Checklist for Ethical Treatment

Legal obligations

Researchers are not above the law. If it is illegal for the general public, then it is illegal for researchers and research participants. But a more common legal dilemma is faced by researchers who: (a) wish to study illegal activities; or (b) come across illegal activities in the course of their investigations. You may or may not be obligated to report illegal activities, but in most countries, the courts can subpoena your data and files. Legal precedents suggest that researcher assurances of confidentiality do not hold up in court. As a researcher, you are not afforded the same rights as a lawyer, doctor, or priest.

Moral obligations

Some moral considerations in the conduct of research include:

☑ Conscientiousness – keeping the interests of respondents or participants at the forefront in any decision-making processes related to the conduct of research.

☑ Equity – concerned with the practice of asking only some segments of the population to participate in research, while other segments are immune from such requests.

☑ Honesty – the expectation that researchers are open and honest and that details of the research process are made transparent.

Ethical obligations

Ethical guidelines for the conduct of research will vary by professional code, discipline area, and institution, but generally cover the following areas:

☑ Ensuring respondents have given informed consent – a participant can only give ‘informed consent’ to be involved in a research study if they have full understanding of their requested involvement – including time commitment, type of activity, topics that will be covered and all physical and emotional risks potentially involved. Informed consent implies that participants are: competentautonomousinvolved voluntarily; aware of the right to discontinuenot deceivednot coercednot induced.

☑ Ensuring no harm comes to respondents – this includes emotional or psychological harm as well as physical harm.

☑ Ensuring confidentiality, and if appropriate, anonymity – confidentiality involves protecting the identity of those providing research data; all identifying data remains solely with the researcher. Anonymity goes a step beyond confidentiality and refers to protection against identification even from the researcher.