Communicaitons, Media and Journalism research group

Ethics and integrity resources

The purpose of these web pages is to set out the Department of Journalism Studies' ethics and integrity policy and to provide information and guidance for staff and students undertaking research or teaching which involves human participants or controversial subjects.

Our procedures and forms 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's ethics guidelines. Ethics approval must be gained before research may commence.

General principles

The general principles governing the department's ethics and integrity are derived from the University of Sheffield's General Principles on research ethics which set out the overarching principles and statements 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' rights

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' obligations

Researchers have an obligation to ensure that their research is conducted with:

  • honesty
  • integrity
  • 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.

Given that a portion of the department's teaching activities are focused outside of the university setting, usually in and around the local community in Sheffield and South Yorkshire, particular attention should be focused on:

Staff and students might also consult other Policy Notes relating to research ethics and integrity.

Types of ethical approval

The Department of Journalism Studies uses three slightly different approaches to reviewing ethics applications, based upon whether they are individual, generic or group-based applications.

Individual ethics approval

Before undertaking any research involving human participants, personal data or controversial issues, ethics applications must be submitted via the online ethics application system.

Staff and postgraduate research (PGR) applications will be reviewed by three members of staff and applicants may be invited to the department's Research Ethics Committee.

Undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate taught (PGT) student applications will be reviewed and approved by their supervisor/module leader through the online system.

Generic ethics approval

Given the aforementioned diversity of teaching and research activities in the department, the ethics application and review process for teaching and researching within Journalism Studies takes two forms: ethical review for distinct research projects and ethical review for generic research projects. As stated in the University's ethics and integrity approval procedure, these are defined as follows:

Distinct research projects: Where an undergraduate or postgraduate-taught student requires ethics approval for an individual research project that is distinct from any other student research, the supervisor is responsible for classifying the research as either 'low risk' or 'potentially high risk'. A reduced number of ethics reviewers is required to review such projects, dependent on the risk level posed.

Generic research projects: Where a number of undergraduate or postgraduate taught students will be conducting research that is of a sufficiently similar nature to be reviewed together, a single generic ethics application can be submitted for review, using one application form. This process is designed to increase the efficiency of the University procedure where departments may otherwise have to process large numbers of ethics applications for cohorts of students who undertake similar research projects each year. A generic research ethics review covers more than one sufficiently similar research project.

The guidelines also note that there are two types of generic research ethics review:

Type 1, in which at a particular stage in their course, a cohort of students undertakes the same research exercise involving human participants. These research projects are training exercises as part of an educational programme.

Type 2, in which students undertake slightly different research projects, which are sufficiently similar in terms of the following set of parameters to allow for generic research ethics review:

  • the selected research topic
  • the chosen questions, aims and objectives
  • the chosen research methods and procedures
  • the type of human participant
  • the nature of the human participation
  • the type of method chosen to inform participants

Ethics approval for group work (PGT)

Due to the potential differences between group projects at PGT level, the University Research Ethics Committee (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 project.

These applications will not be considered generic applications, and will cover each member of the project group. One nominated student needs to submit the application on behalf of the team, which should also include the names of the other members of the group (there isn't a specific field for this in the form but they can just be included in the aims and objectives section of the form as a note). Where group work is taking place, module leaders have responsibility for feedback and approval. Potentially high risk applications should go for consideration to the department's Research Ethics Committee.

Ethics review outcomes

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.

Appeals

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 (j.steel@sheffield.ac.uk), the Journalism Studies ethics and integrity co-ordinator.

Risk levels

When undertaking research ethics application via the online system, staff and students should consult the guidance on risk levels.

Key contacts

Amanda Sewell, UG/PGT ethics administrator
Tel: +44 (0)114 222 2501
Email: a.j.sewell@sheffield.ac.uk

Emma Shelton, staff/PGR ethics administrator
Tel: +44 (0)114 222 9543
Email: e.m.shelton@sheffield.ac.uk

John Steel, department ethics and integrity co-ordinator
Tel: +44 (0)114 222 2545
Email: j.steel@sheffield.ac.uk