Conducting Ethical Research

In 1979, the Belmont Report released by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research outlined three basic principles for ensuring the ethical research of humans: beneficence of treatment, respect for participants, and justice (Watson, 2013).  Since then, research ethics has grown from simply protecting human subjects to implementing rules and procedures that span the entire research process.  In this essay, I seek to identify the six steps used to conduct research and ethics that apply to each one.

The first step in the process of research is identifying a research problem (Creswell, 2012, p. 8).  This step includes recognizing an issue and justifying the importance of studying this issue to the intended audience.  Depending on the institution where this research will be taking place, proper training and other resources are available to educate researchers to ensure the research at hand follows ethical guidelines.  The Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Training Policy as issued at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2010 is an example of such resource (Rogers, 2014).  Receiving the proper training allows the researcher to make informed, ethical decisions throughout the rest of the research process.

Step two requires reviewing the literature (Creswell, 2012, p. 9).  By exploring what research and findings already exist in your area of interest, you help further inform the hypothesis you wish to make in your own research.  Unfortunately, not all the data and findings in existing literature will be accurate.  From an ethical standpoint, it is best to be aware of issues like plagiarism (Blake, 2010) and incomplete or falsified data (Hochstetler, 2012).  By being diligent in reviewing the literature, we can “seek to reconcile different findings and employ sound procedures to collect and analyze data and to provide clear direction for our own research” (Creswell, 2012, p. 7).

The third step, specifying a purpose for research, involves narrowing down a topic and restating the purpose and intent for researching it.  From here, research questions are formulated.  While writing these questions, it is important to recognize who we will be working with and in what context.  For example, if the research objective includes an animal subject, the process of maintaining research integrity will slightly differ than working with human subjects (Hochstetler, ORI).  It is also important to be mindful of any possible conflicts of interest that can arise and how to minimize them (Hundertmark, 2012).  By recognizing these details in advance, it ensures ethical procedures in the last three steps, where they are the most crucial and necessary.

Perhaps the step that requires the most care and mindfulness of research ethics is the fourth, collecting data (Creswell, 2012, p. 9-10).  This includes plotting out the methods and procedures that will be used in collecting said data.  All parties involved in the research process, including (but not limited to) the audience, the participants, the gatekeepers, and the stakeholders must be fully informed of the intent and process of the study, made to understand participation is voluntary, and that they also reserve the right to drop out at any time without feeling pressured to sign a consent form or creating power imbalances (Creswell, 2012, p. 23-24).  Before entering a location with the intent to conduct research, it is important to respect the site by asking permission first, being as undisruptive as possible, and offering compensation as necessary (Creswell, 2012, p. 24).

The penultimate step in conducting ethical research is analyzing and interpreting the data (Creswell, 2012, p. 10).  This particular step requires breaking down the data and building it back up to draw conclusions of how the results prove or disprove the original research hypothesis.  During this step it is important to present the data collected truthfully and entirely, as “fabrication and falsification of data are the most serious challenged to the integrity of research” (Hochstetler, 2012).  By figuring out how to interpret the results, we prepare ourselves for the last step, reporting and evaluating research (Creswell, 2012, p. 10-11).

By the final step, the “what” of the research has already been determined.  It is now up to the researcher to determine “for whom” the research is being presented.  Audiences not only determine the structure of research presentation, but also the language used.  Regardless of who makes up the audience, the language used in reporting research must be respectful and avoid discrimination (Creswell, 2012, p. 11).

In conducting ethical research, it is important to respect the rights of participants, the research locations, and the audience members who will be reading the study.  In my own research, I plan to closely follow the six steps of Creswell’s Process of Research as well as frequently refer to guidelines written by the UAF Office of Research Integrity.   Before setting out to research a topic, I will follow University guidelines by submitting my proposed topic to be approved by a research committee.  Upon approval, I will be diligent about communicating my process with everyone involved, including seeking expressed permission and ensuring a high level of understanding.  In presenting my results in writing, I will aim to be conscientious and respectful about my language to avoid any bias, jargon, insults, or misunderstandings, while also properly citing and formatting the research of others to uphold academic integrity.  Upon completion of my research, I will seek to report all of my findings in its unaltered entirety and welcome peer review



Blake, J. (2010, October 27). Authorship. Retrieved from


Creswell, J.W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative

and qualitative research. Boston: Pearson.

Hochstetler, K. (2009, September 21). Data management. Retrieved from

Hochstetler, K. (2009, September 21). Use of animals. Retrieved from

Hundertmark, G. (2012, August 21). Conflict of interest. Retrieved from

Rogers, B.D. (2014, October 8). Responsible conduct of research (RCR) training policy.

Retrieved from

Watson, B. (2013, January 10).  Humans subjects in research. Retrieved from

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