Research ethics: Guidelines for arts, humanities, and social sciences journals

Taylor & Francis Editorial Policies

Methodological approaches vary significantly across the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Yet, these diverse research communities share basic ethical principles and responsibilities. Researchers also have an ethical obligation to be transparent about their research methods in such a way that editors, peer reviewers, and readers may fairly and adequately evaluate their work.

Note that for interdisciplinary and mixed-methods research, researchers should decide which guidelines are relevant based on the type of research they are conducting.

For researchers in science, technology and medicine, please see our STM research ethics guidelines.

All research should be undertaken ethically and responsibly, in line with the latest guidelines from researchers’ disciplines, institutions, funders, and scholarly societies, in consultation with relevant authorities, site owners, and in accordance with national and international law.

  • Authors should consult and abide by the ethical guidelines recommended by their disciplines and relevant interdisciplinary organizations, such as those recommended by the American Anthropological Association, the American Psychological Association, the Association of Anthropology Southern Africa, the Australian Sociological Association, the British Sociological Association, the Human Sciences Research Council, the Oral History Association, or the International Sociological Association.

  • Prior to starting the study, where appropriate, researchers should have obtained all necessary ethical approval from a recognized institutional review board (IRB) or other appropriate institutional authority.

  • Research conducted by independent scholars should also undergo the same ethical oversight as that conducted by researchers affiliated with academic institutions, where possible. Independent scholars are advised to contact nearby university IRBs to inquire about possible approval, and some countries have IRBs set up to review protocols from independent researchers.

  • Authors should include evidence of ethical approval, including the name of the committee that provided approval, within the manuscript. If no approval was granted, authors must be able to provide sufficient evidence for why their studies should be exempted from this policy. Authors are encouraged to explain the reason for the exemption within the manuscript.

  • Journal editors, scholarly societies and associations, and the publisher reserve the right to reject articles without adequate ethical approvals or a reasonable cause for exemption.

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There are recognized exceptions where a study may not require ethics approval. These include:

  • When national laws exempt a particular type of study from requiring ethical approval (e.g. US law exempts oral history interviews from ethics approval).

  • When a study has been granted an exemption by an ethics or institution committee.

  • When there was no ethics or institutional committee in place at a researcher’s institution at the time the study was conducted.

All human beings, living and deceased, should be treated with dignity and respect in academic research. Ethical research practices require that researchers are vigilant in ensuring that their work minimizes risk and avoids harm to participants. Special consideration should be given to protecting the dignity and wellbeing of vulnerable participants, including but not limited to children, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, institutionalized persons, or anyone who may lack capacity to provide informed consent.

  • Vulnerable populations: Authors should be familiar with disciplinary, institutional, and national/international guidelines regarding research on vulnerable populations. The European Commission, the Global Association of Human Trafficking Scholars and the Economic and Social Research Council have produced guidance for research involving these groups. 

  • Research involving children and adolescents: Written informed consent must be obtained from the parent/guardian of participants who are not legally adults, except in rare cases where children can provide consent on their own (e.g., emancipated minors). Age of legal adulthood is determined by the country where study participants are based, which is typically between ages 16-18. Ideally, researchers should also seek assent from children, where possible. A statement to confirm informed consent has been obtained must be included within the manuscript. In settings where verbal informed consent has been obtained rather than written informed consent, this must be explained and stated within the manuscript.

  • Human remains: Archaeological work involving human remains must comply with all necessary ethical guidelines (including observing best practice in data collection, recording, and deposition) and researchers must obtain all necessary permits from relevant authorities/site owners for access to sites and handling of the human remains prior to conducting the work. An example of such guidelines can be found here: Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains (Chartered Institute for Archaeologists). 

  • Images: Researchers must ensure that participants fully understand the benefits and risks of being included in photographs and how the photographs will be used, stored, and circulated.

  • Derogatory and Stigmatizing Language: Non-stigmatizing and non-discriminatory language should be used when describing groups by race, ethnicity, age, disease, ability, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other identity category. Where a particular study may necessitate the inclusion of derogatory or offensive language (e.g., direct quotes, transcribed interviews, lyrics, etc.), authors should make clear the scholarly purpose for such terminology.

  • Content warnings: Authors should consider including content warnings when articles contain particularly graphic or culturally sensitive content (e.g., violence, sexual abuse, human remains).

  • Authors must be prepared to provide further information and documentation regarding research methods and approvals to the journal editorial office upon request. 

  • Journal editors and the publisher reserve the right to reject articles that do not adhere to the above considerations.

All researchers should be prepared to answer questions about study design, ethics approval, and the informed consent process, along with any other questions that may arise, even after publication. They should be prepared to present anonymized data and documentation of ethical approval to the journal’s editorial office upon request. To this end, researchers should be sure that these materials are stored accessibly and securely.

Archaeology and paleontology

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Authors must provide detailed information about the methods used for the research work and the analysis (including phylogenies). Detailed information must also be provided about the specimens (including numbers and repository information), museum name (if applicable) and geographic location. 

If national/international regulations require permits for the research and/or publication of the work, permits must be obtained from the relevant authority and/or site owner. Any discoveries from these sites must be reported to the relevant authorities/site owner prior to submission of the manuscript, as required by relevant authorities. 

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Authors must include a statement within the manuscript to confirm that all necessary permits were obtained along with the name of the authority, owner and/or individual who provided it. 

Communication research

Scholars in the field of communication should be aware of restrictions for using copyrighted content for their work. Authors are advised to consult appropriate guidance such as the Code of best Practices in Fair Use for Scholarly Research in Communication published by The International Communication Association, and in our guidance on Use of third party materials

Covert observational research

Covert observational research requires particular ethical and legal considerations but may be acceptable in rare cases with a strong justification. Researchers must also consider the emerging legal frameworks surrounding rights to privacy, which vary considerably across the globe. Authors conducting covert research should consult relevant guidelines, such as those outlined in the British Sociological Association’s Statement of Ethical Practice.

  1. A statement within the manuscript providing a full rationale for the covert nature of the research and the name of the ethics committee(s) that approved the study (and include the reference/permit numbers where available). 

  2. If the study takes place on a social-media platform (such as Tinder), researchers should consult the platform’s code of conduct and/or terms of use to determine whether they need the platform’s permission to include user data in their research.  

  3. The use of aliases or online personas should be declared. 

  4. Ideally, researchers should seek informed consent from the study participants after completion of the study.

Please note that journal editors, scholarly societies and associations, and the publisher reserve the right to deem covert research unsuitable for consideration in their journal. 

Ethnographic research and interview studies

Ethnographic research should be conducted in accordance with national laws, codes, and guidelines, as well as principles and best practices in the field, such as those outlined by the American Anthropological Association. Researchers conducting ethnographies and interviews should also obtain approval from their ethics or institutional committee prior to conducting the research.  Participants should be fully informed about the purposes of the research, how ethnographies/interviews will be used, stored, and published, and expectations around privacy and confidentiality.

A statement should be included within the manuscript confirming that the study received ethical approval, that interviewees have been anonymized, if appropriate for the study design, and that all participants provided informed consent.

“Helicopter” research and ethics dumping

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Research conducted abroad carries particular ethical implications. Particularly when researchers based in high-income countries, regions, areas, or institutions, undertake research projects in location/s with limited research ethics oversight or weaker socio-economic standing. This can lead to an inequity between the researchers and the local community. To this end, researchers are encouraged to:

  • Obtain ethics approval from local institutions/committees based on where the research is conducted

  • Include and partner with local participants, researchers, and communities throughout the research process

  • Involve local participants, researchers, and communities in the interpretation, analysis, and dissemination of research findings

  • Include local collaborators/volunteers who meet the threshold for inclusion as an author (or mention them in the acknowledgements if they do not)

Researchers are also encouraged to include a statement explaining how they considered their impact on the environment/local population. And, why it was essential that they had to perform the study in that location/community.

Researchers should also be mindful of ethics dumping. This is where researchers leading a study deliberately locate their study or establish research collaborations with the intention of circumventing international standards of research ethics and responsible research practices. In doing so, the safety and welfare of the public, of human research participants and/or experimental animals is not appropriately prioritized, and valid informed consent from research participants is lacking.

Researchers should be aware that the journal editorial team may ask questions about these considerations at any point in the submission or publication process. Taylor & Francis reserve the right to reject (pre-publication) or retract (post-publication) any submission where ethical concerns cannot be adequately addressed.

Further recommendations that can be considered are available at A Global Ethics Code.

Oral histories

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Oral histories should be conducted in accordance with best practices in the field, such as the principles outlined by the Oral History Society and the Oral History Association

Researchers conducting oral histories are expected to have obtained full informed consent from interviewees prior to beginning an interview, but oral histories are typically excluded from requiring ethical approval, so long as the study is considered low risk. Researchers are advised to consult institutional requirements and national laws.

Research on indigenous communities

Authors should be familiar with specific research ethics and informed consent procedures and permissions necessary to conduct research on indigenous peoples and communities. Authors should also be attentive to cultural sensitivities and restrictions associated with the publication of content, including images, in their manuscripts. In many indigenous communities, additional permissions may be required from community leaders and/or elders.

Authors working with indigenous communities are advised to consult appropriate guidelines for ethical research and publishing (including requirements for authorship) such as: 

Social media research

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Scholars using data gathered from social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc.) should be aware of national laws and ethical guidance on the gathering of and publication of such information.

When researchers are interacting with individuals or obtaining private information, they should obtain ethical approval prior to conducting the study. Researchers should also ensure appropriate anonymization and obtain informed consent from anyone who could potentially be identified.

Please note that not all data can be collected as fair use or a copyright exception. Authors must check the social media platform’s user policy or terms of service in the region where the research was conducted to determine whether permission is required from the platform.

Authors are advised to consult appropriate guidance such as the ethics statement and framework from Social Data Science Lab the ethical guidelines for digital research from the British Sociological Association.

Studies using third-party datasets

When using datasets, researchers must obtain permission from the owner of the dataset, unless the dataset is publicly available and unrestricted. Data acquired should be kept anonymized unless otherwise advised by the dataset owners. Where participants’ details are not required to be anonymized, authors must be prepared to provide evidence that written informed consent, including consent to publish [LINK to consent to publish identifiable information section], was obtained from participants. 

Authors should include a statement within the manuscript to confirm that they obtained necessary permissions, unless the dataset is publicly available and unrestricted(in which case researchers are encouraged to note this in the manuscript).

Survey studies

Researchers must make sure they have informed all participants why the research is being conducted, whether anonymity is assured, how the survey data will be stored, and informed of any other associated risks involved in participation in the study.

Researchers should also be aware of and adhere to any legal or institutional requirements regarding data protection. Where required by national law or the researcher’s institution, ethical approval must be obtained prior to conducting the study. In settings where ethics approval for survey studies is not required, authors should include a statement to explain this within the manuscript.