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Research Process: Ethical clearance

This guide gives a full overview of all the aspects of the research process and where to get assistance.

Ethical clearance

It is important to consider ethical issues from the early stages of a research project. From the beginning of the design process, provisional decisions are usually taken about the nature of the research sample, and of the methodology. These decisions imply the way of interacting with persons involved in the research project.

It is important to preserve the humanity and dignity of participants. Research should avoid causing harm, distress, anxiety, pain or any other negative feeling to the participants. Participants should be fully informed about all relevant aspects of the research, before they agree to participate.

The scope of the confidentiality of the data provided, and of the anonymity of the respondents, should be clarified with the participants. If these conditions are not met, the ethical acceptability of the research project could be questioned.

Oliver, Paul. 2003. The student's guide to research ethics. Maidenhead & Philadelphia: Open University Press.

The following ethical issues (in social sciences) should get attention before the research commences:

  • The way to identify and recruit potential respondents
  • Obtaining informed consent: participants should be fully informed about a research project
  • Potential disadvantage or harm which might affect respondents
  • Researching vulnerable groups of people
  • Obtaining relevant permission to conduct research
  • Reaching agreement with institutions or organizations in which research will be conducted

Oliver, Paul. 2003. The student's guide to research ethics. Maidenhead and Philadelphia: Open University Press.

The following ethical issues should be considered during the research process:

  • The ethics of recording data
  • The right of respondents to end involvement in the research
  • The disclosure by respondents of sensitive material
  • The use of information and communication technology
  • The ethics of ethnographic fieldwork
  • The ethics of the research interview
  • Ethics in the use of questionnaires

Oliver, Paul. 2003. The student's guide to research ethics. Maidenhead and Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Stellenbosch University (SU) is committed to applying the values of equity, participation, transparency, service, tolerance and mutual respect, dedication, scholarship, responsibility and academic freedom in all its activities (as contained in the SU Vision Statement). This includes, by definition all the research conducted at the University. SU is of th​e view that good science assumes ethical accountability according to national and international acceptable norms. The responsibility for this lies with every person conducting research under the auspices of SU.

The University has five Ethics Review Committees, all functioning under the Senate Research Ethics Committee (SREC) namely:
  1. Research Ethics Committee: Humanities (REC: Humanities)
  2. Health Research Ethics Committee 1
  3. Health Research Ethics Committee 2
  4. Research Ethics Committee: Animal Care and Use (REC: ACU)
  5. Research Ethics Committee: Biosafety and Environmental Ethics (REC: BEE)
These committees have a vital function in ensuring that all research activities at SU are conducted within national and international accepted standards and legislation with respect to ethics in research.

Division of Research Development: Research integrity and ethics
More information, documents and procedures:


The Division for Research Development’s Research Integrity and Ethics Hub, in collaboration with the Postgraduate Office, has developed a short introductory series to explain what research integrity and ethics is about, and how it applies to your research. See the links to these videos in Sunlearn below:

Watch this vide on the ethics of research using human participants by Enhancing Postgraduate Environments.