Tag Archives: Research

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.

Ethical issues that need to be addressed

Various ethical issues need to be addressed during a research project. In order to address these issues, researchers have to:

  1. recognise issues of respect, fairness, and dignity for all those who are involved in or affected by the research (Connolly 2003:27, Sullivan and Cain 2004:603).
  2. provide a thorough description of the research process so that potential participants have the information needed to make an informed, voluntarily consent (or assent in the case of minors, or provide permission in the case of institutions/organisations) (Connolly 2003:14-15, Cottingham & Jansen 2005:4, Duma, Khanyil and Daniels 2009:53).
  3. ensure the safety of the participants (Cottingham & Jansen 2005:3, Duma, Khanyil and Daniels 2009:53).
  4. honour and maintain anonymity, confidentiality and privacy (Connolly 2003:23, Duma, Khanyil and Daniels 2009:53, Ellsberg & Heise 2005:53).
  5. ensure beneficence, by minimising risks and maximising benefits of a study (Connolly 2003:23, Duma, Khanyil and Daniels 2009:53)/
  6. take precautions to avoid inadvertent reinforcement of negative social stereotypes concerning particular groups, unfair exploitation of vulnerable research participants, and to ensure that no distress is caused to people who have suffered traumatic events (Flaskerud & Winslow 1998, Sullivan & Cain 2004).
  7. protect the physical and psychological well-being of their participants in order to ensure that participation do not result in in distressing ethical misfortunes (Duma et al 2009).
  8. provide arrangements for support, if needed, before, during, and after the research for participants who have experienced traumatic events (I believe failure falls under this issue) (Cambell & Wasco 2005).
  9. make appropriate appropriate support mechanisms for researchers and participants alike, including briefing sessions and the opportunity to meet with the researcher (Connolly 2003:27).
  10. ensure that information about the research is ommunicated in a way that is meaningful to the individuals concerned (Aitken, Gallagher and Madronio 2003:340-341)
  11. gain written and verbal consent (assent if younger than 18 with permission from parents, caretakers) (Connolly 20013:30)
  12. inform participants prior to the research of sensitive questions that will be asked during interviews, as well as the procedures thereof ((Ellsberg & Heise 2005:35)
  13. guarantee confidentiality, anonymity and privacy (Ellsberg & Heise 2005:35)
  14. be aware of cultural differences that may exist between the researcher and the participants (Duma, Khanyil & Daniels 2009:53)
  15. ensure that, if an interpreter is involved, that the interpreter speak the same dialect as the participant (Bot 2005:176-179)
  16. ensure that interpreters receive training on documents, topics, background, objectives and purpose of the study, length of the interviews and procedures for maintaining confidentiality (Bot 2005:176-179)
  17. put strategies in place to deal with the participants’ immediate and ongoing emotional needs, and where necessary, refer them in the case of a crisis to relevant support services (Connolly 2003:34)
  18. locate and contact vulnerable research participants without endangering their safety (Duma, Khanyil & Daniels 2009:56-57)
  19. ensure that interviews will be conducted in a private and safe settings (Connolly 2003:34).
  20. I will add as I find reference to more issues …..