Building ethics into the research design

Research methods

There are a wide variety of different research methods available to social researchers, and they each raise their own ethics questions. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but merely a guide to some key considerations in thinking about the ethical implications of particular research strategies:

  • How well do your chosen methods fit the aims of your research? In other words, do the methods offer the most reasonably efficient way of answering the research questions?
  • What are the strengths and limits of the methods?
  • Have they been used before effectively in a similar context?
  • Are they respectful of your respondents’ capacity and willingness to participate? Some methods will work better with some groups than with others.
  • Are there any potential unintended consequences of your research (e.g. disclosures of sensitive information) that may arise through those methods?
  • Do the methods proposed fit with the ESRC six core ethics principles as set out in the Framework for Research Ethics?  If not, can the exception be justified?  Is what you are proposing to do justifiable in terms of the benefits, risks and harms of your research?

Whatever methods you use, participants should be assured at every stage that they do not have to answer a question if they don’t want to or are able to end their participation if they wish. Researchers should be alert to signs of distress or reluctance to respond, even if people have agreed to participate in the first place.

This section of the guidebook includes specific examples of ethics questions in relation to particular methodological approaches.  This list is not comprehensive, and is intended to be a prompt for your thinking – a start point, not an end point. 
For more information, see: