During the early stages of your PhD research project you will need to think about gaining ethical approval which is required before you can begin the actual research.
All higher education institutions have their own specific requirements in relation to research activity and are required to demonstrate ethical compliance. Research methods that involve human subjects (such as interviews and focus groups) will have to satisfy an external committee that all the legal, social, ethical and political issues have been considered.
The aim of ethical approval is to protect the participants involved in your research project and to protect the university from the risks associated with conducting research that has social, political and financial implications for the institution.
You will have to complete ethical approval forms detailing the nature of your project, its purpose, focus and your methodology and you must submit drafts of your information guidance for participants, consent forms, questionnaires, interview guide and any advertisements you will be placing to recruit participants.
The external committee will examine your project closely and will play particular attention to the ethical soundness of your research, how you have managed the risks, how you will protect the confidentiality of your participants and how you will gain informed consent.
It is a lengthy process and you will need to be at a stage in your research project where you have already decided on your research methods and have already drafted a questionnaire if you are using one and interview questions.
You may not get approved on the first submission: it is not uncommon for the external committee to request amendments, so allow enough time for gaining ethical approval within your research schedule to ensure you keep to any deadlines that have been set for you, or that you have set for yourself.
You should discuss ethical approval at length with your research supervisor, who will guide you in this process.
You may want to visit this website run by the Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) : The Research Ethics Guidebook, which is an excellent online resource.