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The Ethical Concerns of Writing in Social Science Research

By: Edited by: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 1
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Researchers regularly deal with ethical considerations when writing up their research. However, such considerations are rarely addressed in existing research ethics literature. Here, the focus tends to be on ethical considerations that arise in relation to research proposals and “protocols,” that is, during the process of research and data collection. Nevertheless, ethical issues can and do arise when formulating research questions, preparing data for analysis, conducting analysis, and when writing up one’s findings. Using decision-making junctures from a study on discourses of higher education in Sri Lanka, I aim to show that ethical considerations can shape the architecture of writing research. I present a number of specific questions that arose in the presentation of qualitative data, derived from the use of ethnographic methods and discourse analysis. I argue that the overarching consideration here should be the balance between content and confidentiality or, to put it another way, the “amount” of context necessary to give the appropriate meaning to the content being presented. I suggest that this should be considered a major ethical consideration in qualitative research. Adopting this view entails the consideration of a number of specific questions, including the following: How can the analysis be presented when the data are “sensitive?” Which examples should or can be chosen? And how can contextual descriptions be crafted without endangering participants’ anonymity? Drawing on the writing stage of my doctoral research, as well as later presentation and rewriting of the same data, I present a series of narrative examples and use them to explore the ethical dilemmas that emerged. I suggest that attending to these decision-making junctures that arise in the course of writing up qualitative research should be considered useful moments of reflection for researchers using ethnographic methods and discourse analysis.

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