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Summary Details

Query:   informed consent
Author:  Astrid Fiess
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Text/Corpus Linguistics

Summary:   A short while ago I posted a question about the need for written consent in sociolinguistic research.
I was overwhelmed by the massive amount of feedback. A lot of people supplied me with comments, links and/or exemplary consent forms (I did not paste the forms into this summary, but people's email addresses are attached) and the whole discussion was very helpful. Thanks a lot to everyone who answered!

Astrid Fie?


In general, written informed consent seems to be more important in North America than it is in Europe, although the idea is catching on here as well. The more sensitive and personal the information gathered is (esp. medical or psychological research) the more important it is to get written consent. Here are excerpts from the answers I got:

Andrea Osburne, Central Connecticut State University, (

For those of us doing research in second language acquisition, these forms and procedures often seem wildly inappropriate. Furthermore, the excessively legalistic language is beyond the capacity of many students of English as a Second Language and usually must be simplified. Nevertheless, these forms have been instituted as a result of documented abuses of subjects in medical research and have been widely extended to most research of any type in the United States, where human subjects (and federal subsidies) are involved.

Below I have pasted a sample consent form prepared by the Human Studies Council at my university; the Human Studies Council oversees all research on human subjects. If you would like more information, you can go to our website at and type ''consent form'' or ''Human Studies Council'' in the search box.

If I may add something encouraging here, when I first began requiring written rather than oral consent from subjects I was apprehensive that they would be reluctant to participate (some, for example, might be illegal immigrants, who are often wary of signing any documents presented to them). I have found, however, that subjects take the written consent procedure in stride.

Peter Hendriks, Japan Centre ANU ACT 0200 AUSTRALIA, (

Good idea to have written consent forms to cover yourself. Many places and universities around the world require that you go through the 'human ethics'process, and supply your consulants with information forms and consent forms. As part of it you sometimes have to submit to the ethics committee a list of the questions that you are going to ask.

The ANU (where I teach) has a bunch of stuff here:

I have attached a couple of my forms for you to look at as well.

Charley Rowe, Newcastle University (

The UK has something called the Data Protection Act (DPA), which you can easily find on the web. Largely the DPA is concerned with your anonymisation of the data you take, and the proper storage and preservation of the data. They don't mention much about what a consent form should look like, but it is certainly a good idea to have a consent form for the record, even if it is one you make yourself for the purpose of your study. If you are dealing with the Republic of Ireland, of course, different laws may apply. It may not matter at any rate, if you will not be *holding* the data in the Republic or in the UK; if you hold the data in Germany, perhaps the Datenschutz is the law to abide by.
Either way, it seems that an appropriate consent form is one that allows you maximum flexibility, and the subjects maximum protection against their identity being revealed (or against being able to be identified positively in any way by the data). The more ''personal'' the data (addresses, sensitive topics, etc), the more careful you need to be about gathering, storing, and reporting on the data.

Prof. Penelope Eckert, Stanford University (

No publisher has ever asked me for evidence of subjects' consent. They've never even asked for proof that my research has undergone human subjects review. At any rate, US federal guidelines for research involving human subjects allows for the waiver of signed consent under certain circumstances, so requiring signed consent would be unrealistic. I wouldn't worry about this if I were you, assuming that you aren't
identifying the speakers in your publication.

Elizabeth J. Pyatt, Ph.D., Penn State University (

The U.S. has a long set of regulations about conducting research with human subjects. Much of it applies for medical research, but psychological studies are also bound by these regulations. The idea is that subjects provide informed consent before participating. You may also want make appropriate notes on confidentiality (or lack thereof) and the fact that there is no physical pain involved (a true requirement).

Here is a page from a U.S. University talk about their regulations.

Kimberly R. LeVelle, graduate student, Portland State University (

Informed consent is very important, in fact we cannot even begin to do our research with approval from a committee that we have followed appropriate procedure and that our subjects have made an informed decision, that the research is worth the possible risks (this is true for sociological experiments and research too). Research is taken to mean all gathering and interpretation of data collected, including interviews, surveys, ethnographies, observations, just about everything you can think of. It also including doing any new interpretation of existing data- you have to file a new human subjects approval form and have it authorized.

I've included a link to the file that has all of the human subjects approval forms for my university and information. The file is in Adobe Acrobat, which you'll need to download to read the file. If this doesn't work for you, let me know and I can put important excerpts into an email message.

I think the most important thing to realize is how important informed consent is to American universities and publishers. A quick search online showed at least 20 American universities, US governmental sites, Canadian governmental sites, and major companies all with pages about human subjects approval (that was on the first page!) There's a lot a history behind our (American) strong feelings that it is important. It arose from the Nuremburg trials after WWII and the experimentation done on those held in camps. It became an important issue, and I think is even UN law (although it might just be NATO)

Dr. Anthea Fraser Gupta, University of Leeds (

This is now considered best practice in the UK too, and I imagine it will be in Ireland. It results from recent changes in the copyright law. The main reason for getting signatures is to ensure that you have the copyright of your recordings and can use them in different ways in years to come.

Dr. Claus Dieter Pusch, Albert-Ludwigs-Universitaet Freiburg im Breisgau (

Die Frage wurde schon in unterschiedlichen linguistischen Newsgroups diskutiert; ich glaube, dass Sie auch im LINGUIST-Archiv f?ndig werden. Jedenfalls kam dabei grosso modo immer heraus, dass die europ?ische Rechtslage sehr viel unklarer - oder, positiv gewendet: unkomplizierter - ist als die nordamerikanische. Jedenfalls scheint es keine Pflicht zu
einem formalisiert-schriftlichen Genehmigungsverfahren f?r die Verwendung von Interviewdaten f?r wissenschaftliche Zwecke zu geben. In Deutschland ist mir nichts derartiges bekannt. Ich habe selbst f?r meine Dissertation ausgiebig Gebrauch von Interviewdaten und spontansprachlichen Tonaufnahmen gemacht und bisher keine Probleme gehabt. Im Gegenteil: mancher Informant hat sich gefreut, dass seine Sprachdaten publiziert werden. Allerdings habe ich systematisch alle Eigennamen anonymisiert. Weitergehende Anonymisierung (z.B. das Ersetzen von Ortsnamen etc.) halte ich nicht f?r sinnvoll, da dadurch wichtige Parameter, die f?r eine weitergehende Verwendung der publizierten Daten durch Dritte von Nutzen sein k?nnten, maskiert werden.

Jan Anderssen, University of Massachusetts at Amherst (

Bei uns verlangt die Uni, dass psycholinguistische Studien genehmigt werden. Dazu wirde jede Studie von einem Kommittee ?berpr?ft, und meistens wird verlangt, dass Studienteilnehmer ein ''Informed Consent Form'' unterschreiben. Einige Vorlagen dazu findest du unter
Vermutlich ist f?r dich, falls du dich entscheidest deine Versuchsteilnehmer so etwas unterschreiben zu lassen, die ''No/Low Risk''-Vorlage am interessantesten:

Shelley Tulloch, Saint Mary's University, Halifax (

The following is a link to Canada's main funding organisation's
guidelines for obtaining ''free informed consent'', including what that consent should look like. These guidelines are generally practiced by Canadian sociolinguistic researchers, and are similar (though not identical) to American standards.

I've also included a link to Saint Mary's University web-site, which includes a sample written consent form (click on ''consent'' under ''REB forms''):

Tadhg.O hIfearnain, Ph.D., University of Limerick (

I think that a lot of the detailed new ethical rules are going too far. They are rather made for the legal protection of universities than to ensure that research is done in an ethical and responsible way. [translation from the original mail in Irish]


The following people also sent links or exemplary consent forms:

Galina Bolden, UCLA ( ?'' exemplary consent form

Prof. Peri Bhaskararao, Ph.D., ILCAA, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies ( ?'' exemplary consent form

Dr. Pius ten Hacken, University of Wales Swansea ( ?'', British research council, section on research ethics

LL Issue: 8.675
Date Posted: 07-May-1997
Original Query: Read original query


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