Frank Rennie & Keith Smyth

Chapter 3 – Ethics in research

All the content relating to the chapter above is below

Integral to any process of investigation is a requirement to conduct the research process in an ethical manner. Although the specific details will differ slightly between disciplines and the methods adopted, the basic ethical obligations follow the same pattern. This book chapter highlights the need to ensure that research participants come to no harm by engaging with the research. This includes the need to respect anonymity and to fully inform the participant on how and where the information that they contribute is likely to be used. Different experiences are presented here on the companion website to indicate the key ethical issues to be implemented prior to conducting a research project.

Hi, my name is Dr Gareth Davies, I’m from Lews Castle College UHI, and I’m based in Stornoway. My primary research area is in health psychology and that involved qualitative and quantitative work. I’m going to talk to you today about pilot studies, and how you can use pilot studies in your research, and how I use pilot studies in my research.
It’s important to say that pilot studies involve an investment in time. However, the small investment of time is almost certain to pay off in the long run. If you do a pilot study, and you don’t find any problems or issues with the data-gathering that you’ve just undertaken, the analysis of that data that you’ve just gathered, then there’s no reason why you can’t include that data in a bigger study.

However, what we’re going to do is focus on the pilot study itself. The purpose of the pilot study is to test your data gathering and analysis strategies. Your research questions should really inform your data gathering and analysis strategy. It’s important to understand that you should think about your data analysis long before you collect any data. The pilot study offers you a great opportunity to test those data analysis strategies that you’ve decided on, before you actually go ahead and do your main study.

I’m going to talk about pilot studies in quantitative research and then I’m going to talk about pilot studies in qualitative research. To begin with, in quantitative research, it enables you to ensure that you’ve got the correct data gathering systems in place. For instance, if you’re using a questionnaire, it enables you to test whether a questionnaire will actually do what you want it to do. It will enable you to test whether the questions you’ve got in that questionnaire are actually fit for purpose, or whether they are indeed superfluous to requirements. When you’re actually doing some inferential statistics with some pilot study data, it’s not uncommon to use a simpler or more forgiving significance level. It’s industry standard to use the 0.05 significance level in disciplines such as psychology for instance. In a pilot study you can actually use an easier significance level. This enables you to see whether you’re actually identifying any trends in data, or something along those lines. It just gives you a little more flexibility as well. Of course, if you do decide that the data that you’ve gathered is what you want, then you can go back and reanalyse that, using the more stringent 0.05 significance level.

Obviously, the pilot study will help you identify any problems that you’ve got in your procedure and enable you to correct that before you actually gather any more data in the long run.

So qualitative pilot studies then – qualitative studies, as you know are going to be different from quantitative ones, in that they are based around interviews etc. In qualitative studies, you might for instance be using a semi structured interview approach, and that might be your data gathering strategy. So when you would do your interview, you’d be using an interview schedule, and the pilot study enables you to test whether that interview schedule does what you want it to do. In other words, whether it helps you gather data that you need to answer your research question. A qualitative pilot study would be useful if you were to for instance, go out and ask a colleague or a critical friend if they wouldn’t mind being the participant in your pilot study interview. This enables you to ask all the questions in a nice relaxed atmosphere and it also enables you to identify if any of the questions that you’ve come up with are not really going to do what you want, whether they might be answered far too simplistically, or whether they are far too complex for instance.

When you analyse qualitative data, the industry standard way of qualitative data is to use Richie and Spencer’s framework analysis. Now, if you’ve got a test piece of interview you can transcribe that, then you can work through that using your framework analysis, and then you can figure out if you need to make any changes to your interview schedule, or whether in fact the questions that you’ve asked have elicited the type of data that you want. Of course, both qualitative and quantitative pilot studies, they enable you to bring out any issues or problems before you go ahead and do your main study. If your pilot study does reveal some issues and problems, if they’re not too significant then you might just want to make some minor alterations. If indeed it reveals something a little bit more fundamental as a problem in your data gathering analysis strategy, you are then able to go back and perform another pilot study to ensure that you have ironed out those problems. I hope that helps you with pilot studies, and good luck with your own subsequent research.

Coverall – intro, design, data, presenting… An online handbook produced by the University of Surrey to give students an introduction to research.

A link to an extensive set of notes from the University of Surrey dealing with the whole process of documenting research. It starts with a consideration of why we do research, works through a range of planning issues that need to be considered, and concludes with a section on how research result might be utilised. Contains some embedded links.

The contents are well-defined and easy to read, in short, informative sub-sections. Not all of the sections will be appropriate to every research project, so students will need to use their own judegement, but taken as a whole, the document gives a good overview of the kinds of issues which students need to consider when preparing a research dissertation.

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university of surrey importance pilot studies - Introduction to research - handbook

A set of short dissertation writing videos from Massey University with resources for students.

These are helpfully broken-up into separate tasks, such as preparing a proposal, writing a report, editing, and so on. Each video clip gives a general overview and some guidance for students to help manage the selected task.

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massey university dissertation videos - Dissertation videos from Massey University

This links to an assemblage of video clips relating to various aspects of research and the preparation of research reports.

Individual videos deal with different forms of research, evaluation, and project planning. The clips range from 30 minutes to an hour each, so you may wish to watch them in stages, or allow time to watch, pause, and take notes. Different videos will be appropriate to different subject matter, so you may want to discuss your initial options with your supervisor before you invest time learning a research method which is not suitable for the topic of your study.

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Educational Videos YouTube - Research and the preparation of research reports (by Dr Sam Fiala)

The Ethics Education Committee of the Academy of Management presents The Ethics of Research and Publishing Video Series.

A collection of eight short video clips on various aspects relevant to the ethics of academic research and publishing. The clips cover issues such as authorship, plagiarism, publishing in journals and reviewing a manuscript. Some of these topics might be appropriate for more advanced students and for academic staff, but there are good examples and guidelines for anyone who is engaged with academic writing and scholarship.

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academy of management - The ethics of academic research and publishing

Personal data used for research purposes must be used in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA).

A detailed guide produced by the University of Reading to advise on how do deal with the common issues that arise in connection with the protection of personal data collected by researchers in the course of their project work. A very useful and well-structured set of web pages.

The rights and obligations set out in the DPA are designed to apply generally, but there are certain exemptions to accommodate special circumstances. One such exemption is where personal data are processed for research purposes; this includes statistical or historical purposes. The personal data must have no other use, not even incidental use. The term “research purposes” is not defined in the Act.

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university of reading personal data research - Personal data in research

A comprehensive online Research Ethics Guidebook from the Environment and Social Research Council.

The handbook covers all aspects of meeting professional ethical standards for academic researchers in social science and though many of the sections are primarily for more advanced research students, there is something for everyone here. Well worth a browse to familiarise yourself with the advice on the different topics, even if some of it is not relevant for your current level of research.

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Environment and Social Research Council - Research Ethics Guidebook from the Environment and Social Research Council