What is Research Ethics?
Research Ethics is the process taken while planning your research, to ensure that your research complies with relevant regulatory and ethical standards. It is considered good research practice to make sure your research is conducted in an ethical and professional manner. Guidance on Good Research Practice can be found here.
What do I need to consider when planning research activity?
The four key ethical rules to consider are:
- Veracity: Truthfulness or absence of deception
- Privacy: Freedom from unwarranted public intrusion
- Confidentiality: Non-disclosure
- Fidelity: Accuracy in recording and reporting data
Does my research project need ethical review?
Any research which uses human participants must receive ethical review and approval before the work can start. Conducting such research without ethical approval is a violation of University policy.
When am I using "human participants"?
If your research involves collecting data from people, then you are using human participants. Collecting data can range from taking blood, to physical tests, to interviews, observation, or even just answering questionnaires.
Even if the data will be anonymised when the results are reported, you still need to have ethical approval.
What if my questionnaire is just a service review?
If your questionnaire is not being used as part of a research project, then you probably don’t have to have ethical approval. It depends on what you intend to do with the results. For instance, course evaluations, internal service satisfaction surveys and the like, where there is no intention to publish the results beyond the University, would not need ethical approval.
On the other hand, if a doctoral researcher decides to conduct such a survey as part of his or her coursework, then that should have ethical approval.
What does ethical approval cover?
In applying for ethical approval, you will need to prove that you have considered the following:
- Information for the participants
- Any physical or mental risks to the participants, and the mitigation of those risks
- Any risks to you or other researchers on the project, and their mitigation
This is not an exhaustive list as there are many considerations which you may need to think about before commencing your project. Make sure you visit your College research ethics page and read the guidance to ensure you have thought about how best to ensure your project is conducted ethically.
What is the process for gaining ethical approval?
To receive ethical approval, your proposal must be reviewed by a Research Ethics Committee (REC) (we will assume for now that you won’t be using NHS staff, patients or facilities).
Each College has its own REC. You or your supervisor should check with the College Research Ethics Officer to determine what procedures need to be followed in sending your proposal to the REC. If you are conducting your research as part of a Specialist Research Institute, you will normally still apply to the REC for your College. Any College REC may, if it wishes, send an application to the University Research Ethics Committee for consideration.
All applications should be made via Brunel Research Ethics Online (BREO). You can find guidance and templates here. It can take up to 15 working days to receive feedback from the Committee, so make sure you apply in plenty of time.
What if my research involves NHS staff, patients or facilities?
If it is determined that your research will involve NHS staff, patients or facilities, using human tissue, or involving adults unable to consent for themselves, and children, you may need to apply for permission using the IRAS online system and have your proposal reviewed by your College’s Research Ethics Committee (REC). If you think you will need to use the IRAS approval route, you should seek further guidance within your College. Your supervisor or research administrator should be able to point you to local guidance on procedures and/or provide details of how to contact your College Research Ethics Officer for further guidance.
What are IRAS applications?
IRAS stands for Integrated Research Application System. The online system allows you to apply for permissions and approvals for health and social care / community care research in the UK, to multiple review bodies by collecting all your details in one application, and filtering it for the relevant review. You can access the online application system here.
Staff and doctoral researchers looking for guidance on the process should contact their College research ethics team for assistance via one of the following email addresses:
What happens after I receive ethical approval?
Once you have received ethical approval from the appropriate REC, you can start recruiting your participants and begin the work. On any information that is provided to the participants, you must include a statement which indicates that you have received ethical approval for the project.
What if I don't bother to get ethical approval?
If you are using human participants in your research, and go ahead with the project without receiving ethical approval, you will be subject to disciplinary proceedings. Also, the University’s insurer will not cover you for professional or clinical liability.
To begin your ethics application online, go to:
There are multiple opportunities to undertake training in research integrity and associated activities. This page provides an overview of these opportunities, for more information please contact Research-Integrity@brunel.ac.uk.
All research-related staff and doctoral researchers are asked to complete our Research Integrity online module via Blackboard Learn or the following link http://www.brunel.ac.uk/integrity-training
Brunel Educational Excellence Centre (BEEC) provide a number of different training sessions for staff on topics such as:
- Integrity training for all levels
- Research ethics processes and procedures
- Research project management
The Graduate School provide training for doctoral researchers. Some of the topics include:
- Ethics workshops
- Online modules
- Research Data Management