Qualitative research, especially studies in educational contexts, often brings up questions of ethics because the study design involves human subjects, some of whom are under age (e.g. data collected in primary education classrooms). It is not always easy for young researchers to anticipate where ethical issues might emerge while designing their research project. So what are some questions that a researcher might consider? A first premise for a researcher is to ‘do no harm’. It is important for the researcher to try to think about any adverse effects the study could possibly have on any of the participants. Of course, even though the researcher may try to anticipate any potential ethical issues, unexpected adverse effects may occur, in which case, the study should be halted or modified. Researchers should also take into consideration how they are going to ensure privacy and confidentiality of the participants. It is reasonable for anyone taking part in a study to expect a certain level of anonymity, although some participants may not feel this is too much of a concern for them (especially among the younger generation of ‘public-face’ social media users).
Whether or not identities will be revealed and how images and other identifying factors might be used must be carefully negotiated with the subjects of the study. This is, of course, directly linked to informed consent. Subjects in a study have a right to know enough about the study in order to decide whether they want to participate in the study. In the case of minors, parental permission (often through the schools) should be obtained. Researchers should also try to be as ethical as possible when interpreting the study results. Researchers should do their best to not over-interpret or misinterpret the data and represent the possible conclusions as closely as possible. To do so, researchers can use triangulation techniques or corroborate their conclusions with the participants themselves through interviews and other techniques proposed in qualitative methodologies (see chapters in Section 1 of this volume for such procedures). To help the young researcher, we include here the research ethic statement4 drawn up by the GREIP research group as a guideline for setting up and carrying out qualitative research. We also provide an example of a signed consent form that can be adapted to the individual needs of each study.
Given the importance of ethics for the conduct of research, it should come as no surprise that many different professional associations, government agencies, and universities have adopted specific codes, rules, and policies relating to research ethics. The following is a rough and general summary of some ethical principles that various codes address:
These are called "other deviations" from acceptable research practices and include: