How To Conduct Ethical Research for Successful Academic Publication
Although ethical principles and codes vary among disciplines, countries and cultures, there is no doubt that ethical practices are essential when conducting successful academic or scientific research. There are many good reasons why advanced research must be conducted in an ethical manner, including the promotion of research objectives such as knowledge, truth and accuracy, the encouragement of collaborative research through trust, equity and professional accountability, and the valuable benefits of authentic discovery for society as a whole. Whether you intend to present your new discoveries at an academic or scientific conference, publish an original article in a scholarly journal or submit a thesis for a postgraduate degree, it will be imperative to know how to conduct ethical research and to apply that knowledge to every aspect of your study.
Learning about the ethical norms and practices associated with your discipline or field of study, familiarising yourself with the ethical codes and principles of your institution and ensuring that everything about your research will be legal in your country or region are good ways to start thinking about how to conduct ethical research as you plan and design your study. Some ethical principles are common to virtually all types of academic and scientific research regardless of the nature of the research, who is conducting it or where the study takes place. Honesty and integrity are among these principles. Researchers must be honest about the methods they used, the results they obtained and, if necessary, the errors they made, and they must never misrepresent, manipulate, fabricate or falsify research data – such unsavoury practices invalidate the integrity of the research and waste both time and resources. Researchers must also be honest about their use of the work of other investigators, ensuring that they properly cite and provide complete references for all sources and never plagiarise the ideas, words, images, procedures or conclusions of other authors. When collaborating with other researchers, honesty and integrity mean communicating with sincerity, sticking to agreements, performing assigned duties, accepting professional responsibility and ultimately attributing authorship fairly based on genuine and substantive contributions to the research and the written report of that research. Honesty extends to publishers as well, so be sure to read the author guidelines and avoid breaching codes of conduct with multiple submissions or duplicate publications.
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Also vital in considerations of how to conduct ethical research is the primary need to do no harm. Being honest in all your research activities and practices will undoubtedly help you ensure that your work brings no harm to anyone or anything, but being careful and attentive as you design and conduct your research is also required, and so is maintaining a respectful attitude towards whatever you are studying, whoever you are working with and whatever and whoever will benefit from your research. This may mean checking not only your own work but also that of co-authors, assistants and students so that harmful errors are not published, handling artefacts with extreme care and respect so that they will be intact for future researchers, or protecting the health, welfare and privacy of research participants so that they do not suffer harm, stress or exposure to unnecessary risks. If your research involves human or animal subjects, you will almost certainly need to seek approval from your institution’s ethical review board or research ethics committee, and you will also need to obtain informed consent from human participants. A good deal of careful thought will need to be invested in designing your research in ways that protect your participants and ensure that the benefits of your research outweigh risks and potential harm. Careful research also involves keeping accurate records and storing data safely, which may mean hiding or removing information that might identify individual research subjects.
Complete objectivity may be virtually impossible to achieve, but it should be a primary goal when striving to conduct ethical research. Give your own perspective the kind of critical thought you apply to the studies you read and the research data you analyse, and work to avoid bias as you devise research questions, design methodology, interpret results and reflect on conclusions. If you have any personal or financial interests that could be considered conflicts of interest in relation to your research, be sure to consider and declare them – guidelines for manuscript submissions to scholarly journals and other publishers will usually outline exactly what is required for such disclosures. Be sure as well to avoid any kind of discrimination towards co-authors, assistants, students and research participants on the basis of factors such as race, sex, nationality and the like that are not directly related to the requirements of the research or the academic or scientific ability, practice and integrity of collaborators. Explaining and justifying selection criteria for research samples in terms of your research questions, methods and objectives will demonstrate that appropriate research concerns rather than discriminatory biases lie behind your decisions. Such explanations and justifications are frequently necessary in research proposals and publications to make it clear to ethical review boards, funding agencies, acquisitions editors and peer reviewers that you know exactly how to conduct ethical research and either intend to do just that or have already done so.
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