Ethical Considerations can be specified as one of the most important parts of the research. Dissertations may even be doomed to failure if this part is missing.
According to Bryman and Bell (2007) the following ten points represent the most important principles related to ethical considerations in dissertations:
- Research participants should not be subjected to harm in any ways whatsoever.
- Respect for the dignity of research participants should be prioritised.
- Full consent should be obtained from the participants prior to the study.
- The protection of the privacy of research participants has to be ensured.
- Adequate level of confidentiality of the research data should be ensured.
- Anonymity of individuals and organisations participating in the research has to be ensured.
- Any deception or exaggeration about the aims and objectives of the research must be avoided.
- Affiliations in any forms, sources of funding, as well as any possible conflicts of interests have to be declared.
- Any type of communication in relation to the research should be done with honesty and transparency.
- Any type of misleading information, as well as representation of primary data findings in a biased way must be avoided.
In order to address ethical considerations aspect of your dissertation in an effective manner, you will need to expand discussions of each of the following points to at least one paragraph:
1. Voluntary participation of respondents in the research is important. Moreover, participants have rights to withdraw from the study at any stage if they wish to do so.
2. Respondents should participate on the basis of informed consent. The principle of informed consent involves researchers providing sufficient information and assurances about taking part to allow individuals to understand the implications of participation and to reach a fully informed, considered and freely given decision about whether or not to do so, without the exercise of any pressure or coercion.
3. The use of offensive, discriminatory, or other unacceptable language needs to be avoided in the formulation of Questionnaire/Interview/Focus group questions.
4. Privacy and anonymity or respondents is of a paramount importance.
5. Acknowledgement of works of other authors used in any part of the dissertation with the use of Harvard/APA/Vancouver referencing system according to the Dissertation Handbook
6. Maintenance of the highest level of objectivity in discussions and analyses throughout the research
7. Adherence to Data Protection Act (1998) if you are studying in the UK
In studies that do not involve primary data collection, on the other hand, ethical issues are going to be limited to the points d) and e) above.
Most universities have their own Code of Ethical Practice. It is critically important for you to thoroughly adhere to this code in every aspect of your research and declare your adherence in ethical considerations part of your dissertation.
My e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: a step by step assistance offers practical assistance to complete a dissertation with minimum or no stress. The e-book covers all stages of writing a dissertation starting from the selection to the research area to submitting the completed version of the work within the deadline. John Dudovskiy
 Bryman, A. & Bell, E. (2007) “Business Research Methods”, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press.
 Saunders, M., Lewis, P. & Thornhill, A. (2012) “Research Methods for Business Students” 6th edition, Pearson Education Limited.
What needs to go in the ethics statement?
Whoever your funder will be, it’s a good idea for your ethics statement to address the six key principles set out in the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics. So you need to be able to explain how:
- you are ensuring quality and integrity of your research;
- you will seek informed consent;
- you will respect the confidentiality and anonymity of your research respondents;
- you will ensure that your participants will participate in your study voluntarily;
- you will avoid harm to your participants; and
- you can show that your research is independent and impartial.
When developing this website, the guidebook team interviewed representatives of several major funding bodies (see our acknowledgements section). They all emphasised the need to make sure that you demonstrate that you have given proper, careful consideration to ethics questions. They noted that peer reviewers will always be asked to comment on the ethics of the proposed research, and highlighted the following:
One funder commented that ‘there are ethical considerations for all proposals’ – regardless of methodology – and went on to say that it shows a lack of understanding to consider design in isolation without accounting for ethics. So, you can strengthen your proposal by addressing ethics carefully and in a way that reflects in detail on the ethical implications of the study design.
Another funder commented that applications may be less likely to be funded if they say ‘no ethical considerations apply’ or if the ethics statement is clearly a ‘cut and paste job’ and does not show a nuanced reflection on the particular questions raised by the proposed research.
Funders also emphasised that ethics questions apply throughout the lifecourseof a project. So, you need to consider the possible questions at each stage of your planned work and address each of those in the ethics section of the proposal. You can use the ‘ethics principles’ section of the website – which is based on the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics – to help you do this.
What if? What can be anticipated?
The funders that we interviewed highlighted the importance of thinking ‘what if’ – of taking time to try and anticipate the unintended consequences of your research. Of course, this depends very much on the topic you are researching, but you need to think about what to do if you do accidentally cause distress to your research respondents through your questions. Even if you think it’s unlikely, it can be difficult to predict what causes people to become upset. Is it ever ok for people to cry? If they do, do you know how you will respond? What if they get angry with you?
Especially when researching sensitive subjects, research can sometimes be upsetting for researchers. Is that possible in your study? What plans can you put in place to deal with that?