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Breuch, Lee-Ann Kastman, Andrea M. Olson, and Andrea Breemer Frantz. “Considering Ethical Issues in Technical Communication Research.” Research in Technical Communication. Eds. Gurak, Laura J. and Mary M. Lay. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002. 1-22. Print.

  • The authors begin by noting that without a reflexive approach to our research practices and methods we TC’ers can’t hope to produce ethical research.  So, while the authors value audience, they are more concerned with particular ethical obligations when they set out a research agenda (1-2).
  • The authors recommend TC researchers: 1) acknowledge the importance of ethics in research; 2) become familiar with literature about ethics; 3) identify ethical issues that may arise; 4) comply with IRBs; and 5) actively reflect on ethics while conducting research (3).
  • What are research ethics?  Research ethics are the responsibility of the researcher to “demonstrate accuracy and integrity” in all facets of their research: participant consent, confidentiality, staying true to data, maintaining a consistent research method, and in reporting research results (5).
  • The authors highlight how interdisciplinary methodologies shape what constitutes TC research methodology.  Because a lot of TC research is ethnographic the authors note that many draw on Bruner & Geertz to consider ethical relationships to research participants & research findings (8).  The authors look to the methodological ethics of Psychology to find well articulated relationships/stances for ethical frameworks.  Because ethical research in Psychology set the stage for multiple research ethics codes (APA, Belmont Report), the ethics of research found in that discipline tend to form the basis for much IRB regulation for work in the Social Sciences and Humanities.
  • Specific research ethics practices/areas:
    • Informed consent:  sharing the research method, methodology, research question, etc. with the research participants before every initiating the research.
    • Confidentiality:  the ethical respect for individuals, confidentiality means protecting and not sharing information gained from research participants unless written consent is provided.
    • Manipulation of data:  This is the process of fabricating, dropping, or intentionally misrepresenting data acquired in a research study.
    • Reliability & Validity:  reliability is the consistent approach to the research process, validity is the ability of a research system to consistently measure what it is intended to measure (how sound is the coding mechanism?). How do you establish validity/reliability?  By ensuring the reader of the research of the method, researcher ethos, and paradigm orientation (theoretical underpinning) (14).  Another way is to triangulate research findings (via multiple research methods, theoretical orientations, or researchers).
  • The authors recommend that TC researchers abide by these research responsibilities: 1) acknowledge the importance of research ethics; 2) become familiar with literature about ethics; 3) identify ethical issues in research; and 4) comply with IRBs when conducting research (18).

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