Common errors hindering ethical clearance

In this post, I will list common errors that can hinder ethical clearance.

Type of research and researcher’s details

  • Risk category not correctly identified: rather indicate a higher than lower risk when humans are involved: high risk refers to studies where teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, epilepsy, etc is investigated. Therefore most of the research conducted with regard to teaching and learning will fall under category 3 or lower. If humans are involved, it cannot be category 1.
  • Title of project is not consistent used throughout the document
  • Conflict of interest not recognised: If the researcher is also the lecturer, conflict of interest need to be addressed. How will the lecturer deal with the situation to safeguard the participants
  • Research questions, problem statement, and subquestions, purpose and anticipated outcomes of the research not addressed during description of the background to the study
  • Sample size is not clearly described
  • criteria for participant selection is not described
  • data collection instruments for focus group interviews, observation, interviews, questionnaires and online surveys are not attached to the forms when applying for ethical clearance
  • each instrument not on separate page and numbered in a logic sequence

Obtaining permission, consent and assent

  • procedures followed to obtain permission to conduct research are not listed
  • researcher did not describe how permission, consent and assent will be obtained
  • When children younger than 18 are involved, assent from child as well as consent from the parents/caretakers need to be obtained
  • example letters to be used to ask permission, consent and assent are not attached to the forms.
  • letters are signed, which indicate that the assent, consent and permission were obtained prior to the request for ethical clearance. In such a case ethical clearance will be refused as the request will be regarded as retrospective

Requirements with regard to letters to ask permission, assent and concent

  • title of research not provided
  • name of researcher and contact details not provided
  • purpose not indicated
  • did not indicate time/effort etc required from students – how long will the interview be?
  • did not indicate that videos/photographs will be taken
  • did not describe how identity of participants will be protected when images and videos are used
  • did not tell the participants that they can withdraw from study
  • did not tell them that participation is voluntarily – most important when using own students as participants


  • All checklists not completed
  • If a yes or no is required, it is not indicated for all listed issues
  • Did not use n/a if not applicable

CV’s of all researchers requiring ethical clearance

  • CV’s not attached
  • CV’s do not indicate why this person will be knowledgable to conduct the research

Declaration form

  • declaration form not signed
  • no declaration form attached

Please comment if you can identify issues I have not addressed, this will help to provide complete guidelines for completing ethical clearance requests.

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