research ethics

research ethics

If your research involves human subjects, human tissue, animals or animal tissue, you should consider whether ethics approval is needed, and this issue will also be considered when your project is initially considered for approval. If necessary, your proposal will be referred to the Research Ethics Committee for your school or faculty. Your proposal may be approved, referred back for modification or disallowed.

If your proposal is rejected for ethics approval, you can ask for the decision to be arbitrated on by the Research Ethics Council for your school/faculty, and if that does not resolve any dispute you can appeal using the UEA Ethical Approval Appeals procedure (3.2.6).

If you fail to obtain ethical approval, or fail to follow the safeguards in your proposal, your school may consider this to be misconduct in research, which can lead to a disciplinary investigation. If you have concerns that someone else may have committed misconduct in research you should report it to your Head of School, or equivalent.  

Your supervisor, or the lead researcher will have primary responsibility for considering ethics, but you also have individual responsibility for compliance with the law on, for example data protection , intellectual property, health and safety legislation and the environmental information regulations. Make sure you get advice on any legal implications of proposed research – your supervisor should be able to signpost you to what you need to know.  A University Research Ethics Checklist will be completed by your supervisor or the lead researcher/principal investigator (and must be for ESRC funded projects) to assess whether a full ethics review is required

The following general principles are expected of all researchers  by the UEA (from “Guidelines on Good Practice in Research” ) as a minimum, as well as meeting any relevant professional codes of practice:

  • Maintaining open and honest professional standards;
  • Ensuring leadership, organisation and cooperation in research groupings;
  • Taking special account of the needs of inexperienced researchers;
  • Planning and conducting research in accordance with the requirements of funders and the University and all relevant codes of practice, legislation and regulatory bodies;
  • Documenting fully results and any research material used, questioning one's own findings and acknowledging honestly the contribution of others;
  • Ensuring data is stored, shared, preserved and disposed of in an appropriate and responsible manner maintaining strict confidentiality and anonymity
  • Ensuring the results of the research are disseminated widely
  • Taking appropriate measures to protect intellectual property
  • Following best current professional, clinical and ethical practice

Particular care is needed where:

  • a potential participant in research lacks mental capacity to give informed consent. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 specifies when such a person may be involved a project. These circumstances are summarised in the UEA Research Ethics Policy, Principles And Procedures (
  • it is desirable to withhold/conceal information from participants to avoid bias in responses, in which case this must be addressed specifically when seeking approval and will be considered at Head of School level.
  • it is not practicable to obtain individual consent – in which case research must be  done in a public context, reports must not identify  any individuals and general approval must be obtained from the most appropriate authority

Clinical researchers have additional guidelines and regulations they must follow on such matters as obtaining confidentiality and informed consent, plus NHS specific requirements and medicine-specific legislation.   

Postgraduate students carrying out research in NHS organisations requiring an honorary research contract or letter of access will need a Research Passport – further details can be found at

The University Research Ethics Committee monitors the work of the research ethics committees for schools and faculties, shares best practices and disseminates information about new legal or professional requirements.