Ethical Considerations in Research


Ethics refers to a code of conduct that informs one of what is acceptable and what is not thus it basically defines what is required of a person when carrying out any task. In light of this, all institutions of learning have put in place regulations and policies in matters relating to research and ethics.

When undertaking doctoral research, it should be done in such a way that all standards of conduct are met. One normally starts by carrying out a literature review. Contrary to what most people think, a literature review does not entail the listing of all the sources of information. A literature review is in essence the evaluation of all the previous researches in an effort of trying to establish what they have in common and come up with an explanation of how it integrates with the proposed research program.

One should ensure that all sides of the argument are explained with the utmost clarity possible. Areas of agreement, as well as those of disagreement, should be indicated hence it is advisable for one to do this if they are to guard against being biased. Every now and then for one reason or the other, one may be tempted to gather quotes from different sources and engage in paraphrasing and pass it on as a literature review. One should do genuine work to guard against the danger of your evaluation lacking quality.

There is danger in a researcher trying to stress the importance of a specific research program to the readers and thus the reader will feel like his intellect is being insulted by not being given the chance to ascertain whether the subject being researched on is important or not. With the advent of the internet, information can be easily obtained nowadays therefore, considering the abundance of sources of information, evaluation of credible sources of information may prove to be extremely difficult. It usually takes years of experience for one to develop the ability to tell whether a source of information is credible or not. This should not be a cause of concern as certain measures may be used to evaluate whether a source of information is credible or not quickly and accurately (Hubert 2007).

It is best that one starts his research in an academic library. In a library, one is sure that all the books and journals therein are sound and one can base his research on them. It is only after one has exhausted all the relevant books and journals that one can venture into the internet and it is advisable that one only source for material on the internet to supplement the information that they shall have already collected. The reason for this is simply because it might prove to be a herculean task for one to ascertain the credibility of sources of information over the internet. The different search engines have no capacity to judge the results or quality of a source of information since they are designed to open papers that are friendly to the engine.


One also needs to check the credibility of the source of information that the literature review is heavily based on regardless of where one might have found the source, thus it’s a precautionary measure that will ensure that the research is based on sound material (Mavinic 2006).

In addition, there might come a time when the process of sourcing material for the literature review may be too challenging. In the event it turns out that way, it is recommended that one should not shy away from seeking assistance from their respective supervisors. On the surface, it might look like they are giving them extra work but that is better than one carrying on doing something they are not sure about only for the supervisor to dispose of it later on account of it being based on unsound evidence.

While conducting a literature review, one may be tempted to plagiarize. There is a range of reasons as to why one might fall into the temptation of plagiarizing. Before delving into the reasons why one might plagiarize, we must define what plagiarism is so that we get an accurate picture of what it exactly entails. Plagiarism can be defined as the wrongful use, imitation, stealing, and publishing another author’s ideas, language thoughts, and expressions without giving them the credit that is due to them, therefore, presenting it as one’s original work.

Some of the reasons may have been highlighted earlier but they will be elaborated on in this section. One of the most common reasons why researchers plagiarize is because of the pressure of completing work on time yet they are running short of it. One may resort to using other people’s ideas wrongfully for him to be able to beat the deadline. This may be the case though it does not justify the despicable act. When doing a literature review, one can guard against this by starting on their work in good time and doing it by following the due course since they will not be under any pressure (AIAA, 2007).

With the internet becoming almost indispensable to almost anyone who can access it as the ultimate source of information along with advances in technology, the ease of accessing information nowadays has reached unprecedented levels. It is the nature of human beings to always opt for the path of least resistance and will thus go to the internet to copy and paste the work of others passing it as their own. When carrying out a literature review it is advised that one uses information gotten from the internet as supplementary information to the information sourced from credible sources. This way, one will easily escape the snare of plagiarizing other people’s work. There is a special category of people who engage in plagiarism because they may have never come across a concept such as that before. As absurd as it may sound, it is a fact that has been very well documented that suchlike people exist. It may arise out of their ignorance but as they say, ‘ignorance is no defense’. To remedy this kind of situation, one should make an attempt of always being informed on the goings-on around them so as not to end up in such a case.

Plagiarism along with other forms of academic dishonesty and academic fraud carry with them punitive measures that are extremely severe. Offenders are subject to academic censure and in some serious cases expulsion. Jones (1998) notes “in the case of professors and researchers, plagiarism is punished by sanctions which can range from suspension and termination on the other end of the spectrum.” All these come along with the loss of integrity and credibility while honors or degrees that may have been awarded are revoked in some extreme cases

These measures were designed to be that severe to completely discourage the practice of plagiarism so much so that one shudders at the thought of it. Whether this end has been achieved is debatable but since there are certain characters that have refused to be deterred by those measures, it only makes sense to increase the severity of the punitive measures to completely discourage plagiarism.

It is futile to engage in plagiarism since most culprits end up being detected. One reason why offenders are detected easily is because of their naivety since most researchers display a lack of originality at the highest level. They often go for the same source and it will take the least probing person to spot passages of a number of almost identical people, an indication that they come from a similar source.

One can also easily tell whether it is one’s own language or someone else’s since they are familiar with and are aware of what you are capable of. One’s choice of topic may be far from accurate, irrelevant, and way off the subject. In today’s fast-paced world, these are tools designed to identify and detect the slightest inkling of plagiarism.

The fight against plagiarism is not altogether lost, there are still certain things that can be done that will result in discouraging the unacceptable practice all the more. People need to be made more aware of the evils of plagiarism as well as its downside. The importance of doing one’s own work and the pleasure one derives out of it cannot be overemphasized. When the levels of awareness have been raised, it will go a long way in stirring the conscience of people, and the chances of them desisting from plagiarism will be heightened (Jerry, 2006).

Risk assessment

When one embarks on conducting the research itself, it is ideal for one to ensure that extreme caution is taken to avoid causing harm to anyone as a result of conducting the research. Certain principles have been established for the sole purpose of offering better protection to the participants of research. Firstly, there is the principle of voluntary participation. The researcher is forbidden from subjecting the prospective participants to any form of coercion or coaxing in a bid to try and get them to participate in research. Of particular concern are captive audiences, captive audience refers to audiences such as those of university students or says, prisoners. When carrying out research, the researcher is supposed to let the participants decide whether they want to be part of the research or not. Any influence on the part of the researcher on the prospective participant to get them to participate is considered not only unethical but also unacceptable and has no place in the research fraternity. The reason it is considered unethical is that it infringes on the right of the prospective participant to make a decision out of his own volition (Federman, 2003).

The principle of informed consent requires the researcher to furnish the prospective participant with all the information there is in matters regarding risks that the prospective participant will be exposing himself to in the event he decides to take part in the research. It is only after the prospective participant has processed all the relevant information given to him by the researcher, and given their consent is the researcher allowed to go on with the research. This principle serves the purpose of protecting prospective participants from the harm of any nature, physical or psychological that they may be exposed to as a result of them taking part in the research. The researcher’s integrity is put to the test here. If the research that he is trying to get prospective participants to participate in has got any harm involved, he should not hide it from the prospective participants (Schutt, 2006; Cohen, 2006).

Privacy and confidentiality

The principle of confidentiality is basically designed to ensure that any information collected by the researcher that involves the participant will not at any given time be made available to some other party that was not directly linked with the study. It does not matter whether the information is embarrassing or not. The confidentiality principle binds the researcher undertaking the study from divulging information about the participant to other parties. Violation of this principle in any ways amounts to unethical conduct of the research on the researcher’s part which is uncalled for.

There is another principle that regards privacy known as the principle of anonymity. This principle offers a stronger assurance of privacy than the principle of confidentiality. Under this principle, the participants are supposed to remain anonymous until the study is concluded. The researcher himself is not even allowed to know the participants of his study. This principle is sometimes not easy to achieve since in some situation’s participants have to be measured time and again as is the case with reconnaissance studies (National Research Council, 2003).

Ideal research should be one that involves a group of participants who do not get treated the same way as the program being studied. That group of participants is referred to as a treatment control group. If that is the case, the no-control group is allowed to access the benefits previously denied to them.

Data handling and reporting

Researchers are obliged to furnish the participants with the research results as soon as possible. The researcher is supposed to present these results with clarity, using language that the participants can easily comprehend. In order for the researcher to achieve this end, he should steer clear from using ambiguous words or professional terms that can only be understood by people in his profession. Simplicity is the golden rule to be applied if one is to sidestep the snare of violating the participants’ right to access information in which he is the subject.

The researcher should be cautious not to delve into the lives of the participants more than is necessary for the study that he is researching on. This can be achieved by sticking to what is relevant to the subject or topic that he is researching on. The researcher should resist the temptation of obtaining information that is inappropriate to his study regardless of how interesting it may seem to be. The interests and welfare of the participants should be given the utmost priority. The researcher is required to go out of his way in an effort of ensuring that the privacy, dignity, and interests of the participants are protected at any cost and always.

In the process of carrying out the research, the researcher should do it in a way that will not allow for the contravention of any regulations, standards, laws, and customs of the participants. In addition to that, the researcher should always strive to remain within the confines of the laws of the land. This means he should not engage in any illegal activities in the process of carrying out his research. The researcher should therefore make an effort of acquainting himself with the customs, laws, standards, and regulations of the participants before setting out to conduct his research. This is the only way that he can avoid violating any regulations that exist in the community that he wants to carry out his study (Kenneth, 2008).

The researchers are required to consider the kind of impact their research is going to have not only on the lives of their participants but on their colleagues as well as the society at large. Consideration should also be given to the repercussions that will follow as a result of their negligence or misuse of the information that they will obtain from the community among whom they are carrying out their research on. Researchers are required to be careful not to disparage the reputation of the organization that they are representing through misuse of the information they obtain from the field or through negligence.

It is paramount that a researcher set out to conduct research if he has the necessary qualifications. The principal researcher should possess the skills necessary to undertake procedures that are used in his line of work. A lot of emphases is placed on competency for the sake of safety both on the researcher as well as the participants. If an unqualified person ventures to undertake research, and ends up doing things that he does not have the expertise to handle, he might end up not only harming himself but also posing a great danger to the people among whom he is doing research. To prevent such a thing from happening, the researcher should acquaint himself fully with all the procedures involved in his line of work to reduce the chances of making avoidable mistakes (Smith, 2006).

The principal researcher should make known his ethical principles to other researchers. This will allow for consensus-building that fosters a conducive working environment that all those involved in the research can work together in harmony. In the event, a dispute arises as this is normal, it should be resolved immediately before proceeding with the research. This is necessary to avoid conflict of interest among those involved in the research.

The results of the research should be reported widely. The principal researcher should be objective when presenting the results. Biased or subjective presentation of the report is considered unethical. Subjectivity is the placing of a lot more emphasis on certain sources of information and findings at the expense of others. A subjective researcher is one who gives the impression that some sections of his study are more important than others instead of letting people arrive at those decisions themselves. This is an exercise in futility and defeats the purpose of the research hence when carrying out research, the researcher is required to report all the findings of his study and let all who read the reporting judge for themselves.

It is required for the researcher to make available all the information that he was able to obtain in all publications as well as to his colleagues. This is necessary if the methods that they employed to carry out the research together with their findings are to be scrutinized adequately. If the researcher happened to identify any limitations pertaining to how reliable or applicable his study is, he is required to come out clean about it.

The way the research material is handled and preserved should conform to the agreements that had previously been reached between the researcher and the participants. The researcher should have the integrity of respecting the wishes of the participants to remain within the strict confines of ethical research practices.

Mistakes and negligence

Data manipulation, fabrication, and fraud are practices that are unequivocally detested in the research community. These practices arise out of moral decadence on the part of the researcher. In any research, morals are fundamental if one is to arrive at reliable and beneficial conclusions. The centrality of morals in matters pertaining to research arises out of the fact that if results are doctored, then the purpose of the entire research is watered down, it is meaningless as it will not achieve what it was intended for in the first place (Levin, 1995).

If the true spirit of the research is to be upheld, all researchers are required to desist from this insidious practice. Any person who may happen to be present when such a deed is being perpetrated owes it to mankind to tell on the perpetrators. Reporting of any suspected persons is a responsibility of serious magnitude to all those affiliated with the academic community. All allegations are handled under the procedures outlined in the University Research integrity policy. Allegations are treated with the utmost confidentiality and no adverse repercussions are going to be suffered, either directly or indirectly by anyone who comes forward with allegations pertaining to data fabrication. Provisions in the policies of the University guarantee the protection of the whistleblowers against reprisal attacks (Shaw, 2009).

It is not uncommon to come across researchers who omit some of the information that they came across as a result of conducting the research. The omission of certain information from the final report is mainly attributed to motivated reasoning. Motivated reasoning refers to the tendency of people to arrive at conclusions that are in sync with beliefs and values they hold dear and, in most times, define the vital aspects of their identity. Either consciously or otherwise, people seem to have made up their minds about the conclusion they want to arrive at even before data has been presented. The omission of data not only amounts to the researcher being subjective but also constitutes an unethical practice.

Working with a Mentor

The research process entails working with various individuals in different capacities. The supervisor is among the individuals that a researcher is required to work with. The supervisor is charged with the responsibility of guiding a researcher on how to conduct his research efficiently and effectively. It is therefore important for both the researcher and the supervisor to get along well if the research is to be completed with minimal effort possible. A cordial relationship between both of them will infuse goodwill in their endeavors thus expediting the research process (Stern, 1997).

A cordial relationship is often misconstrued to mean covering up for someone in the event he errs. This is not the case at all, if anything, the supervisor is obligated to call to attention any deficiencies that are apparent in the work of the researcher. The supervisor is expected to aid in the improvement of the researcher’s conduct professionally. Misrepresentation of the participant’s capacity by the supervisor is abhorred. The supervisor is not supposed to hide any inadequacies in the ability of the researcher to carry out the duties assigned to them. If he does any of the above, he will not only have breached principles of ethical conduct but will have also done a disservice to his capacity of being a good supervisor. The supervisor is expected to bring his authority to bear in accordance with ethical concerns about integrity. On the other hand, supervisors should assist the researchers without being asked to. Even if the researcher and the supervisor are not on good terms, the supervisor should not at any given time abuse his authority by wrongfully victimizing the researcher.

University requirements for IRB (institutional review board) approval

The institutional review board of any institution consists of a committee that has been charged with the responsibility of monitoring, approving, and reviewing biomedical and behavioral research that involves humans to protect the welfare and rights of the participants (Kimme, 2001). Its purpose is to ensure that pertinent steps are taken to guarantee the protection of participants in a research study. Stern (1997) notes “ in order for them to accomplish this end, it reviews research protocols and any other related materials such as documents for informed consent in a bid to ensure that welfare and rights of participants are protected.” In the quest of safeguarding the well-being of subjects, special attention is paid to the most vulnerable participants such as the elderly, pregnant women, and children whose mental capacities are yet to fully develop or have deteriorated.


It is no doubt that an ethical approach should be taken in all stages of conducting any type of research despite the limitations a researcher may be undergoing. By researching an ethical way and according to the stipulated guidelines, new researchers will be according to respect to previous research done by others thereby enhancing the dignity of other people’s research and the time and passion they put into the research by ensuring that a given question or issue under scrutiny was efficiently answered and thus, the human race would have an opportunity to analyze the research and also share in the answers got from the research. Its therefore essential that ethical scientific researchers have an obligation to all who are touched by their research—participants who share their lives and time, mentors and advisors, reviewers, future readers, and supporters and cheerleaders on the journey—to take care and do their work well.


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