General guidance for ethics applications

When working with human participants, the researcher should bear in mind the following principles:

  • The researcher should minimise the risk of causing harm to the participants, e.g. physical harm or mental distress. Topics which may cause distress should only be tackled if a specialised member of staff is involved, and should be considered by the University Ethics Committee. 
  • Participants are volunteering to participate and should be treated with respect and adequately informed about the project. This includes knowing the aim of the research, what they have to do, why their participation is needed, what will happen to the data, and where and how this will be used. Participants are also free to withdraw at any time from the study. Participants’ identity should be protected by anonymisation or other methods and data should be stored securely and not disclosed without permission outside of the research team. 
  • Some experimental designs require deception, i.e. they depend on the participants being uninformed of the true purpose of the study. If your design requires deception you should justify this fully in your protocol.

Important considerations for your ethics application

Consent form(s) and information sheet(s) for participants

Please see guidance for your ethical approval application. 

These forms will be seen by members of the public, and must be written to an acceptable standard of English and include the university logo on the front cover. 

Common problems include: 

  • Poor standard of English
  • Failure to indicate the purpose of the research (e.g. to fulfil requirements of degree)
  • Failure to give appropriate contact details for student and supervisor (not home addresses, or personal mobile phone numbers)
  • Failure to clearly indicate the nature of the task required of participants

You can download examples of good consent forms and patient information sheets

Questionnaire surveys

Common problems include:

  • Submission of a draft of the questionnaire
  • Submission of separate questionnaires in their published format only and not how they will be used in the research study
  • Spelling and grammatical errors

Interview schedules

We want to know what line of questioning you will take with participants, and what topics you will cover (or are likely to arise). 

Common problems: too much or too little detail, a schedule that is not consistent with the stated method of analysis, or with the stated aims of the study.

Email/online recruitment

A clear statement about any intended use of email or the internet to recruit participants or collect data, with a draft of the recruitment email, if appropriate. Note that it is recommended that researchers use a programme such as Survey Monkey for any online questionnaires. Here is an example of a recruitment email.

Common problems include: 

  • A recruitment email that is too informal or lacking in detail
  • A procedure that seems to allow the researcher to identify participants from their responses

Gatekeeper/approval permissions

In some projects a written statement of approval is needed from other institutions to, for example, recruitment, use of premises or use of data. 

Note that applicants should discuss with their supervisor and the ethics chairs/deputies the best timing for obtaining gatekeeper approval from other organisations. If you intend to recruit participants from a prison, workplace, or an institution such as a sports club, or voluntary organisation, you need to provide a statement from the manager or person in charge to indicate that this person has agreed to let you undertake the study in the organisation.

If you are applying for external approval, you need to complete the appropriate form - EC3. This is required by the Committee and should be completed after external ethical approval has been obtained 

Risk assessment

For projects with significant ethical applications (see EC1 form and guidance), it is a requirement to include a risk assessment with the  other paperwork for School ethics application. Researchers/supervisors are encouraged to highlight the example forms available for students and collaborate with the students to complete the forms:

  • Examples of recruitment emails
  • Consent forms
  • Participant information sheet examples

Data Management

The project should also consider appropriate data protection and IT policies within the university and legislation, this is highlighted in the guidance notes with the application forms