Ethics and integrity resources
The purpose of these web pages is to set out the department's ethics and integrity policy and to provide information and guidance on the ethics approval process for staff and students undertaking research and/or teaching which involves human participants and/or controversial subjects.
Our procedures comply with the University of Sheffield's ethics policy and the Department of Journalism Studies expects all research and teaching activities to abide by the University ethics guidelines set out in these pages.
The general principles governing the department's ethics and integrity are derived from the University of Sheffield's General Principles and Statements on research ethics which set out the overarching principles dealing with this issue. In general terms for the Department of Journalism Studies, key aspects of these principles are those which concern participants' rights and researchers' obligations.
Participants have a right, as a principle of research ethics, to:
- be fully informed about how and why their data will be collected and used as part of a research project, and by whom
- consent to participate, withdraw from, or refuse to take part in research projects
- confidentiality: personal information or identifiable data should not be disclosed without participants' consent
- security of their data: data and samples collected should be kept secure and anonymised where appropriate
- safety: participants should not be exposed to unnecessary or disproportionate levels of risk
- request erasure of their data if and when it is no longer required for research purposes
Researchers have an obligation to ensure that their research is conducted with:
- minimal possible risk to participants and to themselves
- respect for other people, their values and their cultures
Teaching and research staff in the Department of Journalism Studies should familiarise themselves with these general principles as well as their interpretation and application. They should also consult the University of Sheffield's Ethics Policy (PDF, 1.6MB) which details the University's overarching approach to research ethics.
In addition to the documentation linked above, teaching and research staff should also consult the Good Research and Innovation Practices (GRIP) policy (PDF, 500KB) which sets out the principles governing all the University's research and innovation activities, as well as the purpose of the policy and who it applies to. It also clarifies the University's expectations with regard to good practice in research and innovation activities.
Research ethics in Journalism Studies
The Department of Journalism Studies here at the University of Sheffield is the UK's leading centre for research and teaching in our field. As such it has a commitment to both excellent research-led teaching and providing our students with appropriate experience of 'real world' journalism so as to equip them for the challenges of journalism after they have completed their studies. As the department’s teaching activities span both academic and practical realms of journalism, a dual approach to ethics and integrity has been developed for our taught students which reflects the academic and applied nature of our courses.
Types of ethical approval in Journalism Studies (UG/PGT)
Given the aforementioned diversity of teaching and research activities in the department, the ethics application and review process takes two forms: ethical review for distinct research projects and ethical review for generic research projects.
Distinct research projects are those where an undergraduate or postgraduate taught student requires ethical approval for an individual research project involving human participants, that is distinct from any other student research. Usually this is in the form of the UG or PGT dissertation. Students undertaking this work would in the first instance seek advice from their supervisor on the ethical implications of their work and any risk factors involved in the research. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to classify the research as either 'low risk' or 'potentially high risk'.
Generic research projects are those where a significant number of undergraduate or postgraduate taught students will be conducting research that is of a sufficiently similar nature to be reviewed together. Such projects require a single en-bloc/generic ethics application which is submitted for review, usually by the year or course leader at the start of the academic year and is designed to cover a range of journalistic activities and topics.
For distinct research projects such as dissertations involving human participants, students must discuss their ideas with their supervisors well in advance of their fieldwork. If required, students must submit an online research ethics application via the ethics application system which ensures that due consideration is given to the ethical implications of the proposed research. When undertaking distinct research projects, students should consult the Guidance on Risk Levels before completing their online application.
For generic research projects and/or coursework which involves taught students conducting journalism work that is of a sufficiently similar nature, an enhanced system of en-bloc/generic ethical approval is in place. Usually the course or year leader or another member of staff is responsible for applying for en-bloc/generic ethical approval via the online ethics application system.
Students who have undertaken journalism work which falls under the category of 'high risk' must also complete a retrospective report on 'high-risk' journalistic activity which provides a record of students' journalistic activities which would be classified as 'high risk' (for example in a breaking news story or on patch-work involving sensitive topics/vulnerable people), so that due consideration can be given to the impact on or risks to the people who were involved (interviewees, and you the student). It is intended to provide a record of what steps students took to address these risks and whether any follow-up action is required. The form is signed off by the member of staff responsible for the module and collated by the Department of Journalism Studies Research Ethics Committee.
For postgraduate group work, given the potential differences between group projects at PGT level UREC has decided that it would not be appropriate to seek generic ethics approval for the whole programme or module. Therefore, students undertaking specific group work tasks which involve human participants must seek ethics approval for their own projects as if it were a 'distinct research project' as above. These applications would not be considered as en-bloc/generic applications and would cover each member of the project group. One nominated student would need to submit the application on behalf of the team and would need to include the names of the other members of the group (to be included in the aims and objectives section of the form as a note). Module leaders where group work is taking place then have responsibility for feedback and provide approval.
Course-specific ethics and integrity information
Ethical approval (staff and PGR)
Before beginning any research (funded or unfunded) involving human participants, personal data or human tissue, all staff and PGRs must submit an ethics application for review and approval via the online Ethics Application System. When seeking funding, it is important to consult the guidelines of individual funding bodies as they differ according to whether ethics approval is required before submitting an application. The Ethics Application System is accessed through 'My Services', and further details on how to submit an application can be found here. When undertaking distinct research projects, staff and PGR students should consult the Guidance on Risk Levels before completing their online application.
You must not begin any research until you have written confirmation from the department that your application has been approved.
Ethically approved research must be carried out in compliance with any conditions set by the ethics reviewers. If ethics approval is subsequently withdrawn or suspended for any reason, the research must be discontinued. Any amendments to an already approved research project must be detailed in writing and emailed to the ethics co-ordinator via email@example.com, where due consideration of the amendments will be made and approval granted if appropriate. An official approval letter (email) will be sent through the online system to the applicant, granting them permission to undertake research.
Ethics review outcomes
Decisions on research ethics applications will be made between ten days and three weeks depending on the complexity of the application. On considering the ethical implications of a project, ethics reviewers can decide on one of the following possible outcomes:
- Approved: the project can go ahead with no changes.
- Approved with suggestions: the project can go ahead but the applicant may wish to consider suggestions made by the reviewer(s); these, however, are optional.
- Requires compulsory changes: the project cannot go ahead until required changes have been made; the reviewer(s) must see the revised version of the application and subsequently approve it.
- Not approved: the project cannot proceed, for reasons that should be clearly specified by the reviewer(s).
Once approval has been granted, an official approval letter (email) will be sent through the online system to the applicant, granting them permission to undertake research.
The University Research Ethics Committee (UREC) oversees the department's ethics review procedures. In very exceptional cases where agreement cannot be reached within the department, this committee can review applications. Members of the department wishing to appeal a decision of the school's Ethics Review Committee should inform John Steel (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Journalism Studies ethics and integrity co-ordinator.
Amanda Sewell, UG/PGT ethics administrator
Emma Shelton, staff/PGR ethics administrator
John Steel, department ethics and integrity co-ordinator