In postgraduate study there is usually an emphasis on gathering evidence to examine or support a point of view. This may be as part of a research project where you are asked, for example, to review recent academic literature, or you may need to gather your own data by using a questionnaire or running an experiment.
Once you have your evidence you are expected to make some analysis of it and then write up your findings, perhaps as a project report for an assignment or as a dissertation.
Ethical considerations play an important part in many research projects, particularly if you are gathering material from people by means of interviews, observations or questionnaires. Taking ethics into account when designing a research project helps to ensure that participants are aware of the aims of the research and what will happen to the information gathered.
It is important that you check whether or not you need ethical clearance to carry out your research. If you think you do, you will need to complete an ethics application and submit it to the OU. Your tutor and study notes will tell you more about how this might relate to your area of study.
One of the most important ethical principles is that of informed consent. You should supply participants with an information sheet describing the purpose of the research, how confidentiality is managed, what the results will be used for and how it will be published, and then obtain their consent.
Thinking about the ethical implications of your research also helps to ensure the well-being of you and the participants.
- The safety of you and your interviewee: Are other people aware the interview is taking place and when you are due to finish? Do they have contact numbers? Do you have a clear exit from the building in which it is taking place? Does your interviewee?
- The emotional context of an interview: Will the issue raise emotional issues? If so, what is your strategy for dealing with them?
- Data protection: What will you do with your questionnaire data? Do you have a safe place to store it? Do you know how long you can store it for?
Academic ethics also include a responsibility for accuracy in reporting your findings and in reporting and quoting from the research of others, particularly in regards to plagiarism.
Visit the Developing Good Academic Practices website for a more detailed discussion of this.