Informed Consent | Behavior of a Field Researcher
The ethics of field research are more complicated than library or Internet research. If your primary modes of data collection are observing, interacting, interpreting, and talking to people, you must carefully consider your actions. It is unethical to see people as subjects of research to further only your own interests. If you are conducting research on a college campus with hopes of making your work public, you must review your school’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) guidelines.
If you intend to study individuals or groups of people, you must consider the effects the research might have on any of the participants:
- Do not put yourself in any danger: It is not a good idea for you to try to live in contact with criminals or lie about your identity.
- Be honest with the participants you intend to interview or study. How will the participants in your study feel about your research? Should you protect their identities? Is it possible to protect their identities? Do you think they would be upset if the study became public?
- Should you let participants in your study read and/or respond to your study?
These ethical questions are complicated and must be answered individually according to your particular situation. Before you begin researching anyone in any way, you must first consider the ethical aspects of your actions.
Sample Informed Consent Language
The following language could be used when creating an informed consent document:
Subject: Consent to Publish
I was informed that _____________________ is conducting a research study. This interview will be used to (state purpose of research).
I give my permission to participate in this research study. The researcher will not disclose my identity.
Choose one of the following:
Yes / No In reports, I understand that the researcher will use a pseudonym to credit any of my work.
I understand that I am not entitled to any royalty or any other compensation.
I further understand that I am free to withdraw my consent and to discontinue participation at any time.
Informed Consent Resources
- Student Ethics FAQs: Written for students at Brock University (in Canada), this is a thorough outline of ethical considerations for researchers
- Protection of Human Subjects in Research: Sponsored by IUPUI, this is an excellent, extensive review of informed consent
- Guidelines for the Ethical Treatment of Students and Student Writing in Composition Studies: Written by The CCCC Committee on the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies, this document provides straightforward discussion of ethical considerations for research involving writers and writing processes
- Commentary on To Control or Not To Control: Discussion of ethics in context of graduate students’ research projects
- Bioethics Resources on the Web: Huge site on ethics and research sponsored by U.S. government
- APA’s Code of Ethics for Researchers: Good description of ethical standards for researchers