Outcome of the research study

Once data have been gathered, there are two broad areas in which ethical considerations must be taken into account:

Data analysis

It is paramount in research that the anonymity of participants, where this has been guaranteed, is preserved. Data must be stored correctly, and only made accessible to those who are involved in the project. Any identifiable information should be disassociated from responses during data analysis. Data also should be preserved for a suitable number of years (often organizations have their own local rules), before being discarded to allow the verification of analyses. Where there are plans to make data publicly available, such as through the publication of anonymized datasets, this should be carried out carefully and with appropriate checks in place so that no participants’ details are compromised. If audio recordings are being made as any part of data collection, these should be destroyed once they have been analysed, unless express permission is sought to keep them (see Chapter 8 for more details about permissions relating to recordings, photographs, and filming).

Another ethical issue in data analysis pertains to how the data are actually analysed. For quantitative analysis, appropriate statistical tests should be carried out that avoid bias towards positive results. Statistical techniques should be comprehensively reported in any journal articles to ensure that they can be replicated. Some journals now stipulate that data need to be made publicly available to allow other researchers to check results. However, this should always be done in line with the protocol and the consent of participants. For qualitative research, analyses should be cross-checked by a second person, where possible, to avoid researcher bias, and again full details about how the data have been analysed and who has checked this should be reported to ensure transparency.

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