Research ethics

Research ethics is all about integrity, transparency and quality in the design and conduct of your research.

Key principles of ethical research include:

  • Informed consent and voluntary participation
  • Avoidance of harm
  • Anonymity and confidentiality
  • Independence and impartiality
  • Appropriate storage and handling of data

You are expected to be aware of ethical considerations and to ensure that you act in an ethical manner when conducting your research projects and studies to the highest ethical standards.

In general, research projects based on secondary data present almost no ethical dilemmas, as the data for research is already “public” in some way. Examples might include:

  • research on the content of popular newspaper or television programmes
  • research based on data published in company reports
  • research based on data provided by a business in response to your letter asking for information and explaining how you will use it

The greater the sensitivity of the information you are asking for, the more you will need to protect and assure your participants. For example, details of company budgets, financial forecasts, marketing plans, pricing strategy, environmental performance, legal compliance, health and safety performance, are all sensitive information that many businesses will not be willing to divulge.

If you are not sure whether your research could cause possible harmful effects on the participants (people or business/organisation) seek the advice of your Supervisor.

In any case you should make sure that you are fully aware of the full guidance and regulations of the University of Southampton by reading and understanding the official University of Southampton statement on research ethics.

If your research is on human participants, their data or biological material then your research will require ethics approval. Ethics approval is also required for research involving animals. The University also has an Ethics policy on cultural heritage which you should be fully aware of if your research will involve cultural heritage such as artefacts, archaeological materials or sites, manuscripts, rare books, heritage structures.

For more guidance on applying for ethics approval and how to make an ethics approval application look at the information on our Research ethics page. Be sure to apply early on at the beginning of your research to minimise any delay to your project.

If the nature of your research requires you to seek ethics approval then you must not begin your research before you have been granted ethics approval.

Remember, if you have any specific questions or any doubts about research ethics and how this applies to your research, you should talk to your supervisor before starting your project.

Now test your understanding of research ethics with this short quiz.

Watch this short video produced by the Southampton Education School, University of Southampton for a helpful introduction to research ethics and using ERGO.


If you are a PhD student you should be aware of the additional doctoral ethics training requirements.

This completes the integrity and ethics section. Move on to the Literature Review module.

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