Research Ethics

After reading a few dozen Master’s Dissertations over the past weeks I’d thought that I would add to my blogs to cover Research Ethics. For this topic, the institution where you are studying will hold strict rules and procedures to ensure that your research is ethical. This short blog may help you understand what to write in the dissertation to show that you have followed those procedures.

I believe that a few ethical approval certificates in the appendices is insufficient. The Research Methodology chapter should have a specific sub-chapter titled “Ethical Considerations”. This sub chapter could be structured as follows:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of ethical research principals
  • Show that you have understood the ethical implications for your chosen research method
  • Prove that you have followed ethical guidelines and procedures

Perhaps half a page to a page on each item will be sufficient. This is far better than a short paragraph or nothing at all!

Understand Ethical Research

Ethics is about the moral principals of research. It is about good research practice. Ethics will directly affect the people that you are collecting data from. These people have a right to understand what the research is about, the risks involved and what the research data outputs will be.

The rights of individuals are paramount in research, and they do not have to take part in your research.

Ethics has several principals:

  • To protect people from harm which may be physical, emotional, psychological, or social
  • Prove ‘Informed Consent’ – to show that they know what they have signed up for
  • ‘Promote Benefit’ – to allow the participant to understand the benefits of the research
  • Justice – shared burden – to show that others are also being asked to provide help with the research

The readers (markers!) of your research will be keen to know that you have understood the importance of an ethical research approach.

How Research Ethics Affects Your Project

Now if your research methodology is interview or questionnaires, then you should see that the above is important background to the topic. Now is the time to mention the documents you will use to show that you will comply.

Even if you are using case studies, ethics is an important topic. You should show that you understand it, and demonstrate that it doesn’t apply in full.

Think carefully and ask your supervisor if in doubt. Some typical projects that I supervise might cause problems:

  • Research into gender differences between project managers and project success (Equality issues)
  • Investigations into why projects fail (Potential harm to interviewees and a source of bias)
  • Exploration of cultural aspects of project management (Racial issues)

(Need more ideas for a title? I have a list of project titles available for download.)

Remind the reader of your chosen research methodology and prove to them that you understand the need for research that has been guided by ethical principals.

Demonstrate that you have Followed Ethical Guidelines

So, having shown that you understand research ethics, and understand how it impacts your own research project, finally point the reader to the documents that prove you have followed the guidelines/systems requested by your institution.  Write about, or point to the the appendices where you can show evidence of:

  • Compliance with procedures
  • Data storage and adherence to GDPR regulations
  • Followed IT guidelines
  • Security of paper copies and security of data on lap-tops/tablets
  • Evidence that individuals are anonymous
  • Information about  disposal after submission

Readers (markers!) of your research will be reassured to see that all of this has been covered.

Summary of Research Ethics

Readers (markers!) of your research will be keen to know that you have followed an ethical approach, and without this your research could be discredited.

Ethics is important. Show that you understand what ethical research is. Show that you have followed ethical guidelines/policies. Direct the reader to where all the information is in you dissertation.


Posted On: 9th September 2019

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