What is Ethics?

Ethics is a topic that covers questions relating to what kinds of lives we should lead, what counts as a good society, what actions are right and wrong, what qualities of character we should develop and what responsibilities humans have for each other and the ecosystem. In the context of research, ethics as a subject area traditionally covers topics such as the overall harms and benefits of research, the rights of participants to information, privacy, anonymity, and the responsibilities of researchers to act with integrity.

An ‘ethical principle’ is a general standard or norm that promotes what is regarded as worthy or valuable for the flourishing of humans and/ or the whole ecosystem. Ethical principles may relate to right/wrong conduct, good/bad qualities of character and responsibilities attached to relationships. A principle does not tell us how to act in each situation we encounter, but is broad in scope, and needs interpreting in the light of particular circumstances.

All research raises questions about ethics: about the rigour, responsibility and respect of the practices of researchers.

Ethical Review & Approval

The University has developed a Handbook for Ethical Review & Approval 2023-2025

The procedures in this handbook have been designed to assist in the application and review of ethical approval requests, implementation of good conduct in research, and in the prevention of misconduct. 

The handbook is written for staff and students who are planning to carry out a research project, and staff involved in reviewing applications for ethical approval. It may be used as a reference in the preparation of bid for grant funding.

End of Study Monitoring

One of the conditions of ethical approval at the University of Wolverhampton is that the researcher/PI, or an academic supervisor (on behalf of a taught student), submits an ‘End of Study Report (Word doc 22k)’ upon completion of the research.

End of Study’ refers to the point at which the research (data collection and data analysis in order to answer the research question(s) in the study) is complete. The point at which this occurs will vary depending on the project.

Please see the End of Study Monitoring Guidance (Word doc 19k) for more information.

Ethics FAQs

Use our frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help answer common queries.

In accordance with the University’s Ethics Policy, and Code of Good Research Practice, all research requires ethical review to manage ethical risk appropriately, and safeguard researchers.

In addition, all Staff and Research Student projects must undergo full ethical review (and secure approval) before any data collection starts.

As part of ethical review, researchers at all levels (UG, PGT, PGR & Staff) must identify whether the following ethical considerations are relevant to the proposed research, and obtain relevant approvals:

  • Health & Social Care
  • Animals
  • Humans & Personal Data
  • Online Research
  • Sensitive Materials
  • Environment
  • Institutional Research
  • International
  • Safety of those involved
  • Collaborator or Funding Source
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Publically available

Even if the research is low risk, issues such as data protection, confidentiality and anonymity need to be considered. There is also a widening body of professional and legal requirements with which research projects must comply.

UoW’s indemnity insurance will not cover research without approval and failure to obtain approval may also result in disciplinary procedures being instigated.

For general information on when you need to apply for ethical approval, who to contact, and how to prepare an application, the University has developed a Handbook for Ethical Review & Approval, available at www.wlv.ac.uk/ethics

You are advised to prepare research ethics applications early, as depending on the time of year and availability of Committee members, the processes and procedures of scrutiny can take up to six weeks to complete.

Yes. Observation may seem more intrusive to the people being observed than to the observer and does still count as research involving human participants. Sometimes observation can pose more complex ethical questions, for example if individuals will be identifiable from the data that is collected, the observation is of ‘at risk’ groups or observations of harmful or illegal activity.

No. You can submit a revised version of the original application along with the previous ethics approval number to allow the Ethics Panel to review and approve the modification/extension.  You must wait for approval before you implement your changes and continue with your research.

Informed consent is an ethical requirement of the research process. Potential research participants should be given sufficient information about a study, in a format they understand, to enable them to exercise their right to make an informed decision whether or not to participate in a research study. View guidance on Informed Consent. There are only very exceptional circumstances where this does not apply and in those instances you must seek advice from the relevant ethics panel.

A Participant Information Sheet should give potential recruits to a research study sufficient information to make a decision as to whether or not they wish to take part in the research. It should be written in language that could easily be understood by any person. View guidance on preparing Consent Forms and Participant Information Sheets.

All research using human tissue requires ethical approval. Human tissue is defined as material that has come from a human body and consists of, or includes, human cells. For more information, view the Policy for Use of Human Tissue for Research.

If you are dealing with personal data or sensitive personal data (SPD) and there is a need to store the data or transfer it outside of the UoW secure servers, then encryption must be used. See the guidance on data protection.

If your research involves any kind of human participation, including the use of data collection methods which are not face-to-face, it must be subject to ethical review and approval in the same way as research by interview or questionnaire.

Before applying for a research grant, you should always check the terms and conditions applied by research funders. Some require ethical approval prior to application; most make ethical approval a condition of the award once offered.

All drone (unmanned aircraft systems) use must follow the University’s Safe Use of Drones Policy. Any use of a drone for research that might impact on people is considered human participant research and also needs ethical review and approval. This includes, for example, using a drone to film crowds or streets where people may be walking. You should also consider any use of drones that might impact on animals.

In the case of a staff member conducting research, that staff member is the Principal Investigator.

In the case of students, whilst the student may be the principal researcher, for the purposes of the institution the supervisor must act as the Principal Investigator and as such must sign off the application form. This is because the supervisor is a member of staff member and undertakes responsibility for the conduct of the research.

Retrospective approval of research protocols cannot be given. Any data collected before approval has been gained cannot be used. Additionally, you will not be covered by indemnity insurance. Failure to obtain approval may also result in disciplinary procedures being instigated.

If you are collecting data to inform a larger study you will need to apply for ethics approval. If the findings of the pilot / feasibility study will determine how the main study is managed, it is recommended that a separate application is submitted for that part of the study.

You may test your survey or interview questions without applying for ethics approval as long as you are not collecting data. This could for instance involve testing that questions are appropriate and understandable for a certain age group.

UoW has a contract in place with JISC ‘Online Surveys’, which sets out rights and responsibilities for both organisations with regard to personal data – how it is processed, who owns and has access to the data, security arrangements and where it is stored. UoW insists that JISC Online Surveys is the only survey tool used. You should contact Digital Services to request an account.

Why can’t I use another online survey tool?

If you sign up to use other online survey tools – for example Google Survey or Survey Monkey - the agreement is between you and the company. Any data you collect will be held by the company and not by the University.

If any of the personal data collected is lost, stolen or used inappropriately, the University will be liable for any fines under the DPA/GDPR, even though the agreement will be between you and the survey company, because the research is conducted as part of your work or studies at Wolverhampton.

Failure to follow University policies and procedures to protect personal data, may result in disciplinary proceedings.


The University of Wolverhampton is fully committed to ensuring the very highest standards of research integrity. Anyone wishing to raise concerns regarding research being undertaken by the University may wish to contact the research integrity leads in the first instance. https://www.wlv.ac.uk/research/research-policies-procedures--guidelines/research-integrity/

Alternatively, the University of Wolverhampton has incorporated its policies and procedures for Anti-Bribery, Staff Interests, Fraud, and Whistleblowing into one Transparency Policy Please report any concerns to transparency@wlv.ac.uk  

The information on this webpage was last updated on 31 May 2024, by Jill Morgan, Research Integrity Manager, Research Policy Unit (j.morgan4@wlv.ac.uk)