When it comes to the ethical dimensions of research there are two clear issues of concern: plagiarism and the use of human subjects. Both of these involve potential injury to other individuals.
Plagiarism is theft. Passing off someone else’s work as your own is not just academically dishonest, but it also can harm your peers (whose work might be judged relative to yours) and the individual whose originally produced the ideas.
Useful Resources on Plagiarism
Wadsworth Resource: http://www.wadsworth.com/english_d/special_features/plagiarism/definition.html
Monmouth College’s Hewes Library: “Academic Honesty”
A good strategy in general is to be liberal with citations. Always acknowledge the individual(s) from whom you extracted an idea or perspective that constitutes your analysis. There are loads of other tips in general, so please don’t hesitate to check with your advisor/professor for further information.
On Human Subjects
The use of “human subjects” includes interview research. Many times, the practice of reporting information gained from interviews has the potential to place interviewees in harm’s way. Interviewees may face risks to their employment, their person, or to other persons they know. Additionally, some questions themselves may trigger psychological responses with unintended consequences, such as when individuals are interviewed about particularly traumatic events including experiences in war or as victims of violent offenses. For all of these reasons, and more, it is standard practice to have research plans for interviewing individuals approved by an institutional review board.
Social science researchers interested in incorporating human subjects as part of their experimental model must, for legal and ethical reasons, refer to the Human Subjects Review Board (IRB) here at Monmouth College. While not as complex as it initially appears to be, it is an extremely important step in the research process that should not be neglected.
A detailed guide for students on an Institutional Review Board process is provided by UC Berkeley’s Committee for Protection of Human Subjects. As they note, most student projects do not require such review (see here), but it is good practice to think about how research you do might affect others.
Please do not hesitate to ask your advisor or any other faculty member if you have any queries about this step.
updated July 14, 2017 – MN