Producing a Code of Ethics

Activity  1

Producing a Code of Ethics

STUDENT HANDOUT

Produce a ‘code of ethics’ that can be given to people who have agreed to take part in your research. This is a document that outlines the ethical standards that you will adopt, under which you will work and that will help to guide the research forward. It lays out how you intend to behave as a researcher, how you will conduct yourself and how you will treat your participants. This document is usually produced in written form, but if you have participants who cannot read, or if there are language difficulties, you may need to think about producing your code of ethics in an alternative format.

You will need to think about who will be given a copy of your code of ethics, especially if you intend to conduct research with children or vulnerable people (a gatekeeper or proxy, for example). The type of recipient will have an influence on the code of ethics that you produce: some people will not want to read (and perhaps will not understand) a detailed and complex list of ethical standards, whereas others may want as much information as they can get, and review it in minute detail. If you have very different people taking part in your research (perhaps with very different educational backgrounds) you may find that you need to produce two codes of ethics: one detailed and one in summary, for example.

The specific issues that you choose to include in your code of ethics will depend on the type of research that you intend to conduct, your research topic, the level at which you are studying and the type of people who are to be involved in your research. The following list gives an example of information that you could include:

  • acting ethically within research aims;
  • acting ethically within moral and social values;
  • acting ethically with participants, treating them with respect, ensuring anonymity and confidentiality, and ensuring protection of data;
  • acting ethically with the wider public;
  • conducting research that involves risk;
  • publishing and disseminating results ethically;
  • addressing conflict of interest;
  • avoiding biased financial relationships;
  • obtaining ethical approval.

Once you have produced your code of ethics, test it by asking a member of the public to read it and give you honest feedback about style, structure and content. If possible, try to choose a member of the public who is similar to the people who will take part in your research. Once you have received feedback, modify your code of ethics accordingly.

 

When working on this activity you need to think about the content and the depth of information required, and how to present this to the participants in a way that can be understood and acknowledged by them. You need to also think about the type and level of information you want to give to your participants.

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