Ethics in Social Research1

All you need to know about ethics in social research


Table of Contents

What are ethics in social research and why do they matter?

Every time people think of ethics, the first thing that comes to their mind is the rules that aim at differentiating right from wrong, like a golden rule, a specific code of conduct, or a matter of belief. This is known as a popular way of defining “ethics” that can seamlessly distinguish ideal and not-so-ideal behavior.

While people get to know about ethical norms at their homes, schools, or other social settings, most of them get the actual sense of right or wrong in their childhood only. These ethical norms are universal that most individuals in society consider them as absolute commonsense. 

Also, it is observed that people recognize a lot of common ethical norms but they interpret, balance, and apply those norms in their own ways based on their life experiences. For instance, two individuals consider murder to be wrong but have different views on abortion due to their different levels of understanding. 

There are many societies that have a set of legal rules for governing behavior, but the ethical norms are considered to be more informal. While most societies create laws to strictly enforce the moral standards that are widely accepted and ethical rules are based on similar concepts, both laws and ethics cannot be considered the same. A particular action might be legal but can be unethical and vice-versa. 

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There are various reasons for adhering to the ethical norms in social research. Firstly, norms play a key role in promoting the objectives of the research, like knowledge, reduction of error, truth, etc. For instance, prohibitions against factors like falsification or misrepresentation of research data can help in promoting truth and minimizing the error.

Secondly, the research comprises a great proportion of cooperation as well as coordination among multiple individuals having diverse disciplines and institutions. With the help of ethical standards, it gets easy to promote the values that are crucial for creating collaborative work.  These values can include trust, fairness, accountability, or mutual respect.
Thirdly, ethical norms make it easy to hold researchers accountable in front of the public. For example, in the case of any research misconduct or conflicts of interest in federal policies, the researchers funded by the public money will be held accountable.

Fourthly, leveraging ethical norms in research makes it easy to gain public support for that specific research. It is observed that people can happily fund a research project if they fully trust the quality as well as the integrity of that research.

Ethical principles in social research

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Autonomy defines the right of a specific individual to identify the activities he/she will participate in or not. Ideally, in full autonomy research participants need to completely understand everything they’re being told to do, make judgments around the effects of participation, and make their own choices without any influence. 


Beneficence highlights the commitment from the researcher’s or the scientist’s end that aims at maximizing benefits for each participant as well as the society while reducing the risks involved. A real catalog of anticipated risks should be followed after an insightful risk calculation. 


Justice involves selecting the research participants in an equal distribution. This includes avoiding the respondents that are forced to participate like prisoners as well as institutionalized kids.

Components of consent for ethical social research

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This involves a consent document which states that the social research being conducted is just a study and cannot be considered a clinical therapy. The participants need to be completely aware of the nature of the research and the purpose behind it. They should be informed about the procedures in advance, the benefits they are likely to get, and the related risks, issues & stresses involved when they participate in social research. 


The participants in social research should be able to understand everything that has been

mentioned and they’ve full right to ask questions & get answers from someone in the research study. Also, it’s important to ensure that the informed consent document is presented in simple language that doesn’t involve any technical jargon. 


When it comes to participating in social research, a participant’s consent needs to be voluntary. It should not be related to any coercion or particular promise of benefits that come with participation. Also, it’s essential that the consent form is properly administered by an individual who has no authority over the participants involved in the social research.  


It’s important for the participants involved in the social research to be competent enough for giving consent. In case there’s a mental issue, disease, or a particular emergency involved due to which a participant is not competent, help can be taken from a designated surrogate. 


The potential respondents need to authorize their participation in the respective social research. This is done in writing most of the time. In case personally identifiable information is not required, only the participant’s signature on the specific consent form would be there in the conducted social research study.  

A look inside the key principles behind ethical standards

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Honesty & integrity 

The researchers involved in social research need to showcase their research with full honesty and this comprises all the data, methods, and results related to the publication of specific research. The researchers should not make use of any data that brings doubt to the overall objectivity of the gathered research results. 


The researchers involved in social research should be free from any bias in terms of the study, design, interpretation & analysis, review as well as distribution of the specific report. 


The researchers should make sure that there are no mistakes committed because of negligence. It’s imperative for all researchers to carefully evaluate their research and ensure that the gathered results are reliable enough. Also, keeping a track of entries in the specific research study is equally important. 


The researchers in social research need to openly share their data & results, the latest instruments formed at the time of publishing the research results. This plays a crucial role in developing knowledge & related science. The researchers should be open to constructive feedback and criticism. 

Respecting intellectual property 

The researchers should make sure that they have not copied or plagiarized the work of other researchers. Also, they need to have a permit in case they consider using the tools of other researchers, unpublish their data as well as results. The negligence towards these aspects can result in plagiarism. 


It’s important for the researchers to respect every single thing that is mentioned in a specific confidential. Also, they should carefully follow the instructions/guidelines to seamlessly communicate any sensitive information shared by the participants.  

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