Responding to comments
Responding to comments from a research ethics committee has much in common with responding to criticisms in other areas of working life - e.g. a supervisor’s comments on a chapter draft, or peer review comments on a journal submission or grant proposal. In those cases, you expect to get comments, and you accept that responding to them is part of the process of progressing with your work. That’s true with ethics committees too. In the same way as with other forms of review, it is worth bearing in mind the following general points:
- Try not to be defensive, even if you disagree with the comments or think they are over-the-top. A hostile or defensive approach from the researcher might encourage the committee to think that the researcher has not understood the ethics considerations in their work, and cause the committee to entrench their position.
- Pick your battles when preparing your response. Just as when responding to an academic reviewer’s comments, look for points of agreement first - the committee might well have spotted something that you didn’t think of, or have given some helpful advice. In cases where you don’t agree, ask yourself whether it is worth ‘giving in’ for the sake of getting on more quickly with your research. Would the required changes have any adverse effect on the quality of your research? Or the timescale? Or the costs? If not, it might be easier to take on board the suggestions.
- Be thorough. Just as when writing your ethics application, a brief or hasty response can send the committee the message that you are not taking ethics questions seriously in your research. Remember that research ethics committees - by definition - take ethics very seriously (see our section who are you writing for?). Spending more time on your response could save you time later, if it means the committee accepts your response instead of coming back with more queries.
In thinking about how to respond, it is also worth considering the different categories of requirements from the committee. In some cases, they may simply want more information. Alternatively, they may suggest or require some minor changes to what you are planning to do. Finally, the committee may require some major changes to your proposed research methods. Read on in this subsection for guidance on how to approach those different categories of response.