Doing Ethical Research

Ethical research demands that respect is afforded to the rights and dignity of human participants and use of the Ethical Appraisal Framework ensures that ethics become embedded throughout the whole of the research process.

Ethics and the Research Process

Research directly or indirectly involving or impacting upon human participants inevitably gives rise to ethical considerations about the respect that should be afforded to the rights and dignity of these participants and to the interests of stakeholders in the research including gatekeepers, organisations and wider society.

Yet the focus of discussions about research projects most often reflect researchers' concerns about ensuring the methodological soundness that is necessary to produce results that are credible and reliable. Less commonly do researchers talk about the ethical soundness of their projects and, indeed, the issue may only be triggered by the requirement that once a research proposal is finalised, it must be submitted for review to a university ethics committee or other ethics review body. Considerations of moral integrity can take second place to considerations of intellectual integrity and ethics then becomes something of an afterthought.

If you are interested in a free online course based on the ethical appraisal framework presented in this website, why not join the FutureLearn course 'People Studying People: Research Ethics in Society'? This runs for six weeks in February and September each year. Case studies and examples from a range of Social Science disciplines are presented and discussed using the structure of the appraisal framework. This offers an opportunity to discuss the issues arising with a large number of international participants, supported by lead educators. For further information and to register go to:

Doing 'Ethically Unsound' Research

Failure to give ethics the attention it deserves from the outset may bring about consequences which effectively undermine the methodological coherence of your research project by

  • Limiting the potential scope for the project to provide wider benefits to any or all of the parties directly or indirectly involved or affected by your research
  • Breaching legal, social and cultural rules and expectations
  • Discouraging people from facilitating and participating in your research
  • Creating the risk of harm to yourself and to your participants
  • Finding yourself doing a very different research project from the one to which you are committed: if the methodological soundness of your research is not matched by its ethical soundness, ethical review bodies will require amendments to be made which may fundamentally impact upon how, when, where and from whom you can collect your data.

Doing 'Ethically Sound' Research

Giving ethics the attention it deserves results in ethically sound research. Research is ethically sound where it

  • is conducted in accordance with rules, laws and codes of conduct which prevail in the research setting
  • involves decisions that have a defensible moral basis
  • makes those decisions transparent to the reader
  • maintains the integrity of the research

(Stutchbury and Fox, 2009)

You can do ethical research by ensuring that ethics are embedded in the design, implementation and writing up of your research. This can be achieved by subjecting your research to ethical review or appraisal throughout the life cycle of your research using the Ethical Appraisal Framework.

The Purpose of the Ethical Appraisal Framework

Using the Ethical Appraisal Framework to review your research can help you to

  • Design, implement and report on an ethically sound research project
  • Identify and resolve ethical issues and dilemmas that can arise at any stage
  • Develop a 'personal code of ethical practice' to guide you through the research process from start to finish
  • Check that you are on 'ethical track' at any stage of the research process

All of the resources produced for the site are covered by creative commons licensing and are available for download and onward use according to the CC BY-NC-SA licence. Information about this licence is available at:

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