Skip to main content

research ethics

research ethics The application of moral rules and professional codes of conduct to the collection, analysis, reporting, and publication of information about research subjects, in particular active acceptance of subjects' right to privacy, confidentiality, and informed consent. Until recently sociologists (and social scientists generally) often displayed arrogance in their treatment of research subjects, justifying their actions by the search for truth. This trend is now being redressed, especially in industrial societies, with the adoption of formal codes of conduct, and greater emphasis on ethical research procedures. Ethical issues are most salient in relation to case-studies and other research designs which focus on very few cases (with the risk that they remain identifiable in reports). Public opinion now resists invasions of privacy for genuine research purposes just as much as for publicity seeking mass media stories, as evidenced by periodic increases in survey non-response, despite the fact that anonymity is effectively guaranteed in large-scale data collections.

There are three key issues. Research subjects' right to refuse to co-operate with a study is clear-cut in relation to interview surveys, but is not always observed in relation to case-studies, especially when covert observation is employed. Research subjects' right for information supplied to researchers to remain not only anonymous but also confidential in the broader sense is rarely disputed, but again may be difficult to observe in practice, especially when analyses of study results reveal more than may be intended. The right to give or withhold informed consent, if necessary after the research has been completed, ensures that research results are not made public without the subjects' knowing agreement. These and other issues are raised by the excellent collection of (still fresh) case-studies reported in Gideon Sjoberg ( ed.) , Ethics, Politics, and Social Research (1967)
. See also ETHICS.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"research ethics." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 12 Mar. 2019 <>.

"research ethics." A Dictionary of Sociology. . (March 12, 2019).

"research ethics." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved March 12, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.