However much we recognise the importance of ethics in research, we all know that applying for ethical approval can feel like an additional bureaucratic hurdle. Particularly when there are a million other things to be done in the early stages of a research project, it can seem like an extra hassle. These occasional blog posts will try to help a little by providing some insights from inside the ethics process…
The three (unwritten) rules of ethics applications
Alongside the ethical principles that we all know and love (try not to kill your participants, don’t publish all their personal data on Facebook, etc.), there are some unwritten rules of applying for ethical approval…
Rule 1: Think about it
Yes, you’re busy. Yes, you’re an experienced researcher doing a project that is similar to one you’ve done before. And no, you’re not trying to harm anybody. But you still need to think about the details of ethics. Applications that show careful thought about the relevant issues do much better than applications that baldly state there are no ethical issues, or cut corners by (badly) editing the application from the previous project.
Rule 2: Remember that the ethics process is your friend
We know that may sound ridiculous, but think of it like a form of peer review. The ethics process is not about policing punctuation, but about improving research methods from an ethical perspective. We want you to do the best research you can, without harming your participants.
Rule 3: Remember that ethics panel members are human
No really, we are human. So the next time you feel like ranting about the pedantic comments on your immaculate information sheet, remember that the panel is made up of your colleagues. And contrary to popular belief, we don’t enjoy picking holes in applications – our job is infinitely easier when we get high quality applications which are well thought through. We put a lot of time and effort into helping applicants, so we just want you to help us too.
(NB The ideas in these columns will not answer all of your ethics questions. For more information and up-to-date forms, always check the website. To learn more about ethics, use the online training module.)