Research Ethics

Next semester I'm teaching a graduate course on research ethics, and I'm in the process of designing the course and choosing a bibliography. A draft of the bibliography follows, and I'd like feedback on it and the design of the course into units, but I'm also working on a flyer for the course. I figured it would be provocative to put a list of questions on it that we'd be discussing throughout the semester. Here's what I've come up with, and I hope you'll suggest others:

  1. What is "informed consent"? How much do participants need to know about your study?
  2. Should participants also be co-researchers? Should they help design the study and formulate the research questions that are most important to them?
  3. What constitutes a "vulnerable population"?
  4. What particular ethical issues do researchers of online environments face?
  5. How do feminist researchers approach research ethics?
  6. What special ethical issues do composition and technical communication researchers face?
  7. What are the best ways to design ethics into your analytical procedure?
  8. How can conflicts of interest be managed appropriately?
  9. What are researchers' ethical responsibilities with regard to allowing participants to review the results of the research? Should researchers alter the write-up of their research at the request of participants (removing quotations from interviews that make the participants feel uncomfortable, etc.)?

English 7765: Research Ethics


1. History of IRBs (case studies)

[here I'm thinking the Nuremberg Code, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, among others]

2. Ethical Issues in Qualitative Research (Multidisciplinary Focus)

• Agre, Patricia, and Bruce Rapkin. “Improving Informed Consent: A Comparison of Four Consent Tools.” IRB: Ethics and Human Research 25.6 (2003): 1-7.
• Barnes, Mark, and Katherine E. Gallin. “’Exempt’ Research after the Privacy Rule.” IRB: Ethics and Human Research 25.4 (2003): 5-6.
• Brody, Baruch A., et al. “Expanding Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest: The Views of Stakeholders.” IRB: Ethics and Human Research 25.1 (2003): 1-8.
• Fernandez, Conrad V., Eric Kodish, and Charles Weijer. “Informing Study Participants of Research Results: An Ethical Imperative.” IRB: Ethics and Human Research 25.3 (2003): 12-19.
• Weinberg, Janice M., and Ken P. Kleinman. “Good Study Design and Analysis Plans as Features of Ethical Research with Humans.” IRB: Ethics and Human Research 25.5 (2003): 11-14.

3. Ethics in Technical Communication Research

• ATTW Code of Ethics. Technical Communication Quarterly 10.3 (2001): 356.
• Breuch, Lee-Ann Kastman, Andrea M. Olson, and Andrea Breemer Frantz. “Considering Ethical Issues in Technical Communication Research.” In Research in Technical Communication. Ed. Laura J. Gurak and Mary M. Lay. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002.
• Hawthorne, Mark D. “Learning by Doing: Teaching Decision Making through Building a Code of Ethics.” Technical Communication Quarterly 10.3 (2001): 341-355.
• Kastman, Lee-Ann, and Laura J. Gurak. Conducting Technical Communication Research Via the Internet: Guidelines for Privacy, Permissions, and Ownership in Educational Research.” Technical Communication 46.4 (1999): 460-69.
• Salvo, Michael J. “Ethics of Engagement: User-Centered Design and Rhetorical Methodology.” Technical Communication Quarterly 10.3 (2001): 273-90.
• Winsor, Dorothy. Writing Like an Engineer.

4. Feminist Approaches to Ethics

• Kirsch, Gesa, and Joy Ritchie. “Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in
Composition Research.” College Composition and Communication, 46.1 (1995): 7-29.
• Lay, Mary M. The Rhetoric of Midwifery: Gender, Knowledge, and Power. New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1999.
• Naples, Nancy A. Feminism and Method: Ethnography, Discourse, and Activist Research.
• Pierce, Jennifer L. Gender Trials: Emotional Lives in Contemporary Law Firms. Berkeley, CA: U of California P.

5. Ethics in Online Research

• AoIR Code of Ethics.
• Ratliff, Clancy. Methodology chapter of dissertation.

6. Ethics in Research without Human Participants

• NEH Research Misconduct Policy.
• Sharer, Wendy. "Disintegrating Bodies of Knowledge: Historical Material and Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric." In Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley, eds. Rhetorical Bodies.

7. Ethics in Students' Own Research

In this unit, students will do presentations based on their final papers. I intend for these to be dissertation- and master’s-thesis-directed; that is to say, students will write reflective seminar papers designed to complement their research.


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A couple of other possibilities

In Mary Lay Schuster's research methods class, we're using Central Works in Technical Communication, edited by Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. Part 4 is called "Ethical and Power Issues." It includes a couple of essays that might be relevant, especially Steven Katz's "The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust," originally from College English 54.3 (1992): 255-75. Another is Dale Sullivan's "Political-Ethical Implications of Defining Technical Communication as a Practice," originally from the Journal of Advanced Composition 10.2 (1990): 375-86. That one may be less relevant to your purposes than Katz's article is, however. I'm not sure.

You're dealing with graduate students, so I assume many of them are graduate instructors. (If not, I assume they'll be teaching undergraduates at some point.) You might bring up the issue of when it's necessary to raise the issue of ethics in their students' research. I had a student earlier this semester who surveyed several friends about the information they included on MySpace and Facebook. That's the sort of thing graduate students are taught to be very careful about in their research, but very few first-year students consider.

Two Cultures


The list you have seems good enough. I'm not an expert on this so I wouldn't know much. The suggestion given above is a great addition though. The issue of ethics. Not much students consider this and it's a shame. Though ethics may seem a simple enough subject, the application is way off.

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