Ethical Practices in Conducting Writing Research

We ask that writing researchers ascribe to ethical practices that have been part of human subjects research in many countries, and that are being required in increasingly more institutions around the world. In sum, researchers are expected to

  1. Secure voluntary, signed, informed consent from participants and approval from the institution:
    • “participants” include students, faculty, tutors, officials or anyone from whom data is collected;
    • “informed consent” is in the form of a statement that describes the purpose of the research; outlines how participants can discontinue participation in the research, express concerns, or contact the principal researcher; explains what will be done with information gathered from participants; and explains any positive or negative impact on the participants, as well as permissible compensations, as a result of participating in the research;
    • “Informed assent” is required when minors are involved and their parents or guardians should sign the informed consent;
    •  “signed” indicates that participants have read the informed consent, understand it and have had an opportunity to ask questions about the study and their participation in it;
    • “voluntary,” indicates that participants knowingly participate, that they have not been forced to participate in the study; that they do not perceive that there will be negative consequences for non-participation
    • “approval from the institution” refers to authorization obtained from an Institutional Review Board, responsible officials or others who authorize research practices.
  2. Engage in ethical research practices:
    • anonymize (mask) participants’ names (or allow participants to choose an alias);
    • avoid power differentials to ensure that participants are protected (e.g., researcher should have no ability to grade participants, or have power to grant merit or benefits based on participation);
    • allow study participants to read the study and attest their words are accurately represented when consistent with the research study (e.g., ethnographic research);
    • make sure that the study does not stigmatize or discriminate against the human subjects involved in the study or the writing they produce;
    • ensure and state in the study that there are no conflicts of interest (e.g., researcher is not getting paid by a company who will use the results to endorse a product; data analysis and results are not shaped to support a predetermined conclusion; financial or personal gain does not compromise the integrity of the study);
    • state in the study if the project has been examined by an Institutional Review Board or Ethical Review Board;
    • notify participants of the study’s publication.

The Conference on Colleage Composition and Communication provides an example of disciplinary expectations, as does the European Union through its GDPF guidelines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also provides a site that outlines and compares social science research practices in many countries. Templates for informed consent that you could adapt to your country and research purpose can be found at a site maintained by the World Health Organization. Similar guidance can be found on many university research sites.

If you do not already have your research processed and approved by a formal institutional research board or oversight committee, the editors of the International Exchanges series will assume that your submitted research will meet ethical expectations such as those outlined above.