and reliable. These guidelines ensure that:

People are not harmed during research

Participants have data protection and anonymity

Academic integrity is upheld

Not maintaining ethics in research can have serious consequences for those involved in the studies, the broader public, and policymakers.

What are the most common ethical considerations?

To maintain integrity and validity in research, all biases must be removed, data should be reported accurately, and studies must be clearly represented.

Some of the most common ethical guidelines when it comes to humans in research include avoiding harm, data protection, anonymity, informed consent, and confidentiality.

What are the ethical issues in secondary research?

Using secondary data is generally considered an ethical practice. That’s because the use of secondary data minimizes the impact on participants, reduces the need for additional funding, and maximizes the value of the data collection.

However, secondary research still has risks. For example, the risk of data breaches increases as more parties gain access to the information.

To minimize the risk, researchers should consider anonymity or data pseudonymization before the data is passed on. Furthermore, using the data should not cause any harm or distress to participants.

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Ethical Considerations In Psychology Research

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

On This Page:

Ethics refers to the correct rules of conduct necessary when carrying out research. We have a moral responsibility to protect research participants from harm.

However important the issue under investigation, psychologists must remember that they have a duty to respect the rights and dignity of research participants. This means that they must abide by certain moral principles and rules of conduct.

What are Ethical Guidelines?

In Britain, ethical guidelines for research are published by the British Psychological Society, and in America, by the American Psychological Association. The purpose of these codes of conduct is to protect research participants, the reputation of psychology, and psychologists themselves.

Moral issues rarely yield a simple, unambiguous, right or wrong answer. It is, therefore, often a matter of judgment whether the research is justified or not.

For example, it might be that a study causes psychological or physical discomfort to participants; maybe they suffer pain or perhaps even come to serious harm.

On the other hand, the investigation could lead to discoveries that benefit the participants themselves or even have the potential to increase the sum of human happiness.

Rosenthal and Rosnow (1984) also discuss the potential costs of failing to carry out certain research. Who is to weigh up these costs and benefits? Who is to judge whether the ends justify the means?

Finally, if you are ever in doubt as to whether research is ethical or not, it is worthwhile remembering that if there is a conflict of interest between the participants and the researcher, it is the interests of the subjects that should take priority.

Studies must now undergo an extensive review by an institutional review board (US) or ethics committee (UK) before they are implemented. All UK research requires ethical approval by one or more of the following:

  • Department Ethics Committee (DEC) : for most routine research.
  • Institutional Ethics Committee (IEC) : for non-routine research.
  • External Ethics Committee (EEC) : for research that s externally regulated (e.g., NHS research).

Committees review proposals to assess if the potential benefits of the research are justifiable in light of the possible risk of physical or psychological harm.

These committees may request researchers make changes to the study’s design or procedure or, in extreme cases, deny approval of the study altogether.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) and American Psychological Association (APA) have issued a code of ethics in psychology that provides guidelines for conducting research.  Some of the more important ethical issues are as follows:

Informed Consent

Before the study begins, the researcher must outline to the participants what the research is about and then ask for their consent (i.e., permission) to participate.

An adult (18 years +) capable of being permitted to participate in a study can provide consent. Parents/legal guardians of minors can also provide consent to allow their children to participate in a study.

Whenever possible, investigators should obtain the consent of participants. In practice, this means it is not sufficient to get potential participants to say “Yes.”

They also need to know what it is that they agree to. In other words, the psychologist should, so far as is practicable, explain what is involved in advance and obtain the informed consent of participants.

Informed consent must be informed, voluntary, and rational. Participants must be given relevant details to make an informed decision, including the purpose, procedures, risks, and benefits. Consent must be given voluntarily without undue coercion. And participants must have the capacity to rationally weigh the decision.

Components of informed consent include clearly explaining the risks and expected benefits, addressing potential therapeutic misconceptions about experimental treatments, allowing participants to ask questions, and describing methods to minimize risks like emotional distress.

Investigators should tailor the consent language and process appropriately for the study population. Obtaining meaningful informed consent is an ethical imperative for human subjects research.

The voluntary nature of participation should not be compromised through coercion or undue influence. Inducements should be fair and not excessive/inappropriate.

However, it is not always possible to gain informed consent.  Where the researcher can’t ask the actual participants, a similar group of people can be asked how they would feel about participating.

If they think it would be OK, then it can be assumed that the real participants will also find it acceptable. This is known as presumptive consent.

However, a problem with this method is that there might be a mismatch between how people think they would feel/behave and how they actually feel and behave during a study.

In order for consent to be ‘informed,’ consent forms may need to be accompanied by an information sheet for participants’ setting out information about the proposed study (in lay terms), along with details about the investigators and how they can be contacted.

Special considerations exist when obtaining consent from vulnerable populations with decisional impairments, such as psychiatric patients, intellectually disabled persons, and children/adolescents. Capacity can vary widely so should be assessed individually, but interventions to improve comprehension may help. Legally authorized representatives usually must provide consent for children.

Participants must be given information relating to the following:

  • A statement that participation is voluntary and that refusal to participate will not result in any consequences or any loss of benefits that the person is otherwise entitled to receive.
  • Purpose of the research.
  • All foreseeable risks and discomforts to the participant (if there are any). These include not only physical injury but also possible psychological.
  • Procedures involved in the research.
  • Benefits of the research to society and possibly to the individual human subject.
  • Length of time the subject is expected to participate.
  • Person to contact for answers to questions or in the event of injury or emergency.
  • Subjects” right to confidentiality and the right to withdraw from the study at any time without any consequences.
Debriefing after a study involves informing participants about the purpose, providing an opportunity to ask questions, and addressing any harm from participation. Debriefing serves an educational function and allows researchers to correct misconceptions. It is an ethical imperative.

After the research is over, the participant should be able to discuss the procedure and the findings with the psychologist. They must be given a general idea of what the researcher was investigating and why, and their part in the research should be explained.

Participants must be told if they have been deceived and given reasons why. They must be asked if they have any questions, which should be answered honestly and as fully as possible.

Debriefing should occur as soon as possible and be as full as possible; experimenters should take reasonable steps to ensure that participants understand debriefing.

“The purpose of debriefing is to remove any misconceptions and anxieties that the participants have about the research and to leave them with a sense of dignity, knowledge, and a perception of time not wasted” (Harris, 1998).

The debriefing aims to provide information and help the participant leave the experimental situation in a similar frame of mind as when he/she entered it (Aronson, 1988).

Exceptions may exist if debriefing seriously compromises study validity or causes harm itself, like negative emotions in children. Consultation with an institutional review board guides exceptions.

Debriefing indicates investigators’ commitment to participant welfare. Harms may not be raised in the debriefing itself, so responsibility continues after data collection. Following up demonstrates respect and protects persons in human subjects research.

Protection of Participants

Researchers must ensure that those participating in research will not be caused distress. They must be protected from physical and mental harm. This means you must not embarrass, frighten, offend or harm participants.

Normally, the risk of harm must be no greater than in ordinary life, i.e., participants should not be exposed to risks greater than or additional to those encountered in their normal lifestyles.

The researcher must also ensure that if vulnerable groups are to be used (elderly, disabled, children, etc.), they must receive special care. For example, if studying children, ensure their participation is brief as they get tired easily and have a limited attention span.

Researchers are not always accurately able to predict the risks of taking part in a study, and in some cases, a therapeutic debriefing may be necessary if participants have become disturbed during the research (as happened to some participants in Zimbardo’s prisoners/guards study ).

Deception research involves purposely misleading participants or withholding information that could influence their participation decision. This method is controversial because it limits informed consent and autonomy, but can provide otherwise unobtainable valuable knowledge.

Types of deception include (i) deliberate misleading, e.g. using confederates, staged manipulations in field settings, deceptive instructions; (ii) deception by omission, e.g., failure to disclose full information about the study, or creating ambiguity.

The researcher should avoid deceiving participants about the nature of the research unless there is no alternative – and even then, this would need to be judged acceptable by an independent expert. However, some types of research cannot be carried out without at least some element of deception.

For example, in Milgram’s study of obedience , the participants thought they were giving electric shocks to a learner when they answered a question wrongly. In reality, no shocks were given, and the learners were confederates of Milgram.

This is sometimes necessary to avoid demand characteristics (i.e., the clues in an experiment that lead participants to think they know what the researcher is looking for).

Another common example is when a stooge or confederate of the experimenter is used (this was the case in both the experiments carried out by Asch ).

According to ethics codes, deception must have strong scientific justification, and non-deceptive alternatives should not be feasible. Deception that causes significant harm is prohibited. Investigators should carefully weigh whether deception is necessary and ethical for their research.

However, participants must be deceived as little as possible, and any deception must not cause distress.  Researchers can determine whether participants are likely distressed when deception is disclosed by consulting culturally relevant groups.

Participants should immediately be informed of the deception without compromising the study’s integrity. Reactions to learning of deception can range from understanding to anger. Debriefing should explain the scientific rationale and social benefits to minimize negative reactions.

If the participant is likely to object or be distressed once they discover the true nature of the research at debriefing, then the study is unacceptable.

If you have gained participants’ informed consent by deception, then they will have agreed to take part without actually knowing what they were consenting to.  The true nature of the research should be revealed at the earliest possible opportunity or at least during debriefing.

Some researchers argue that deception can never be justified and object to this practice as it (i) violates an individual’s right to choose to participate; (ii) is a questionable basis on which to build a discipline; and (iii) leads to distrust of psychology in the community.


Protecting participant confidentiality is an ethical imperative that demonstrates respect, ensures honest participation, and prevents harms like embarrassment or legal issues. Methods like data encryption, coding systems, and secure storage should match the research methodology.

Participants and the data gained from them must be kept anonymous unless they give their full consent.  No names must be used in a lab report .

Researchers must clearly describe to participants the limits of confidentiality and methods to protect privacy. With internet research, threats exist like third-party data access; security measures like encryption should be explained. For non-internet research, other protections should be noted too, like coding systems and restricted data access.

High-profile data breaches have eroded public trust. Methods that minimize identifiable information can further guard confidentiality. For example, researchers can consider whether birthdates are necessary or just ages.

Generally, reducing personal details collected and limiting accessibility safeguards participants. Following strong confidentiality protections demonstrates respect for persons in human subjects research.

What do we do if we discover something that should be disclosed (e.g., a criminal act)? Researchers have no legal obligation to disclose criminal acts and must determine the most important consideration: their duty to the participant vs. their duty to the wider community.

Ultimately, decisions to disclose information must be set in the context of the research aims.

Withdrawal from an Investigation

Participants should be able to leave a study anytime if they feel uncomfortable. They should also be allowed to withdraw their data. They should be told at the start of the study that they have the right to withdraw.

They should not have pressure placed upon them to continue if they do not want to (a guideline flouted in Milgram’s research).

Participants may feel they shouldn’t withdraw as this may ‘spoil’ the study. Many participants are paid or receive course credits; they may worry they won’t get this if they withdraw.

Even at the end of the study, the participant has a final opportunity to withdraw the data they have provided for the research.

Ethical Issues in Psychology & Socially Sensitive Research

There has been an assumption over the years by many psychologists that provided they follow the BPS or APA guidelines when using human participants and that all leave in a similar state of mind to how they turned up, not having been deceived or humiliated, given a debrief, and not having had their confidentiality breached, that there are no ethical concerns with their research.

But consider the following examples:

a) Caughy et al. 1994 found that middle-class children in daycare at an early age generally score less on cognitive tests than children from similar families reared in the home.

Assuming all guidelines were followed, neither the parents nor the children participating would have been unduly affected by this research. Nobody would have been deceived, consent would have been obtained, and no harm would have been caused.

However, consider the wider implications of this study when the results are published, particularly for parents of middle-class infants who are considering placing their young children in daycare or those who recently have!

b)  IQ tests administered to black Americans show that they typically score 15 points below the average white score.

When black Americans are given these tests, they presumably complete them willingly and are not harmed as individuals. However, when published, findings of this sort seek to reinforce racial stereotypes and are used to discriminate against the black population in the job market, etc.

Sieber & Stanley (1988) (the main names for Socially Sensitive Research (SSR) outline 4 groups that may be affected by psychological research: It is the first group of people that we are most concerned with!
  • Members of the social group being studied, such as racial or ethnic group. For example, early research on IQ was used to discriminate against US Blacks.
  • Friends and relatives of those participating in the study, particularly in case studies, where individuals may become famous or infamous. Cases that spring to mind would include Genie’s mother.
  • The research team. There are examples of researchers being intimidated because of the line of research they are in.
  • The institution in which the research is conducted.
salso suggest there are 4 main ethical concerns when conducting SSR:
  • The research question or hypothesis.
  • The treatment of individual participants.
  • The institutional context.
  • How the findings of the research are interpreted and applied.

Ethical Guidelines For Carrying Out SSR

Sieber and Stanley suggest the following ethical guidelines for carrying out SSR. There is some overlap between these and research on human participants in general.

Privacy : This refers to people rather than data. Asking people questions of a personal nature (e.g., about sexuality) could offend.

Confidentiality: This refers to data. Information (e.g., about H.I.V. status) leaked to others may affect the participant’s life.

Sound & valid methodology : This is even more vital when the research topic is socially sensitive. Academics can detect flaws in methods, but the lay public and the media often don’t.

When research findings are publicized, people are likely to consider them fact, and policies may be based on them. Examples are Bowlby’s maternal deprivation studies and intelligence testing.

Deception : Causing the wider public to believe something, which isn’t true by the findings, you report (e.g., that parents are responsible for how their children turn out).

Informed consent : Participants should be made aware of how participating in the research may affect them.

Justice & equitable treatment : Examples of unjust treatment are (i) publicizing an idea, which creates a prejudice against a group, & (ii) withholding a treatment, which you believe is beneficial, from some participants so that you can use them as controls.

Scientific freedom : Science should not be censored, but there should be some monitoring of sensitive research. The researcher should weigh their responsibilities against their rights to do the research.

Ownership of data : When research findings could be used to make social policies, which affect people’s lives, should they be publicly accessible? Sometimes, a party commissions research with their interests in mind (e.g., an industry, an advertising agency, a political party, or the military).

Some people argue that scientists should be compelled to disclose their results so that other scientists can re-analyze them. If this had happened in Burt’s day, there might not have been such widespread belief in the genetic transmission of intelligence. George Miller (Miller’s Magic 7) famously argued that we should give psychology away.

The values of social scientists : Psychologists can be divided into two main groups: those who advocate a humanistic approach (individuals are important and worthy of study, quality of life is important, intuition is useful) and those advocating a scientific approach (rigorous methodology, objective data).

The researcher’s values may conflict with those of the participant/institution. For example, if someone with a scientific approach was evaluating a counseling technique based on a humanistic approach, they would judge it on criteria that those giving & receiving the therapy may not consider important.

Cost/benefit analysis : It is unethical if the costs outweigh the potential/actual benefits. However, it isn’t easy to assess costs & benefits accurately & the participants themselves rarely benefit from research.

Sieber & Stanley advise that researchers should not avoid researching socially sensitive issues. Scientists have a responsibility to society to find useful knowledge.

  • They need to take more care over consent, debriefing, etc. when the issue is sensitive.
  • They should be aware of how their findings may be interpreted & used by others.
  • They should make explicit the assumptions underlying their research so that the public can consider whether they agree with these.
  • They should make the limitations of their research explicit (e.g., ‘the study was only carried out on white middle-class American male students,’ ‘the study is based on questionnaire data, which may be inaccurate,’ etc.
  • They should be careful how they communicate with the media and policymakers.
  • They should be aware of the balance between their obligations to participants and those to society (e.g. if the participant tells them something which they feel they should tell the police/social services).
  • They should be aware of their own values and biases and those of the participants.

Arguments for SSR

  • Psychologists have devised methods to resolve the issues raised.
  • SSR is the most scrutinized research in psychology. Ethical committees reject more SSR than any other form of research.
  • By gaining a better understanding of issues such as gender, race, and sexuality, we are able to gain greater acceptance and reduce prejudice.
  • SSR has been of benefit to society, for example, EWT. This has made us aware that EWT can be flawed and should not be used without corroboration. It has also made us aware that the EWT of children is every bit as reliable as that of adults.
  • Most research is still on white middle-class Americans (about 90% of research is quoted in texts!). SSR is helping to redress the balance and make us more aware of other cultures and outlooks.

Arguments against SSR

  • Flawed research has been used to dictate social policy and put certain groups at a disadvantage.
  • Research has been used to discriminate against groups in society, such as the sterilization of people in the USA between 1910 and 1920 because they were of low intelligence, criminal, or suffered from psychological illness.
  • The guidelines used by psychologists to control SSR lack power and, as a result, are unable to prevent indefensible research from being carried out.

American Psychological Association. (2002). American Psychological Association ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. www.apa.org/ethics/code2002.html

Baumrind, D. (1964). Some thoughts on ethics of research: After reading Milgram’s” Behavioral study of obedience.”.  American Psychologist ,  19 (6), 421.

Caughy, M. O. B., DiPietro, J. A., & Strobino, D. M. (1994). Day‐care participation as a protective factor in the cognitive development of low‐income children.  Child development ,  65 (2), 457-471.

Harris, B. (1988). Key words: A history of debriefing in social psychology. In J. Morawski (Ed.), The rise of experimentation in American psychology (pp. 188-212). New York: Oxford University Press.

Rosenthal, R., & Rosnow, R. L. (1984). Applying Hamlet’s question to the ethical conduct of research: A conceptual addendum. American Psychologist, 39(5) , 561.

Sieber, J. E., & Stanley, B. (1988). Ethical and professional dimensions of socially sensitive research.  American psychologist ,  43 (1), 49.

The British Psychological Society. (2010). Code of Human Research Ethics. www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/code_of_human_research_ethics.pdf

Further Information

  • MIT Psychology Ethics Lecture Slides

BPS Documents

  • Code of Ethics and Conduct (2018)
  • Good Practice Guidelines for the Conduct of Psychological Research within the NHS
  • Guidelines for Psychologists Working with Animals
  • Guidelines for ethical practice in psychological research online

APA Documents

APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct

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Frequently asked questions

What are ethical considerations in research.

Ethical considerations in research are a set of principles that guide your research designs and practices. These principles include voluntary participation, informed consent, anonymity, confidentiality, potential for harm, and results communication.

Scientists and researchers must always adhere to a certain code of conduct when collecting data from others .

These considerations protect the rights of research participants, enhance research validity , and maintain scientific integrity.

Frequently asked questions: Methodology

Quantitative observations involve measuring or counting something and expressing the result in numerical form, while qualitative observations involve describing something in non-numerical terms, such as its appearance, texture, or color.

To make quantitative observations , you need to use instruments that are capable of measuring the quantity you want to observe. For example, you might use a ruler to measure the length of an object or a thermometer to measure its temperature.

Scope of research is determined at the beginning of your research process , prior to the data collection stage. Sometimes called “scope of study,” your scope delineates what will and will not be covered in your project. It helps you focus your work and your time, ensuring that you’ll be able to achieve your goals and outcomes.

Defining a scope can be very useful in any research project, from a research proposal to a thesis or dissertation . A scope is needed for all types of research: quantitative , qualitative , and mixed methods .

To define your scope of research, consider the following:

  • Budget constraints or any specifics of grant funding
  • Your proposed timeline and duration
  • Specifics about your population of study, your proposed sample size , and the research methodology you’ll pursue
  • Any inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Any anticipated control , extraneous , or confounding variables that could bias your research if not accounted for properly.

Inclusion and exclusion criteria are predominantly used in non-probability sampling . In purposive sampling and snowball sampling , restrictions apply as to who can be included in the sample .

Inclusion and exclusion criteria are typically presented and discussed in the methodology section of your thesis or dissertation .

The purpose of theory-testing mode is to find evidence in order to disprove, refine, or support a theory. As such, generalisability is not the aim of theory-testing mode.

Due to this, the priority of researchers in theory-testing mode is to eliminate alternative causes for relationships between variables . In other words, they prioritise internal validity over external validity , including ecological validity .

Convergent validity shows how much a measure of one construct aligns with other measures of the same or related constructs .

On the other hand, concurrent validity is about how a measure matches up to some known criterion or gold standard, which can be another measure.

Although both types of validity are established by calculating the association or correlation between a test score and another variable , they represent distinct validation methods.

Validity tells you how accurately a method measures what it was designed to measure. There are 4 main types of validity :

  • Construct validity : Does the test measure the construct it was designed to measure?
  • Face validity : Does the test appear to be suitable for its objectives ?
  • Content validity : Does the test cover all relevant parts of the construct it aims to measure.
  • Criterion validity : Do the results accurately measure the concrete outcome they are designed to measure?

Criterion validity evaluates how well a test measures the outcome it was designed to measure. An outcome can be, for example, the onset of a disease.

Criterion validity consists of two subtypes depending on the time at which the two measures (the criterion and your test) are obtained:

  • Concurrent validity is a validation strategy where the the scores of a test and the criterion are obtained at the same time
  • Predictive validity is a validation strategy where the criterion variables are measured after the scores of the test

Attrition refers to participants leaving a study. It always happens to some extent – for example, in randomised control trials for medical research.

Differential attrition occurs when attrition or dropout rates differ systematically between the intervention and the control group . As a result, the characteristics of the participants who drop out differ from the characteristics of those who stay in the study. Because of this, study results may be biased .

Criterion validity and construct validity are both types of measurement validity . In other words, they both show you how accurately a method measures something.

While construct validity is the degree to which a test or other measurement method measures what it claims to measure, criterion validity is the degree to which a test can predictively (in the future) or concurrently (in the present) measure something.

Construct validity is often considered the overarching type of measurement validity . You need to have face validity , content validity , and criterion validity in order to achieve construct validity.

Convergent validity and discriminant validity are both subtypes of construct validity . Together, they help you evaluate whether a test measures the concept it was designed to measure.

  • Convergent validity indicates whether a test that is designed to measure a particular construct correlates with other tests that assess the same or similar construct.
  • Discriminant validity indicates whether two tests that should not be highly related to each other are indeed not related. This type of validity is also called divergent validity .

You need to assess both in order to demonstrate construct validity. Neither one alone is sufficient for establishing construct validity.

Face validity and content validity are similar in that they both evaluate how suitable the content of a test is. The difference is that face validity is subjective, and assesses content at surface level.

When a test has strong face validity, anyone would agree that the test’s questions appear to measure what they are intended to measure.

For example, looking at a 4th grade math test consisting of problems in which students have to add and multiply, most people would agree that it has strong face validity (i.e., it looks like a math test).

On the other hand, content validity evaluates how well a test represents all the aspects of a topic. Assessing content validity is more systematic and relies on expert evaluation. of each question, analysing whether each one covers the aspects that the test was designed to cover.

A 4th grade math test would have high content validity if it covered all the skills taught in that grade. Experts(in this case, math teachers), would have to evaluate the content validity by comparing the test to the learning objectives.

Content validity shows you how accurately a test or other measurement method taps  into the various aspects of the specific construct you are researching.

In other words, it helps you answer the question: “does the test measure all aspects of the construct I want to measure?” If it does, then the test has high content validity.

The higher the content validity, the more accurate the measurement of the construct.

If the test fails to include parts of the construct, or irrelevant parts are included, the validity of the instrument is threatened, which brings your results into question.

Construct validity refers to how well a test measures the concept (or construct) it was designed to measure. Assessing construct validity is especially important when you’re researching concepts that can’t be quantified and/or are intangible, like introversion. To ensure construct validity your test should be based on known indicators of introversion ( operationalisation ).

On the other hand, content validity assesses how well the test represents all aspects of the construct. If some aspects are missing or irrelevant parts are included, the test has low content validity.

  • Discriminant validity indicates whether two tests that should not be highly related to each other are indeed not related

Construct validity has convergent and discriminant subtypes. They assist determine if a test measures the intended notion.

The reproducibility and replicability of a study can be ensured by writing a transparent, detailed method section and using clear, unambiguous language.

Reproducibility and replicability are related terms.

  • A successful reproduction shows that the data analyses were conducted in a fair and honest manner.
  • A successful replication shows that the reliability of the results is high.
  • Reproducing research entails reanalysing the existing data in the same manner.
  • Replicating (or repeating ) the research entails reconducting the entire analysis, including the collection of new data . 

Snowball sampling is a non-probability sampling method . Unlike probability sampling (which involves some form of random selection ), the initial individuals selected to be studied are the ones who recruit new participants.

Because not every member of the target population has an equal chance of being recruited into the sample, selection in snowball sampling is non-random.

Snowball sampling is a non-probability sampling method , where there is not an equal chance for every member of the population to be included in the sample .

This means that you cannot use inferential statistics and make generalisations – often the goal of quantitative research . As such, a snowball sample is not representative of the target population, and is usually a better fit for qualitative research .

Snowball sampling relies on the use of referrals. Here, the researcher recruits one or more initial participants, who then recruit the next ones. 

Participants share similar characteristics and/or know each other. Because of this, not every member of the population has an equal chance of being included in the sample, giving rise to sampling bias .

Snowball sampling is best used in the following cases:

  • If there is no sampling frame available (e.g., people with a rare disease)
  • If the population of interest is hard to access or locate (e.g., people experiencing homelessness)
  • If the research focuses on a sensitive topic (e.g., extra-marital affairs)

Stratified sampling and quota sampling both involve dividing the population into subgroups and selecting units from each subgroup. The purpose in both cases is to select a representative sample and/or to allow comparisons between subgroups.

The main difference is that in stratified sampling, you draw a random sample from each subgroup ( probability sampling ). In quota sampling you select a predetermined number or proportion of units, in a non-random manner ( non-probability sampling ).

Random sampling or probability sampling is based on random selection. This means that each unit has an equal chance (i.e., equal probability) of being included in the sample.

On the other hand, convenience sampling involves stopping people at random, which means that not everyone has an equal chance of being selected depending on the place, time, or day you are collecting your data.

Convenience sampling and quota sampling are both non-probability sampling methods. They both use non-random criteria like availability, geographical proximity, or expert knowledge to recruit study participants.

However, in convenience sampling, you continue to sample units or cases until you reach the required sample size.

In quota sampling, you first need to divide your population of interest into subgroups (strata) and estimate their proportions (quota) in the population. Then you can start your data collection , using convenience sampling to recruit participants, until the proportions in each subgroup coincide with the estimated proportions in the population.

A sampling frame is a list of every member in the entire population . It is important that the sampling frame is as complete as possible, so that your sample accurately reflects your population.

Stratified and cluster sampling may look similar, but bear in mind that groups created in cluster sampling are heterogeneous , so the individual characteristics in the cluster vary. In contrast, groups created in stratified sampling are homogeneous , as units share characteristics.

Relatedly, in cluster sampling you randomly select entire groups and include all units of each group in your sample. However, in stratified sampling, you select some units of all groups and include them in your sample. In this way, both methods can ensure that your sample is representative of the target population .

When your population is large in size, geographically dispersed, or difficult to contact, it’s necessary to use a sampling method .

This allows you to gather information from a smaller part of the population, i.e. the sample, and make accurate statements by using statistical analysis. A few sampling methods include simple random sampling , convenience sampling , and snowball sampling .

The two main types of social desirability bias are:

  • Self-deceptive enhancement (self-deception): The tendency to see oneself in a favorable light without realizing it.
  • Impression managemen t (other-deception): The tendency to inflate one’s abilities or achievement in order to make a good impression on other people.

Response bias refers to conditions or factors that take place during the process of responding to surveys, affecting the responses. One type of response bias is social desirability bias .

Demand characteristics are aspects of experiments that may give away the research objective to participants. Social desirability bias occurs when participants automatically try to respond in ways that make them seem likeable in a study, even if it means misrepresenting how they truly feel.

Participants may use demand characteristics to infer social norms or experimenter expectancies and act in socially desirable ways, so you should try to control for demand characteristics wherever possible.

A systematic review is secondary research because it uses existing research. You don’t collect new data yourself.

Research ethics matter for scientific integrity, human rights and dignity, and collaboration between science and society. These principles make sure that participation in studies is voluntary, informed, and safe.

Research misconduct means making up or falsifying data, manipulating data analyses, or misrepresenting results in research reports. It’s a form of academic fraud.

These actions are committed intentionally and can have serious consequences; research misconduct is not a simple mistake or a point of disagreement but a serious ethical failure.

Anonymity means you don’t know who the participants are, while confidentiality means you know who they are but remove identifying information from your research report. Both are important ethical considerations .

You can only guarantee anonymity by not collecting any personally identifying information – for example, names, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, physical characteristics, photos, or videos.

You can keep data confidential by using aggregate information in your research report, so that you only refer to groups of participants rather than individuals.

Peer review is a process of evaluating submissions to an academic journal. Utilising rigorous criteria, a panel of reviewers in the same subject area decide whether to accept each submission for publication.

For this reason, academic journals are often considered among the most credible sources you can use in a research project – provided that the journal itself is trustworthy and well regarded.

In general, the peer review process follows the following steps:

  • First, the author submits the manuscript to the editor.
  • Reject the manuscript and send it back to author, or
  • Send it onward to the selected peer reviewer(s)
  • Next, the peer review process occurs. The reviewer provides feedback, addressing any major or minor issues with the manuscript, and gives their advice regarding what edits should be made.
  • Lastly, the edited manuscript is sent back to the author. They input the edits, and resubmit it to the editor for publication.

Peer review can stop obviously problematic, falsified, or otherwise untrustworthy research from being published. It also represents an excellent opportunity to get feedback from renowned experts in your field.

It acts as a first defence, helping you ensure your argument is clear and that there are no gaps, vague terms, or unanswered questions for readers who weren’t involved in the research process.

Peer-reviewed articles are considered a highly credible source due to this stringent process they go through before publication.

Many academic fields use peer review , largely to determine whether a manuscript is suitable for publication. Peer review enhances the credibility of the published manuscript.

However, peer review is also common in non-academic settings. The United Nations, the European Union, and many individual nations use peer review to evaluate grant applications. It is also widely used in medical and health-related fields as a teaching or quality-of-care measure.

Peer assessment is often used in the classroom as a pedagogical tool. Both receiving feedback and providing it are thought to enhance the learning process, helping students think critically and collaboratively.

  • In a single-blind study , only the participants are blinded.
  • In a double-blind study , both participants and experimenters are blinded.
  • In a triple-blind study , the assignment is hidden not only from participants and experimenters, but also from the researchers analysing the data.

Blinding is important to reduce bias (e.g., observer bias , demand characteristics ) and ensure a study’s internal validity .

If participants know whether they are in a control or treatment group , they may adjust their behaviour in ways that affect the outcome that researchers are trying to measure. If the people administering the treatment are aware of group assignment, they may treat participants differently and thus directly or indirectly influence the final results.

Blinding means hiding who is assigned to the treatment group and who is assigned to the control group in an experiment .

Explanatory research is a research method used to investigate how or why something occurs when only a small amount of information is available pertaining to that topic. It can help you increase your understanding of a given topic.

Explanatory research is used to investigate how or why a phenomenon occurs. Therefore, this type of research is often one of the first stages in the research process , serving as a jumping-off point for future research.

Exploratory research is a methodology approach that explores research questions that have not previously been studied in depth. It is often used when the issue you’re studying is new, or the data collection process is challenging in some way.

Exploratory research is often used when the issue you’re studying is new or when the data collection process is challenging for some reason.

You can use exploratory research if you have a general idea or a specific question that you want to study but there is no preexisting knowledge or paradigm with which to study it.

To implement random assignment , assign a unique number to every member of your study’s sample .

Then, you can use a random number generator or a lottery method to randomly assign each number to a control or experimental group. You can also do so manually, by flipping a coin or rolling a die to randomly assign participants to groups.

Random selection, or random sampling , is a way of selecting members of a population for your study’s sample.

In contrast, random assignment is a way of sorting the sample into control and experimental groups.

Random sampling enhances the external validity or generalisability of your results, while random assignment improves the internal validity of your study.

Random assignment is used in experiments with a between-groups or independent measures design. In this research design, there’s usually a control group and one or more experimental groups. Random assignment helps ensure that the groups are comparable.

In general, you should always use random assignment in this type of experimental design when it is ethically possible and makes sense for your study topic.

Clean data are valid, accurate, complete, consistent, unique, and uniform. Dirty data include inconsistencies and errors.

Dirty data can come from any part of the research process, including poor research design , inappropriate measurement materials, or flawed data entry.

Data cleaning takes place between data collection and data analyses. But you can use some methods even before collecting data.

For clean data, you should start by designing measures that collect valid data. Data validation at the time of data entry or collection helps you minimize the amount of data cleaning you’ll need to do.

After data collection, you can use data standardisation and data transformation to clean your data. You’ll also deal with any missing values, outliers, and duplicate values.

Data cleaning involves spotting and resolving potential data inconsistencies or errors to improve your data quality. An error is any value (e.g., recorded weight) that doesn’t reflect the true value (e.g., actual weight) of something that’s being measured.

In this process, you review, analyse, detect, modify, or remove ‘dirty’ data to make your dataset ‘clean’. Data cleaning is also called data cleansing or data scrubbing.

Data cleaning is necessary for valid and appropriate analyses. Dirty data contain inconsistencies or errors , but cleaning your data helps you minimise or resolve these.

Without data cleaning, you could end up with a Type I or II error in your conclusion. These types of erroneous conclusions can be practically significant with important consequences, because they lead to misplaced investments or missed opportunities.

Observer bias occurs when a researcher’s expectations, opinions, or prejudices influence what they perceive or record in a study. It usually affects studies when observers are aware of the research aims or hypotheses. This type of research bias is also called detection bias or ascertainment bias .

The observer-expectancy effect occurs when researchers influence the results of their own study through interactions with participants.

Researchers’ own beliefs and expectations about the study results may unintentionally influence participants through demand characteristics .

You can use several tactics to minimise observer bias .

  • Use masking (blinding) to hide the purpose of your study from all observers.
  • Triangulate your data with different data collection methods or sources.
  • Use multiple observers and ensure inter-rater reliability.
  • Train your observers to make sure data is consistently recorded between them.
  • Standardise your observation procedures to make sure they are structured and clear.

Naturalistic observation is a valuable tool because of its flexibility, external validity , and suitability for topics that can’t be studied in a lab setting.

The downsides of naturalistic observation include its lack of scientific control , ethical considerations , and potential for bias from observers and subjects.

Naturalistic observation is a qualitative research method where you record the behaviours of your research subjects in real-world settings. You avoid interfering or influencing anything in a naturalistic observation.

You can think of naturalistic observation as ‘people watching’ with a purpose.

Closed-ended, or restricted-choice, questions offer respondents a fixed set of choices to select from. These questions are easier to answer quickly.

Open-ended or long-form questions allow respondents to answer in their own words. Because there are no restrictions on their choices, respondents can answer in ways that researchers may not have otherwise considered.

You can organise the questions logically, with a clear progression from simple to complex, or randomly between respondents. A logical flow helps respondents process the questionnaire easier and quicker, but it may lead to bias. Randomisation can minimise the bias from order effects.

Questionnaires can be self-administered or researcher-administered.

Self-administered questionnaires can be delivered online or in paper-and-pen formats, in person or by post. All questions are standardised so that all respondents receive the same questions with identical wording.

Researcher-administered questionnaires are interviews that take place by phone, in person, or online between researchers and respondents. You can gain deeper insights by clarifying questions for respondents or asking follow-up questions.

In a controlled experiment , all extraneous variables are held constant so that they can’t influence the results. Controlled experiments require:

  • A control group that receives a standard treatment, a fake treatment, or no treatment
  • Random assignment of participants to ensure the groups are equivalent

Depending on your study topic, there are various other methods of controlling variables .

An experimental group, also known as a treatment group, receives the treatment whose effect researchers wish to study, whereas a control group does not. They should be identical in all other ways.

A true experiment (aka a controlled experiment) always includes at least one control group that doesn’t receive the experimental treatment.

However, some experiments use a within-subjects design to test treatments without a control group. In these designs, you usually compare one group’s outcomes before and after a treatment (instead of comparing outcomes between different groups).

For strong internal validity , it’s usually best to include a control group if possible. Without a control group, it’s harder to be certain that the outcome was caused by the experimental treatment and not by other variables.

A questionnaire is a data collection tool or instrument, while a survey is an overarching research method that involves collecting and analysing data from people using questionnaires.

A Likert scale is a rating scale that quantitatively assesses opinions, attitudes, or behaviours. It is made up of four or more questions that measure a single attitude or trait when response scores are combined.

To use a Likert scale in a survey , you present participants with Likert-type questions or statements, and a continuum of items, usually with five or seven possible responses, to capture their degree of agreement.

Individual Likert-type questions are generally considered ordinal data , because the items have clear rank order, but don’t have an even distribution.

Overall Likert scale scores are sometimes treated as interval data. These scores are considered to have directionality and even spacing between them.

The type of data determines what statistical tests you should use to analyse your data.

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (‘ x affects y because …’).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses. In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

A hypothesis states your predictions about what your research will find. It is a tentative answer to your research question that has not yet been tested. For some research projects, you might have to write several hypotheses that address different aspects of your research question.

A hypothesis is not just a guess. It should be based on existing theories and knowledge. It also has to be testable, which means you can support or refute it through scientific research methods (such as experiments, observations, and statistical analysis of data).

Cross-sectional studies are less expensive and time-consuming than many other types of study. They can provide useful insights into a population’s characteristics and identify correlations for further research.

Sometimes only cross-sectional data are available for analysis; other times your research question may only require a cross-sectional study to answer it.

Cross-sectional studies cannot establish a cause-and-effect relationship or analyse behaviour over a period of time. To investigate cause and effect, you need to do a longitudinal study or an experimental study .

Longitudinal studies and cross-sectional studies are two different types of research design . In a cross-sectional study you collect data from a population at a specific point in time; in a longitudinal study you repeatedly collect data from the same sample over an extended period of time.

Longitudinal studies are better to establish the correct sequence of events, identify changes over time, and provide insight into cause-and-effect relationships, but they also tend to be more expensive and time-consuming than other types of studies.

The 1970 British Cohort Study , which has collected data on the lives of 17,000 Brits since their births in 1970, is one well-known example of a longitudinal study .

Longitudinal studies can last anywhere from weeks to decades, although they tend to be at least a year long.

A correlation reflects the strength and/or direction of the association between two or more variables.

  • A positive correlation means that both variables change in the same direction.
  • A negative correlation means that the variables change in opposite directions.
  • A zero correlation means there’s no relationship between the variables.

A correlational research design investigates relationships between two variables (or more) without the researcher controlling or manipulating any of them. It’s a non-experimental type of quantitative research .

A correlation coefficient is a single number that describes the strength and direction of the relationship between your variables.

Different types of correlation coefficients might be appropriate for your data based on their levels of measurement and distributions . The Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient (Pearson’s r ) is commonly used to assess a linear relationship between two quantitative variables.

Controlled experiments establish causality, whereas correlational studies only show associations between variables.

  • In an experimental design , you manipulate an independent variable and measure its effect on a dependent variable. Other variables are controlled so they can’t impact the results.
  • In a correlational design , you measure variables without manipulating any of them. You can test whether your variables change together, but you can’t be sure that one variable caused a change in another.

In general, correlational research is high in external validity while experimental research is high in internal validity .

The third variable and directionality problems are two main reasons why correlation isn’t causation .

The third variable problem means that a confounding variable affects both variables to make them seem causally related when they are not.

The directionality problem is when two variables correlate and might actually have a causal relationship, but it’s impossible to conclude which variable causes changes in the other.

As a rule of thumb, questions related to thoughts, beliefs, and feelings work well in focus groups . Take your time formulating strong questions, paying special attention to phrasing. Be careful to avoid leading questions , which can bias your responses.

Overall, your focus group questions should be:

  • Open-ended and flexible
  • Impossible to answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (questions that start with ‘why’ or ‘how’ are often best)
  • Unambiguous, getting straight to the point while still stimulating discussion
  • Unbiased and neutral

Social desirability bias is the tendency for interview participants to give responses that will be viewed favourably by the interviewer or other participants. It occurs in all types of interviews and surveys , but is most common in semi-structured interviews , unstructured interviews , and focus groups .

Social desirability bias can be mitigated by ensuring participants feel at ease and comfortable sharing their views. Make sure to pay attention to your own body language and any physical or verbal cues, such as nodding or widening your eyes.

This type of bias in research can also occur in observations if the participants know they’re being observed. They might alter their behaviour accordingly.

A focus group is a research method that brings together a small group of people to answer questions in a moderated setting. The group is chosen due to predefined demographic traits, and the questions are designed to shed light on a topic of interest. It is one of four types of interviews .

The four most common types of interviews are:

  • Structured interviews : The questions are predetermined in both topic and order.
  • Semi-structured interviews : A few questions are predetermined, but other questions aren’t planned.
  • Unstructured interviews : None of the questions are predetermined.
  • Focus group interviews : The questions are presented to a group instead of one individual.

An unstructured interview is the most flexible type of interview, but it is not always the best fit for your research topic.

Unstructured interviews are best used when:

  • You are an experienced interviewer and have a very strong background in your research topic, since it is challenging to ask spontaneous, colloquial questions
  • Your research question is exploratory in nature. While you may have developed hypotheses, you are open to discovering new or shifting viewpoints through the interview process.
  • You are seeking descriptive data, and are ready to ask questions that will deepen and contextualise your initial thoughts and hypotheses
  • Your research depends on forming connections with your participants and making them feel comfortable revealing deeper emotions, lived experiences, or thoughts

A semi-structured interview is a blend of structured and unstructured types of interviews. Semi-structured interviews are best used when:

  • You have prior interview experience. Spontaneous questions are deceptively challenging, and it’s easy to accidentally ask a leading question or make a participant uncomfortable.
  • Your research question is exploratory in nature. Participant answers can guide future research questions and help you develop a more robust knowledge base for future research.

The interviewer effect is a type of bias that emerges when a characteristic of an interviewer (race, age, gender identity, etc.) influences the responses given by the interviewee.

There is a risk of an interviewer effect in all types of interviews , but it can be mitigated by writing really high-quality interview questions.

A structured interview is a data collection method that relies on asking questions in a set order to collect data on a topic. They are often quantitative in nature. Structured interviews are best used when:

  • You already have a very clear understanding of your topic. Perhaps significant research has already been conducted, or you have done some prior research yourself, but you already possess a baseline for designing strong structured questions.
  • You are constrained in terms of time or resources and need to analyse your data quickly and efficiently
  • Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant

More flexible interview options include semi-structured interviews , unstructured interviews , and focus groups .

When conducting research, collecting original data has significant advantages:

  • You can tailor data collection to your specific research aims (e.g., understanding the needs of your consumers or user testing your website).
  • You can control and standardise the process for high reliability and validity (e.g., choosing appropriate measurements and sampling methods ).

However, there are also some drawbacks: data collection can be time-consuming, labour-intensive, and expensive. In some cases, it’s more efficient to use secondary data that has already been collected by someone else, but the data might be less reliable.

Data collection is the systematic process by which observations or measurements are gathered in research. It is used in many different contexts by academics, governments, businesses, and other organisations.

A mediator variable explains the process through which two variables are related, while a moderator variable affects the strength and direction of that relationship.

A confounder is a third variable that affects variables of interest and makes them seem related when they are not. In contrast, a mediator is the mechanism of a relationship between two variables: it explains the process by which they are related.

If something is a mediating variable :

  • It’s caused by the independent variable
  • It influences the dependent variable
  • When it’s taken into account, the statistical correlation between the independent and dependent variables is higher than when it isn’t considered

Including mediators and moderators in your research helps you go beyond studying a simple relationship between two variables for a fuller picture of the real world. They are important to consider when studying complex correlational or causal relationships.

Mediators are part of the causal pathway of an effect, and they tell you how or why an effect takes place. Moderators usually help you judge the external validity of your study by identifying the limitations of when the relationship between variables holds.

You can think of independent and dependent variables in terms of cause and effect: an independent variable is the variable you think is the cause , while a dependent variable is the effect .

In an experiment, you manipulate the independent variable and measure the outcome in the dependent variable. For example, in an experiment about the effect of nutrients on crop growth:

  • The  independent variable  is the amount of nutrients added to the crop field.
  • The  dependent variable is the biomass of the crops at harvest time.

Defining your variables, and deciding how you will manipulate and measure them, is an important part of experimental design .

Discrete and continuous variables are two types of quantitative variables :

  • Discrete variables represent counts (e.g., the number of objects in a collection).
  • Continuous variables represent measurable amounts (e.g., water volume or weight).

Quantitative variables are any variables where the data represent amounts (e.g. height, weight, or age).

Categorical variables are any variables where the data represent groups. This includes rankings (e.g. finishing places in a race), classifications (e.g. brands of cereal), and binary outcomes (e.g. coin flips).

You need to know what type of variables you are working with to choose the right statistical test for your data and interpret your results .

Determining cause and effect is one of the most important parts of scientific research. It’s essential to know which is the cause – the independent variable – and which is the effect – the dependent variable.

You want to find out how blood sugar levels are affected by drinking diet cola and regular cola, so you conduct an experiment .

  • The type of cola – diet or regular – is the independent variable .
  • The level of blood sugar that you measure is the dependent variable – it changes depending on the type of cola.

No. The value of a dependent variable depends on an independent variable, so a variable cannot be both independent and dependent at the same time. It must be either the cause or the effect, not both.

Yes, but including more than one of either type requires multiple research questions .

For example, if you are interested in the effect of a diet on health, you can use multiple measures of health: blood sugar, blood pressure, weight, pulse, and many more. Each of these is its own dependent variable with its own research question.

You could also choose to look at the effect of exercise levels as well as diet, or even the additional effect of the two combined. Each of these is a separate independent variable .

To ensure the internal validity of an experiment , you should only change one independent variable at a time.

To ensure the internal validity of your research, you must consider the impact of confounding variables. If you fail to account for them, you might over- or underestimate the causal relationship between your independent and dependent variables , or even find a causal relationship where none exists.

A confounding variable is closely related to both the independent and dependent variables in a study. An independent variable represents the supposed cause , while the dependent variable is the supposed effect . A confounding variable is a third variable that influences both the independent and dependent variables.

Failing to account for confounding variables can cause you to wrongly estimate the relationship between your independent and dependent variables.

There are several methods you can use to decrease the impact of confounding variables on your research: restriction, matching, statistical control, and randomisation.

In restriction , you restrict your sample by only including certain subjects that have the same values of potential confounding variables.

In matching , you match each of the subjects in your treatment group with a counterpart in the comparison group. The matched subjects have the same values on any potential confounding variables, and only differ in the independent variable .

In statistical control , you include potential confounders as variables in your regression .

In randomisation , you randomly assign the treatment (or independent variable) in your study to a sufficiently large number of subjects, which allows you to control for all potential confounding variables.

In scientific research, concepts are the abstract ideas or phenomena that are being studied (e.g., educational achievement). Variables are properties or characteristics of the concept (e.g., performance at school), while indicators are ways of measuring or quantifying variables (e.g., yearly grade reports).

The process of turning abstract concepts into measurable variables and indicators is called operationalisation .

In statistics, ordinal and nominal variables are both considered categorical variables .

Even though ordinal data can sometimes be numerical, not all mathematical operations can be performed on them.

A control variable is any variable that’s held constant in a research study. It’s not a variable of interest in the study, but it’s controlled because it could influence the outcomes.

Control variables help you establish a correlational or causal relationship between variables by enhancing internal validity .

If you don’t control relevant extraneous variables , they may influence the outcomes of your study, and you may not be able to demonstrate that your results are really an effect of your independent variable .

‘Controlling for a variable’ means measuring extraneous variables and accounting for them statistically to remove their effects on other variables.

Researchers often model control variable data along with independent and dependent variable data in regression analyses and ANCOVAs . That way, you can isolate the control variable’s effects from the relationship between the variables of interest.

An extraneous variable is any variable that you’re not investigating that can potentially affect the dependent variable of your research study.

A confounding variable is a type of extraneous variable that not only affects the dependent variable, but is also related to the independent variable.

There are 4 main types of extraneous variables :

  • Demand characteristics : Environmental cues that encourage participants to conform to researchers’ expectations
  • Experimenter effects : Unintentional actions by researchers that influence study outcomes
  • Situational variables : Eenvironmental variables that alter participants’ behaviours
  • Participant variables : Any characteristic or aspect of a participant’s background that could affect study results

The difference between explanatory and response variables is simple:

  • An explanatory variable is the expected cause, and it explains the results.
  • A response variable is the expected effect, and it responds to other variables.

The term ‘ explanatory variable ‘ is sometimes preferred over ‘ independent variable ‘ because, in real-world contexts, independent variables are often influenced by other variables. This means they aren’t totally independent.

Multiple independent variables may also be correlated with each other, so ‘explanatory variables’ is a more appropriate term.

On graphs, the explanatory variable is conventionally placed on the x -axis, while the response variable is placed on the y -axis.

  • If you have quantitative variables , use a scatterplot or a line graph.
  • If your response variable is categorical, use a scatterplot or a line graph.
  • If your explanatory variable is categorical, use a bar graph.

A correlation is usually tested for two variables at a time, but you can test correlations between three or more variables.

An independent variable is the variable you manipulate, control, or vary in an experimental study to explore its effects. It’s called ‘independent’ because it’s not influenced by any other variables in the study.

Independent variables are also called:

  • Explanatory variables (they explain an event or outcome)
  • Predictor variables (they can be used to predict the value of a dependent variable)
  • Right-hand-side variables (they appear on the right-hand side of a regression equation)

A dependent variable is what changes as a result of the independent variable manipulation in experiments . It’s what you’re interested in measuring, and it ‘depends’ on your independent variable.

In statistics, dependent variables are also called:

  • Response variables (they respond to a change in another variable)
  • Outcome variables (they represent the outcome you want to measure)
  • Left-hand-side variables (they appear on the left-hand side of a regression equation)

Deductive reasoning is commonly used in scientific research, and it’s especially associated with quantitative research .

In research, you might have come across something called the hypothetico-deductive method . It’s the scientific method of testing hypotheses to check whether your predictions are substantiated by real-world data.

Deductive reasoning is a logical approach where you progress from general ideas to specific conclusions. It’s often contrasted with inductive reasoning , where you start with specific observations and form general conclusions.

Deductive reasoning is also called deductive logic.

Inductive reasoning is a method of drawing conclusions by going from the specific to the general. It’s usually contrasted with deductive reasoning, where you proceed from general information to specific conclusions.

Inductive reasoning is also called inductive logic or bottom-up reasoning.

In inductive research , you start by making observations or gathering data. Then, you take a broad scan of your data and search for patterns. Finally, you make general conclusions that you might incorporate into theories.

Inductive reasoning is a bottom-up approach, while deductive reasoning is top-down.

Inductive reasoning takes you from the specific to the general, while in deductive reasoning, you make inferences by going from general premises to specific conclusions.

There are many different types of inductive reasoning that people use formally or informally.

Here are a few common types:

  • Inductive generalisation : You use observations about a sample to come to a conclusion about the population it came from.
  • Statistical generalisation: You use specific numbers about samples to make statements about populations.
  • Causal reasoning: You make cause-and-effect links between different things.
  • Sign reasoning: You make a conclusion about a correlational relationship between different things.
  • Analogical reasoning: You make a conclusion about something based on its similarities to something else.

It’s often best to ask a variety of people to review your measurements. You can ask experts, such as other researchers, or laypeople, such as potential participants, to judge the face validity of tests.

While experts have a deep understanding of research methods , the people you’re studying can provide you with valuable insights you may have missed otherwise.

Face validity is important because it’s a simple first step to measuring the overall validity of a test or technique. It’s a relatively intuitive, quick, and easy way to start checking whether a new measure seems useful at first glance.

Good face validity means that anyone who reviews your measure says that it seems to be measuring what it’s supposed to. With poor face validity, someone reviewing your measure may be left confused about what you’re measuring and why you’re using this method.

Face validity is about whether a test appears to measure what it’s supposed to measure. This type of validity is concerned with whether a measure seems relevant and appropriate for what it’s assessing only on the surface.

Statistical analyses are often applied to test validity with data from your measures. You test convergent validity and discriminant validity with correlations to see if results from your test are positively or negatively related to those of other established tests.

You can also use regression analyses to assess whether your measure is actually predictive of outcomes that you expect it to predict theoretically. A regression analysis that supports your expectations strengthens your claim of construct validity .

When designing or evaluating a measure, construct validity helps you ensure you’re actually measuring the construct you’re interested in. If you don’t have construct validity, you may inadvertently measure unrelated or distinct constructs and lose precision in your research.

Construct validity is often considered the overarching type of measurement validity ,  because it covers all of the other types. You need to have face validity , content validity, and criterion validity to achieve construct validity.

Construct validity is about how well a test measures the concept it was designed to evaluate. It’s one of four types of measurement validity , which includes construct validity, face validity , and criterion validity.

There are two subtypes of construct validity.

  • Convergent validity : The extent to which your measure corresponds to measures of related constructs
  • Discriminant validity: The extent to which your measure is unrelated or negatively related to measures of distinct constructs

Attrition bias can skew your sample so that your final sample differs significantly from your original sample. Your sample is biased because some groups from your population are underrepresented.

With a biased final sample, you may not be able to generalise your findings to the original population that you sampled from, so your external validity is compromised.

There are seven threats to external validity : selection bias , history, experimenter effect, Hawthorne effect , testing effect, aptitude-treatment, and situation effect.

The two types of external validity are population validity (whether you can generalise to other groups of people) and ecological validity (whether you can generalise to other situations and settings).

The external validity of a study is the extent to which you can generalise your findings to different groups of people, situations, and measures.

Attrition bias is a threat to internal validity . In experiments, differential rates of attrition between treatment and control groups can skew results.

This bias can affect the relationship between your independent and dependent variables . It can make variables appear to be correlated when they are not, or vice versa.

Internal validity is the extent to which you can be confident that a cause-and-effect relationship established in a study cannot be explained by other factors.

There are eight threats to internal validity : history, maturation, instrumentation, testing, selection bias , regression to the mean, social interaction, and attrition .

A sampling error is the difference between a population parameter and a sample statistic .

A statistic refers to measures about the sample , while a parameter refers to measures about the population .

Populations are used when a research question requires data from every member of the population. This is usually only feasible when the population is small and easily accessible.

Systematic sampling is a probability sampling method where researchers select members of the population at a regular interval – for example, by selecting every 15th person on a list of the population. If the population is in a random order, this can imitate the benefits of simple random sampling .

There are three key steps in systematic sampling :

  • Define and list your population , ensuring that it is not ordered in a cyclical or periodic order.
  • Decide on your sample size and calculate your interval, k , by dividing your population by your target sample size.
  • Choose every k th member of the population as your sample.

Yes, you can create a stratified sample using multiple characteristics, but you must ensure that every participant in your study belongs to one and only one subgroup. In this case, you multiply the numbers of subgroups for each characteristic to get the total number of groups.

For example, if you were stratifying by location with three subgroups (urban, rural, or suburban) and marital status with five subgroups (single, divorced, widowed, married, or partnered), you would have 3 × 5 = 15 subgroups.

You should use stratified sampling when your sample can be divided into mutually exclusive and exhaustive subgroups that you believe will take on different mean values for the variable that you’re studying.

Using stratified sampling will allow you to obtain more precise (with lower variance ) statistical estimates of whatever you are trying to measure.

For example, say you want to investigate how income differs based on educational attainment, but you know that this relationship can vary based on race. Using stratified sampling, you can ensure you obtain a large enough sample from each racial group, allowing you to draw more precise conclusions.

In stratified sampling , researchers divide subjects into subgroups called strata based on characteristics that they share (e.g., race, gender, educational attainment).

Once divided, each subgroup is randomly sampled using another probability sampling method .

Multistage sampling can simplify data collection when you have large, geographically spread samples, and you can obtain a probability sample without a complete sampling frame.

But multistage sampling may not lead to a representative sample, and larger samples are needed for multistage samples to achieve the statistical properties of simple random samples .

In multistage sampling , you can use probability or non-probability sampling methods.

For a probability sample, you have to probability sampling at every stage. You can mix it up by using simple random sampling , systematic sampling , or stratified sampling to select units at different stages, depending on what is applicable and relevant to your study.

Cluster sampling is a probability sampling method in which you divide a population into clusters, such as districts or schools, and then randomly select some of these clusters as your sample.

The clusters should ideally each be mini-representations of the population as a whole.

There are three types of cluster sampling : single-stage, double-stage and multi-stage clustering. In all three types, you first divide the population into clusters, then randomly select clusters for use in your sample.

  • In single-stage sampling , you collect data from every unit within the selected clusters.
  • In double-stage sampling , you select a random sample of units from within the clusters.
  • In multi-stage sampling , you repeat the procedure of randomly sampling elements from within the clusters until you have reached a manageable sample.

Cluster sampling is more time- and cost-efficient than other probability sampling methods , particularly when it comes to large samples spread across a wide geographical area.

However, it provides less statistical certainty than other methods, such as simple random sampling , because it is difficult to ensure that your clusters properly represent the population as a whole.

If properly implemented, simple random sampling is usually the best sampling method for ensuring both internal and external validity . However, it can sometimes be impractical and expensive to implement, depending on the size of the population to be studied,

If you have a list of every member of the population and the ability to reach whichever members are selected, you can use simple random sampling.

The American Community Survey  is an example of simple random sampling . In order to collect detailed data on the population of the US, the Census Bureau officials randomly select 3.5 million households per year and use a variety of methods to convince them to fill out the survey.

Simple random sampling is a type of probability sampling in which the researcher randomly selects a subset of participants from a population . Each member of the population has an equal chance of being selected. Data are then collected from as large a percentage as possible of this random subset.

Sampling bias occurs when some members of a population are systematically more likely to be selected in a sample than others.

In multistage sampling , or multistage cluster sampling, you draw a sample from a population using smaller and smaller groups at each stage.

This method is often used to collect data from a large, geographically spread group of people in national surveys, for example. You take advantage of hierarchical groupings (e.g., from county to city to neighbourhood) to create a sample that’s less expensive and time-consuming to collect data from.

In non-probability sampling , the sample is selected based on non-random criteria, and not every member of the population has a chance of being included.

Common non-probability sampling methods include convenience sampling , voluntary response sampling, purposive sampling , snowball sampling , and quota sampling .

Probability sampling means that every member of the target population has a known chance of being included in the sample.

Probability sampling methods include simple random sampling , systematic sampling , stratified sampling , and cluster sampling .

Samples are used to make inferences about populations . Samples are easier to collect data from because they are practical, cost-effective, convenient, and manageable.

While a between-subjects design has fewer threats to internal validity , it also requires more participants for high statistical power than a within-subjects design .


  • Prevents carryover effects of learning and fatigue.
  • Shorter study duration.


  • Needs larger samples for high power.
  • Uses more resources to recruit participants, administer sessions, cover costs, etc.
  • Individual differences may be an alternative explanation for results.

In a factorial design, multiple independent variables are tested.

If you test two variables, each level of one independent variable is combined with each level of the other independent variable to create different conditions.

Yes. Between-subjects and within-subjects designs can be combined in a single study when you have two or more independent variables (a factorial design). In a mixed factorial design, one variable is altered between subjects and another is altered within subjects.

Within-subjects designs have many potential threats to internal validity , but they are also very statistically powerful .

  • Only requires small samples
  • Statistically powerful
  • Removes the effects of individual differences on the outcomes
  • Internal validity threats reduce the likelihood of establishing a direct relationship between variables
  • Time-related effects, such as growth, can influence the outcomes
  • Carryover effects mean that the specific order of different treatments affect the outcomes

Quasi-experimental design is most useful in situations where it would be unethical or impractical to run a true experiment .

Quasi-experiments have lower internal validity than true experiments, but they often have higher external validity  as they can use real-world interventions instead of artificial laboratory settings.

In experimental research, random assignment is a way of placing participants from your sample into different groups using randomisation. With this method, every member of the sample has a known or equal chance of being placed in a control group or an experimental group.

A quasi-experiment is a type of research design that attempts to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. The main difference between this and a true experiment is that the groups are not randomly assigned.

In a between-subjects design , every participant experiences only one condition, and researchers assess group differences between participants in various conditions.

In a within-subjects design , each participant experiences all conditions, and researchers test the same participants repeatedly for differences between conditions.

The word ‘between’ means that you’re comparing different conditions between groups, while the word ‘within’ means you’re comparing different conditions within the same group.

A confounding variable , also called a confounder or confounding factor, is a third variable in a study examining a potential cause-and-effect relationship.

A confounding variable is related to both the supposed cause and the supposed effect of the study. It can be difficult to separate the true effect of the independent variable from the effect of the confounding variable.

In your research design , it’s important to identify potential confounding variables and plan how you will reduce their impact.

Triangulation can help:

  • Reduce bias that comes from using a single method, theory, or investigator
  • Enhance validity by approaching the same topic with different tools
  • Establish credibility by giving you a complete picture of the research problem

But triangulation can also pose problems:

  • It’s time-consuming and labour-intensive, often involving an interdisciplinary team.
  • Your results may be inconsistent or even contradictory.

There are four main types of triangulation :

  • Data triangulation : Using data from different times, spaces, and people
  • Investigator triangulation : Involving multiple researchers in collecting or analysing data
  • Theory triangulation : Using varying theoretical perspectives in your research
  • Methodological triangulation : Using different methodologies to approach the same topic

Experimental designs are a set of procedures that you plan in order to examine the relationship between variables that interest you.

To design a successful experiment, first identify:

  • A testable hypothesis
  • One or more independent variables that you will manipulate
  • One or more dependent variables that you will measure

When designing the experiment, first decide:

  • How your variable(s) will be manipulated
  • How you will control for any potential confounding or lurking variables
  • How many subjects you will include
  • How you will assign treatments to your subjects

Exploratory research explores the main aspects of a new or barely researched question.

Explanatory research explains the causes and effects of an already widely researched question.

The key difference between observational studies and experiments is that, done correctly, an observational study will never influence the responses or behaviours of participants. Experimental designs will have a treatment condition applied to at least a portion of participants.

An observational study could be a good fit for your research if your research question is based on things you observe. If you have ethical, logistical, or practical concerns that make an experimental design challenging, consider an observational study. Remember that in an observational study, it is critical that there be no interference or manipulation of the research subjects. Since it’s not an experiment, there are no control or treatment groups either.

These are four of the most common mixed methods designs :

  • Convergent parallel: Quantitative and qualitative data are collected at the same time and analysed separately. After both analyses are complete, compare your results to draw overall conclusions. 
  • Embedded: Quantitative and qualitative data are collected at the same time, but within a larger quantitative or qualitative design. One type of data is secondary to the other.
  • Explanatory sequential: Quantitative data is collected and analysed first, followed by qualitative data. You can use this design if you think your qualitative data will explain and contextualise your quantitative findings.
  • Exploratory sequential: Qualitative data is collected and analysed first, followed by quantitative data. You can use this design if you think the quantitative data will confirm or validate your qualitative findings.

Triangulation in research means using multiple datasets, methods, theories and/or investigators to address a research question. It’s a research strategy that can help you enhance the validity and credibility of your findings.

Triangulation is mainly used in qualitative research , but it’s also commonly applied in quantitative research . Mixed methods research always uses triangulation.

Operationalisation means turning abstract conceptual ideas into measurable observations.

For example, the concept of social anxiety isn’t directly observable, but it can be operationally defined in terms of self-rating scores, behavioural avoidance of crowded places, or physical anxiety symptoms in social situations.

Before collecting data , it’s important to consider how you will operationalise the variables that you want to measure.

Hypothesis testing is a formal procedure for investigating our ideas about the world using statistics. It is used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses , by calculating how likely it is that a pattern or relationship between variables could have arisen by chance.

There are five common approaches to qualitative research :

  • Grounded theory involves collecting data in order to develop new theories.
  • Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a group or organisation to understand its culture.
  • Narrative research involves interpreting stories to understand how people make sense of their experiences and perceptions.
  • Phenomenological research involves investigating phenomena through people’s lived experiences.
  • Action research links theory and practice in several cycles to drive innovative changes.

There are various approaches to qualitative data analysis , but they all share five steps in common:

  • Prepare and organise your data.
  • Review and explore your data.
  • Develop a data coding system.
  • Assign codes to the data.
  • Identify recurring themes.

The specifics of each step depend on the focus of the analysis. Some common approaches include textual analysis , thematic analysis , and discourse analysis .

In mixed methods research , you use both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis methods to answer your research question .

Methodology refers to the overarching strategy and rationale of your research project . It involves studying the methods used in your field and the theories or principles behind them, in order to develop an approach that matches your objectives.

Methods are the specific tools and procedures you use to collect and analyse data (e.g. experiments, surveys , and statistical tests ).

In shorter scientific papers, where the aim is to report the findings of a specific study, you might simply describe what you did in a methods section .

In a longer or more complex research project, such as a thesis or dissertation , you will probably include a methodology section , where you explain your approach to answering the research questions and cite relevant sources to support your choice of methods.

The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .

  • If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts, and meanings, use qualitative methods .
  • If you want to analyse a large amount of readily available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how they are generated, collect primary data.
  • If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.

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Ethical Considerations in Research

  • First Online: 22 October 2021

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what is ethical considerations in research

  • Jan Recker   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2072-5792 2  

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This chapter draws attention to ethical considerations as they pertain to research in information systems (IS). Ethics define the principles of right and wrong conduct in the community of IS scholars. This chapter discusses the role of ethics in IS research, the difficulty of acting ethically in research, and presents guidelines for ethical conduct in performing research and publishing research.

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