Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to get ethics approval to do this project?
Ethics review is required for all work, involving human participants that will be made public - for example, undergraduate dissertations, theses for higher degrees, externally funded research and 'unfunded' research (including undergraduate and postgraduate research) which produces reports or other publications.
Research interviews and questionnaires can raise issues which participants find distressing to talk or think about. Does this mean I can't use interviews or questionnaires to do my study?
The possibility that your participants could become upset in the course of your interviews or questionnaires does not mean you cannot use these data collection methods. What you will need to do, however, is to make sure you have the support, knowledge and skills to help someone if they become distressed. This may include both listening skills and written information on services which are available locally to provide longer term support for individuals. In your application for ethics approval, set out your plans for what you will do if a participant becomes upset.
Do I need to ask my participants to sign a consent form? Some people are put off if you ask them to sign something.
You must obtain formal, written consent from participants. There may be exceptions with certain kinds of anonymous questionnaires, where completion of the questionnaire is taken to indicate consent. This may be the case where questionnaires are accessed via a web link (e.g. Survey Monkey) or with postal questionnaires the respondent signifies their consent when they return the questionnaire to you.
I want to do a study observing the way children/adolescents and staff members interact during education classes in school. Do I need to tell anyone about this or can I just go ahead and do it?
In this sort of study, you will need permission from both the person in charge of the school and the parents of the children you wish to observe. The person in charge of the school has a duty of care for the children and will need to be convinced that what you are doing is for a worthwhile purpose and that it does not entail any risks to the children. Assent from the child/adolescent should also be sought.
A local school has agreed that we can give questionnaires on alcohol and drug use to their year 9s. Do I need to get permission from their parents as well?
Although the teacher has given his or her assent to the study, you will still need to explain the study to the children and gain their assent to take part. You should also gain consent from parents. As the study is on a sensitive topic, it is particularly important that all those involved - children, parents and teachers - are properly informed about the study and given the option not to participate, or not to have their child asked to participate.
Can I give potential research participants information and ask them to consent at the same time?
Potential participants are usually give 7-14 days to consider agreeing to be part of a research project. To avoid possible coercion (or perceived coercion) it is considered best practice for potential participants to be approached in the first instance by a person not directly involved in the research study. E.g. a lecturer (not involved in the study) hands out information letters to students and the researcher arranges to meet the those interested in participating at a later time.
I would like to send a questionnaire on school meals and healthy eating to all the teachers in three local primary schools. I know people who work at all the schools - can I just ask them to distribute my questionnaire for me?
It is very useful having local contacts in each school who can distribute questionnaires for you. However, if they are going to use the staff pigeon holes or internal post in the school, it would be good practice to get permission from the Head Teacher first.
I want to use focus groups to collect data, what are “ground rules” that people refer to?
The ground rules refer to a series of recommendations that participants agree to before the focus group begins. The rules ensure that all participants have an opportunity to interact within a group discussion which is also safe and productive for all concerned. Some ground rules include:
- One person speak at a time
- Speak for yourself, using “I” statements
- Participate in both talking and listening
- Be critical of ideas but respect different points of view and different perspectives
- Stay on the topic and don’t digress too much
- Maintain the confidentiality of opinions expressed in this discussion
- Focus on issues that need to be discussed and not individuals
- Wait for one person to finish speaking and don’t interrupt others
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