Ethics in Research: Conduct Research Ethically [Complete Guide]

ethics in research

Ethics refers to well-based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do. It seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining such concepts as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime.

The goal of ethics in research is to ensure that no one is harmed or suffers from adverse consequences of research activities.

Because integrity in research is vital, ethical consideration should be given prime importance when preparing research designs.

What is Ethical Research?

We are going through a time of profound change in our understanding of the ethics of applied social science research. From immediately after World War II until the early 1990s, there was a gradually developing consensus about the key ethical principles that should motivate the research endeavor.

Two marker events have stood out (among many others) as symbolic of this consensus. The ‘Nuremberg War Crimes Trial’ following World War II brought to public view the ways German scientists had used captive human subjects as subjects in often horrible experiments.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study involved the withholding of known effective treatment for syphilis from African-American participants who were infected.

Events like these forced the re-examination of ethical standards and the gradual development of a consensus that potential human subjects needed to be protected from being used as ‘guinea pigs’ in scientific research. By the 1990s, the dynamics of the situation changed.

Cancer patients and persons with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) fought publicly with the medical research establishment about the long time needed to get approval for and complete research into potential cures for fatal diseases.

In many cases, it is the ethical assumptions of the previous 30 years that drive this ‘go-slow’ mentality.

Although the last few years in the ethics of research have been tumultuous, it is beginning to appear that a new consensus is evolving that involves the stakeholder groups most affected by a problem participating more actively in the formulation of guidelines for research.

Ethics in Research

In most research settings, three parties are involved: the researcher, the client (user), and the respondent (subject). The interaction of these parties with one or both of the other two identifies a series of ethical questions.

Consciously or unconsciously, each party expects a certain right and feels certain obligations toward the other parties.

Many questions arise in the process. The researchers believe they have the right to seek information from the respondents, while the respondents believe they have a certain right to privacy.

This may lead him to refuse to participate. For each respondent’s rights, there is a corresponding obligation on the researcher’s part.

For example, the individual’s right to privacy dictates that the researcher should protect the privacy and anonymity of the respondent.

That is, the respondent’s identity and the information he or she provides to the researcher will not be disclosed to the users.

When a respondent discloses information about his/her matter to the researcher, he or she must be ensured that such information will be used only for research purposes.

Violation of any of the norms will be considered unethical. It is also expected that a respondent must be truthful while responding.

The user also preserves some rights and obligations. His primary right is to expect objective and accurate data from the researcher. He should also expect that his instructions relating to confidentiality have been followed to do.

To make a study ethically acceptable, the following points are of immense importance during data collection:

  • Do not deceive respondents about the true purpose of a study.
  • Do not ask respondents questions that cause him or her extreme embarrassment.
  • Do not ask respondent questions that might cause emotional turmoil by reminding him or her of an unpleasant experience,
  • Do not ask respondents questions that cause guilt.
  • Do not ask the respondent questions that might invade his or her privacy.
  • Do not harm the respondents by studying them without their knowledge.
  • Do not threaten or compel the respondent to participate.
  • Do not violate a promise of confidentiality, such as disclosing the identity of the respondents.

The researcher can also act unethically when analyzing data. These include, among others.

  • By revealing only part of the facts
  • Presenting facts out of context
  • Falsifying findings to please the clients
  • We are offering a misleading presentation, such as ‘lying with statistics,’ to make the study in the expected direction.

In general, a researcher must be ethical so that a respondent does not suffer physical harm, discomfort, pain, embarrassment, or loss of privacy.

To safeguard these, the researcher should follow three guidelines in designing his research as perceived by Cooper and Schindler (1998):

  • Begin data collection by explaining to the respondents the benefits expected from the research without exaggeration.
  • Privacy and confidentiality are profound ethical issues in research. Explain to the respondents that their rights and well-being will be safeguarded and say how this will be done. This may be accomplished by maintaining the responses’ confidentiality and destroying the respondents’ identities.
  • Be certain that interviewers obtain the respondents’ informed consent in an informed consent form.

An Informed consent form is a written agreement signed by the subject, the respondent, and the researcher concerning the terms and conditions of a subject’s voluntary participation in a study.

Such a form entails making the subject fully aware of the purpose of the study, its possible dangers, and the researchers’ credentials so that he or she waives his or her right to privacy when he or she agrees to participate in the study.

Complete informed consent has four characteristics:

  1. The subject must be competent to give consent.
  2. Consent must be voluntary, free from coercion, and so forth.
  3. The subject must be adequately informed to make a decision.
  4. The subject must be aware of the risks or outcomes associated with the research.

14 Codes and Principles of Ethical Research

Given the importance of ethics for the conduct of social science research, it should come as no surprise that many different professional associations, government agencies, and universities have adopted specific codes, rules, and policies relating to research ethics.

Many international agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Nuremberg Code, and the Declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association), provide required funds for genuine and ethical research worldwide.

Other influential research ethics policies include the Statement on Professional Ethics (American Association of University Professors) are remarkable.

However, the following ethical codes and principles are briefly listed;

  1. Objectivity
  2. Honesty
  3. Integrity and Cohesive Research
  4. Openness for Candid Views
  5. Responsible Publication
  6. Carefulness
  7. Respect to Colleagues
  8. Confidentiality
  9. Accountable Mentoring
  10. Non-discrimination
  11. Animal Care and Competence
  12. Official Practices
  13. Human Subjects Protection
  14. Social Responsibility

Objectivity

Objectivity strives to avoid biasness in experimental design and covers many other social science research aspects e.g., data analysis, data interpretation, peer review, personnel decisions, grant writing, expert testimony, and other aspects of research where objectivity is expected or required for ethical standard.

Avoid bias or self-deception, and disclosing personal or financial interests may affect the ethics of research. The Quran also warned us: “… So follow not the lusts, lest you may avoid justice and you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily Allah is ever Well-acquainted with what you do” (the Qur’an, 4: 135).

Honesty

Endeavor for honesty in all social scientific research and communications is a prerequisite for ethical research.

Honesty must be ensured in reporting data, results, methods, and procedures, and the publication of research. Data should not be fabricated, falsified, or misrepresented; even colleagues should not be deceived by granting agencies or the public (Shamoo and Resnik, 2009).

Integrity and Cohesive Research

Integrity and cohesive research are vital codes and principles that must be espoused in research promises, agreements, and actions. Act with sincerity and strive for consistency of thought and action for strengthening social science research.

Integrity of data was also practiced in the field of science Hadiths. Like Hadith Mutawar (saying of the behavior of Prophet Muhammad (saw) is the hadith of the highest level of confidence. Because it has been transmitted through a large number of narrators the probability of fabrication is entirely discarded.

Openness for Candid Views

Openness and candid views provide more opportunities to share data, results, ideas, tools, and resources with research fellows. Research students should be more open to criticism and new ideas from others, as well as respect intellectual property rights.

The status of the speaker does not necessarily make a speech acceptable or not. Sometimes, the Imams of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) used to quote poems of Jahiliyyah (dark age of Arabia).

Honour patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property should be protected. The researcher should not use unpublished data, methods, or results without permission of the original source, and they should give credit where credit is due.

Give proper acknowledgment or credit for all contributions to research and keep far away from plagiarism. Most scholarly works in Muslim civilization are based upon unaltered and well-documented evidence.

They acknowledged all the source material, whether quoted verbatim or paraphrased and documented it in the form of references within the text. (Yusuf, 2009, 331)

Responsible Publication

Attempts should be taken to publish normative ethical research in a peer-reviewed journal or in a book format by reputed publishers.

Publish to advance research and scholarship, not just your own career, and also avoid wasteful and duplicative publication, which is unethical in the research code. Also, it must avoid fraud, “fabrication of data,” and “plagiarism.”

Carefulness

The research students should be careful in conducting their assigned or designed research, and they should avoid careless errors and negligence.

Carefully and critically examine your own work and the work of your peers. Keep good records of research activities, e.g., data collection, research design, and correspondence with journals.

Researching cross-cultural phenomena is a difficult attempt and may create questions of ethics because of various cultural factors such as language, traditions, conventions, social norms, values, and so forth. In such a situation, a simple suggestion here is to find an appropriate person in those cultural groups to act as an advisor for the assigned research (Sarantakos, 1993).

Respect to Colleagues

The researchers must show their due respect to their fellow colleagues and other staff for reciprocal cooperation and research assistance. They should enhance their respect for their colleagues and treat them fairly (Shamoo and Resnik, 2009).

Researchers should be careful that: “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [other] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers” (the Qur’an, 49:11).

Confidentiality

It is a vital code and principle to protect confidential communications, such as papers or grants submitted for publication, personnel records, trade or military secrets, and patient records. Unauthorized disclosure is treated as an illegal and unethical manner in social science research.

A researcher should bear in mind: “Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is ever Hearing and Seeing” (the Qur’an, 7:58).

Accountable Mentoring

Mentoring in social research is very important. It has been observed that some supervisors are too reluctant to guide their research students properly.

This accusation is not only applicable in developing states but also visible in most Western Universities, which obstruct various complications and hinder genuine academic contribution and output.

Therefore, it is a moral and ethical obligation to provide the required academic assistance to educate the research students. Promote their welfare and allow them to make their own decisions. As Prophet (SAAS) said, “… So all of you are guardians and are responsible for your charges.”

Non-discrimination

Both research students and guides are responsible to show proper respect and equal treatment of academic privileges irrespective of sex, color, and national identity.

They should avoid discrimination against colleagues or students on the basis of race, ethnicity, or other factors that are not related to their scientific competence and integrity in social science research.

Allah orders to do justice (adV): “O you who believe, be upright for Allah, bearer of witness with justice; and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably. Be Just….” (the Qur’an, 5:8).

Animal Care and Competence

The research students should show proper respect and care for animals when using them in research. Do not conduct unnecessary or poorly designed animal experiments.

The researchers are also advised to maintain and improve their own professional competence and expertise through lifelong education and learning and take steps to promote competence in science and social science as a whole. Islam is also concerned about the welfare of animals while conducting research.

There is a famous hadith stating that a prostitute entered paradise because she gave a dog a drink, whereas a noblewoman entered hellfire because she abused her cat (narrated by Bukhari).

In addition to that, Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) said, “Whosoever killed a bird without rights, then on the Day of Judgement, Allah will bear him responsible…” (narrated by Ahmad). (Alias)

Official Practices

It is the researchers’ obligation to know and obey relevant laws, official procedures, and institutional and governmental policies in conducting research.

The violation of institutional values and SOPs is a severe crime and thus unethical as well.

Human Subjects Protection

When conducting research on human subjects, minimize harms and risks and maximize benefits; respect human dignity, privacy, and autonomy; take special precautions with vulnerable populations; and strive to distribute the benefits and burdens of research fairly.

These attributes are important ethical aspects in social science research (Shamoo and Resnik, 2009). Al-Quran also appreciates doing righteous deeds. “…Allah has promised those who believe and do righteous deeds among them forgiveness and a great reward.” (48:29)

Social Responsibility

Social responsibilities are moral and ethical issues that should be performed properly. They should strive to promote social good and prevent or mitigate social harms through research, public education, and advocacy.

Researchers have to be careful about using natural resources. Since Allah commands: “…eat and drink, but waste not by excess for Allah does not love the wasters.” (7:31)

Ethics in Human Affairs

The ethical issues in human-related research have received increasing attention over the last 50 years. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) for the protection of human subjects have been established at most institutions that undertake research with humans.

These committees are made up of scientific and social scientists, clinical faculty, general researchers, and administrators who review research according to the procedures set out by the respective authority.

Several ethical elements must be considered when designing research that will involve participants who are human beings living in a society.

The significant issues/elements that are pre-conditioned to be maintained in conducting ethical research on human subjects are discussed below.

Firstly, the primary concern of the investigator should be the safety of the research participant.

This is accomplished by carefully considering the risk/benefit ratio, using all available information to make an appropriate assessment, and continually monitoring the research as it proceeds.

Secondly, the scientific investigator must obtain informed consent from each participant.

This should be obtained in writing (although oral consents are sometimes acceptable) after the participant has had the opportunity to carefully consider the risks and benefits and to ask any pertinent questions.

Informed consent should be seen as an ongoing process, not a singular event or a mere formality.

Thirdly, the investigator must enumerate how privacy and confidentiality concerns will be approached.

Researchers must be sensitive not only to how information is protected from unauthorized observation but also to if and how participants are to be notified of any unforeseen findings from the research that they may or may not want to know.

Fourthly, the investigator must consider how adverse events will be handled; who will provide care for a participant injured in a study and who will pay for that care are important considerations during the research.

Finally, before enrolling participants in an experimental trial, the investigator should be in a state of ‘equipoise,’ i.e., if a new intervention is being tested against the currently accepted treatment, the investigator should be genuinely uncertain which approach is superior.

In other words, a true null hypothesis should exist at the onset regarding the outcome of the trial (Callahan, Research ethics, 2011).

Ethical Principles in Human Affairs

Three primary ethical principles are traditionally cited when discussing ethical concerns in human-subjects research.

The first ethical principle, cited by the influential Belmont Report, is autonomy.

This refers to the obligation on the part of the investigator to respect each participant as a person capable of making an informed decision regarding participation in the research study.

The investigator must ensure that the participant has received a full disclosure of the nature of the study, the risks, benefits, and alternatives, with an extended opportunity to ask questions. The principle of autonomy finds expression in the informed consent document.

The second ethical principle is benefit, referring to the obligation on the part of the investigator to attempt to maximize benefits for the individual participant/society while minimizing the risk of harm to the individual. An honest and thorough risk/benefit calculation must be performed.

The third ethical principle invoked in research with human subjects is justice, which demands equitable selection of participants, i.e., avoiding participant populations that may be unfairly coerced into participating, such as prisoners and institutionalized children.

The principle of justice also requires equality in the distribution of benefits and burdens among the population group likely to benefit from the research (Callahan, Research ethics, 2011).

5 Key Components for Ethical Human Research

Ethics in Research: Conduct Research Ethically [Complete Guide]

For an informed consent to be ethically valid, the following components must be present;

  1. Disclosure
  2. Understanding
  3. Voluntariness
  4. Competence
  5. Consent

Disclosure

The potential participant must be informed as fully as possible about the nature and purpose of the research, the procedures to be used, the expected benefits to the participant/society, the potential foreseeable risks, stresses, and discomforts, and alternatives to participating in the research.

The informed consent document must also disclose the procedures in place to ensure confidentiality or anonymity, compensation, and medical treatment available in the case of a research-related injury.

It should specify whom to contact with questions about the research study, research subjects’ rights, and in case of injury.

Understanding

The participant must understand what has been explained and must be given the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered by one of the investigators. The informed consent document must be written in easy language, avoiding any technical jargon.

Voluntariness

The participants’ consent to participate in the research must be voluntary, free of any coercion or promises of benefits unlikely to result from participation.

Competence

The participant must be competent to give consent. If the participant is not competent due to mental status, disease, or emergency, a designated researcher may provide consent if it is in the participant’s best interest to participate.

In certain emergency cases, consent may be waived due to the lack of a competent participant and a substitute.

The potential human subject must authorize his/her participation in the research study, preferably in writing, although at times an oral consent or assent may be more appropriate.

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty in Research

Plagiarism simply means using other people’s works or ideas without authors’ names or quotation marks.

Thus, plagiarism occurs if someone lifts words or ideas from anywhere else and puts them into his work without quotation marks. The complete or partial translation of a text also constitutes plagiarism if the researcher does not acknowledge the source.

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are considered intellectual deceit.

Ethics in Social Science Research

The ethical course of action examines important ethical and political issues arising in the conduct of empirical social research.

It is important for postgraduate research students and professional researchers to apprehend the basic ethical norms, values, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) while conducting social science research.

The research students will have to learn to address ethical values in their research design.

The ethical phenomena are significant in the course of preparing their thesis or dissertation proposal or in the conduct of operational research.

In addition, the outcome of social science research is tentative or approximate; its result is not absolute but rather flexible, and thus, ethics in social science research design is vital for ensuring its validity. The basic fields of ethics in social science research are:

  1. Ethics in Voluntary Participation
  2. Standard Ethical Criteria in Social Science Research

Ethics in Voluntary Participation

Voluntary participants must be honest and sincere in collecting the required data, and the research explanation should be unbiased in terms of data presentation. Integrity in all respects is vital to ensure ethical research in the field of social science inquiry.

Ethical terms of integrated research include;

  • research design,
  • aims and objectives,
  • purposes of the research,
  • hypotheses and research questions,
  • variables,
  • data collection procedures,
  • valid sources of data,
  • research methods,
  • theoretical framework,
  • along with research analysis,
  • results/findings should be cohesive and integrated as a whole.

Privacy, Anonymity, and Confidentiality (PAC) must be upheld in conducting social science research. Other significant aspects of ethical issues are strong beliefs and biases.

Belief can alter observations; the human confirmation bias is a heuristic that leads a person with a particular belief to see things as reinforcing their belief, even if another observer disagrees.

Researchers have often admitted that the first observations were a little imprecise, whereas the second and third were ‘adjusted to the facts.’ Eventually, factors such as openness to experience, self-esteem, time, and comfort of ethics can produce a readiness for new perceptions in social science research.

The authenticity of data and information is a vital ethical issue that must be ensured to create confidence in the social science research field. Researchers should collect their data from valid and genuine sources to maintain the authenticity of the data source.

The neutrality of the researchers in terms of the selection of target groups for interviews is a crucial matter for ethical aspects.

The entire research must be invalid and null and void if the researcher fails to ensure his or her neutral position in analyzing and interpreting data throughout the research.

Similarly, unbiased presentation of the arguments and avoiding self-partisanship are also imperative ethical aspects for original social science research.

Ensuring a reasonable and considerable sample size for uncontroversial social research is also another significant ethical factor that might assist in convincing the readership and target group of the research.

Avoiding bold, assertive statements and strong claims in academic writings is advisable because bold assertion is considered inappropriate in writing patterns, which is fully unacceptable in any academic research, including in the field of social science.

Lastly, self-contradictory and ambiguous information in the argument of the research is prohibited because readers would be highly puzzled. The students must maintain these ethical approaches while conducting their social science research.

Ethics in research are also very important when conducting experimental research in the laboratory or any aspect of social phenomena.

Ethics should be applied in all stages of both social science and pure science research, such as planning, conducting, and evaluating a research project.

Another ethical point is to measure the cost-benefit of the entire research, and this is, to some extent, the first thing to do before designing a study for the potential feasibility of the study.

Standard Ethical Criteria in Social Science Research

Historically, concerns with the trustworthiness or quality of qualitative research drew from the natural and experimental sciences or direction from ethical values.

Thus, reliability, validity, objectivity, and generalizability borrowed from more quantitative approaches were the criteria against which the soundness of a qualitative study was judged (Marshall and Rossman, 2011: 39). ‘The trinity…, or worshipped with respect by all true believers in ethical science’ (Kvale, 1996: 229).

The basic ethical standards of social science research are noted below. The research students must avoid any risk of considerably harming people, the environment, or national property, and they should not use deception on people participating in the data collection process.

Obtaining informed consent from all parties involved in the proposed study is also ethical. It is also ethical to preserve privacy and confidentiality whenever possible.

Plagiarizing the work of others is a severe unethical conduct, which, to some extent, is an academic crime. The research should not be skewed based on funding or any other reasons.

Another unethical effort is to commit scientific fraud, falsify research, or engage in other misconduct. Basically, researchers must follow all regulations given and also anticipate possible ethical problems in their research work.

Types of Academic Dishonesty in Research

The representation of a piece of unauthorized group work as the work of a single researcher; submitting a research work done by another person as one’s work; inclusion of more than a single phrase from another’s work without the use of quotation marks and acknowledgment of source; summarising another’s work by changing a few words or altering the order of presentation without acknowledging, and use of another’s ideas without acknowledgment.

Plagiarism is condemned for two reasons:

  1. First, it deceives the reader;
  2. second, it wrongly denies credit to the people whose work is copied.

Conclusion

What is the primary goal of ethics in research?

The primary goal of ethics in research is to ensure that no one is harmed or suffers from adverse consequences of research activities.

What are some examples of academic dishonesty in research?

Examples of academic dishonesty include unauthorized group work representation, submitting someone else’s work as one’s own, not using quotation marks for direct quotes, summarizing another’s work without acknowledgment, and using another’s ideas without giving credit.

How is plagiarism defined in the context of research?

Plagiarism means using other people’s works or ideas without citing the authors or using quotation marks. It can occur when someone uses words or ideas from another source in their work without proper acknowledgment.

Who are the primary parties involved in most research settings?

In most research settings, the primary parties involved are the researcher, the client (user), and the respondent (subject).

What are some ethical considerations researchers should keep in mind during data collection?

Researchers should not deceive respondents about the study’s true purpose, avoid causing embarrassment or emotional turmoil, respect respondents’ privacy, not compel participation, and uphold promises of confidentiality.

An Informed Consent Form is a written agreement signed by the subject, respondent, and researcher detailing the terms and conditions of a subject’s voluntary participation in a study. It ensures the subject is fully aware of the study’s purpose, potential risks, and the researchers’ credentials.

The four characteristics of complete informed consent are: the subject must be competent to give consent, consent must be voluntary, the subject must be adequately informed, and the subject must be aware of the risks or outcomes associated with the research.