Ethics in Research

Definition of research ethics

Ethics in Research defines moral and scientific principles and legal rules that researchers must follow when researching any field of study. Research ethics as a term may sometimes have different meanings; first is moral conduct in research; second is the analysis of ethical conduct in research. Research ethics determine guidelines that differentiate acceptable and unacceptable actions and ensure that researchers do the right thing at the right moment.

These guidelines have universal application and go beyond cultural, religious, personal, or any other features and differences that countries and researchers across the world have. Therefore, it is essential to study and implement research ethics to preserve moral rules, prevent misconduct and deviations, and improve ethical judgment and decision-making of analysts.

The need for research ethics

The first historical event that led to the need for research ethics establishment happened during World War II, when representatives of Nazi, including medical professionals, were found to conduct unethical studies with humans. In 1946, the American military tribunal opened a criminal investigation against 23 Nazi physicians and medical administrators who were accused of crimes against humanity (Bortolussi, 2009).

In 1947, these German medical professionals were found guilty of conducting experiments on thousands of people in concentration camps without their consent. The experiments led to human deaths, tortures, and other brutal crimes that were performed by researchers based on their arguments about medical science’s need. After the investigation, it was concluded that researchers continuously neglected moral, ethical, and legal norms and inflicted intentional crippling of prisoners of the concentration camps.

As a result, the Nuremberg Code was introduced in 1948, stating that all studies should only be conducted when people give voluntary consent to do research. Moreover, the Code claimed that experiments and medical invasions could only be made when the benefits of studies prevail over the risks. This event led to the development of research ethics concept.

The two main principles of research ethics

The two main principles and moral norms that must be observed when conducting research based on human participants are beneficence and non-malfeasance that require to do good and to do no harm, respectively. In practice, the central principles of research ethics transcend to several profound guidelines that should be carried out during all steps of research, as suggested by Bortolussi (2009). Firstly, it is crucial to receive informed and voluntary consent from all human participants in the study.

Secondly, the risk of harm and injuring should be decreased to the minimum level for participants. Thirdly, researchers should preserve the human subject’s anonymity and confidentiality to protect them. Fourthly, professionals must eliminate fraudulent actions and experiments that participants did not give their consent to perform. Finally, participants must be given the right to depart from the research and recall their data. Two main principles of doing good and doing no harm are the base of any study that professionals must consider.

Two considerations of non-malfeasance

The non-malfeasance concept requires researchers not to harm participants and objects of the research. The two considerations that a researcher can examine to ensure the non-malfeasance is implemented in the study properly is the harm and its effects. Moreover, professionals should evaluate the actions to make sure that what is going to be done is not harmful and that the injury will not be done when the care or treatment will be omitted or when the experiment will come to an end.

Ethical principles that are created in the research ethics also support the application of the non-malfeasance concept. Rules that claim the necessity to decrease the level of risk of harm for participants to the minimum and the right of people to withdraw from the research reinforce the prevention of misconduct.

Covert research

Covert research implies that the identity of the researcher is hidden from participants, and the purpose of the study is also concealed from participants. It is acceptable to conduct the covert research if there is a possibility that the participants’ knowledge about the nature of a concept that will be investigated may change the results of the study. One of the examples of covert research is the mystery shopping method used to assess the quality of services by being undercover as a usual client.

When a typical customer comes to buy something or to get a service, workers of a shop behave naturally. If a company wants to know how its workers interact with customers, it can hire a person who would evaluate the services undercover. In this case, when it is announced that workers will be assessed, they may behave differently, which will not give researchers reliable data. Thus, there is a need to hide information about the research from participants, namely employees of the company.

The ethical standards in research

In the research project, it will be needed to observe all ethical standards that were discussed during the course. It is essential to ensure that the research will do good and will not do harm as well as providing to know whether the informal consent from participants of the study is required. Since some of the data will be used from the secondary sources, it is not always necessary to get permission from open sources.

However, it is crucial to apply the anonymity and confidentiality of participants and give the right to withdraw information from the research, if needed. Research ethics standards should be used throughout the research project to ensure that the results of the project are consistent and reliable.


Bortolussi, R. (2009). Handbook for clinician scientists: Tools for a successful academic career. Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program.

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Premium Papers. (2022) 'Ethics in Research'. 28 December.


Premium Papers. 2022. "Ethics in Research." December 28, 2022.

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