Ethical considerations in research: Best practices and examples

George Denison
|October 24, 2023

To conduct responsible research, you’ve got to think about ethics. They protect participants’ rights and their well-being - and they ensure your findings are valid and reliable. This isn’t just a box for you to tick. It’s a crucial consideration that can make all the difference to the outcome of your research.

In this article, we'll explore the meaning and importance of research ethics in today's research landscape. You'll learn best practices to conduct ethical and impactful research.

Examples of ethical considerations in research

As a researcher, you're responsible for ethical research alongside your organization. Fulfilling ethical guidelines is critical. Organizations must ensure employees follow best practices to protect participants' rights and well-being.

Keep these things in mind when it comes to ethical considerations in research:

Voluntary participation

Voluntary participation is key. Nobody should feel like they're being forced to participate or pressured into doing anything they don't want to. That means giving people a choice and the ability to opt out at any time, even if they've already agreed to take part in the study.

Informed consent

Informed consent isn't just an ethical consideration. It's a legal requirement as well. Participants must fully understand what they're agreeing to, including potential risks and benefits.

The best way to go about this is by using a consent form. Make sure you include:

  • A brief description of the study and research methods.
  • The potential benefits and risks of participating.
  • The length of the study.
  • Contact information for the researcher and/or sponsor.
  • Reiteration of the participant’s right to withdraw from the research project at any time without penalty.


Anonymity means that participants aren't identifiable in any way. This includes:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Photographs
  • Video footage

You need a way to anonymize research data so that it can't be traced back to individual participants. This may involve creating a new digital ID for participants that can’t be linked back to their original identity using numerical codes.


Information gathered during a study must be kept confidential. Confidentiality helps to protect the privacy of research participants. It also ensures that their information isn't disclosed to unauthorized individuals.

Some ways to ensure confidentiality include:

  • Using a secure server to store data.
  • Removing identifying information from databases that contain sensitive data.
  • Using a third-party company to process and manage research participant data.
  • Not keeping participant records for longer than necessary.
  • Avoiding discussion of research findings in public forums.

Potential for harm

​​The potential for harm is a crucial factor in deciding whether a research study should proceed. It can manifest in various forms, such as:

  • Psychological harm
  • Social harm
  • Physical harm
  • Legal harm

Conduct an ethical review to identify possible harms. Be prepared to explain how you’ll minimize these harms and what support is available in case they do happen.

Fair payment

One of the most crucial aspects of setting up a research study is deciding on fair compensation for your participants. Underpayment is a common ethical issue that shouldn't be overlooked. Properly rewarding participants' time is critical for boosting engagement and obtaining high-quality data. While Prolific requires a minimum payment of £6.00 / $8.00 per hour, there are other factors you need to consider when deciding on a fair payment.

First, check your institution's reimbursement guidelines to see if they already have a minimum or maximum hourly rate. You can also use the national minimum wage as a reference point.

Next, think about the amount of work you're asking participants to do. The level of effort required for a task, such as producing a video recording versus a short survey, should correspond with the reward offered.

You also need to consider the population you're targeting. To attract research subjects with specific characteristics or high-paying jobs, you may need to offer more as an incentive.

We recommend a minimum payment of £9.00 / $12.00 per hour, but we understand that payment rates can vary depending on a range of factors. Whatever payment you choose should reflect the amount of effort participants are required to put in and be fair to everyone involved.

Ethical research made easy with Prolific

At Prolific, we believe in making ethical research easy and accessible. The findings from the Fairwork Cloudwork report speak for themselves. Prolific was given the top score out of all competitors for minimum standards of fair work.

With over 25,000 researchers in our community, we're leading the way in revolutionizing the research industry. If you're interested in learning more about how we can support your research journey, sign up to get started now.