Reporting research raises ethics questions that need careful thought. What is the potential impact of your research? How could it be used or misused? How will people interpret your findings? What do readers need to know about your study’s research, including your approach to ethics?
Be aware that the responses of your readers affect how research is understood and used. People may misunderstand and misapply the findings of research, and it can be very helpful to think about how such misunderstandings might arise, when analysing your data and writing up your study. Once your work reaches the public domain, it is difficult to retain control over how it is represented. This can have consequences for the people you studied, both individually, or the wider groups you may claim to represent in your writing.
Your reporting of your research methods can also have an impact on other people. Thorough reporting – of what you did, with who and how – helps you to be accountable for your work to funders and others with an interest in the research. Such transparency is vital if your readers are to be able to evaluate the strength and nature of your research findings and make the best use of them.
By including a description of your approach to research ethics (and what actually happened in practice), you can also help researchers learn from each others’ ideas and experiences. Bear in mind too that journal editors and reviewers will increasingly want to know (a) what kind of ethics approval a study has had, and (b) that your methods have addressed ethics considerations.