Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee



Guideline for Applying for Ethics Approval


All researches in the Arts, law, Social Sciences, Management and Education; as well as other researches employing humanistic and social sciences approach, carried out by staff and students of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, involving human subjects, although risks levels may vary, should be submitted for ethics review.


Ethics Guidance

  • All staff and MA/PhD postgraduate research students who are engaged in funded or non funded research with human subjects employing humanistic and social sciences approach, should submit ethics review proposals to the Humanities and Social Sciences Ethics Committee.


  • It is the responsibility of researchers to identify where their research may raise ethical issues, familiarise themselves with the ethics procedure, and submit their work for review.
  • The application for ethics review would be reviewed and formally approved by the Committee before participant recruitment, data collection activities and planned research encounters.

Reasons for Making an Ethics Application

  • It gives you an opportunity to think through the ethical implications which inevitably arise when your research involves human participants.


  • It helps you to ensure that all participants are protected and that human participants are well-informed and have fully consented to take part in your research (and so are not likely to withdraw data or raise complaints later on).


  • It helps you to prioritize your own and other researchers’ safety.


  • It is now a requirement for publication by many major publishers and journals, who might ask you to confirm in your publication that your project has received ethics approval.


  • It is also a requirement for many funding bodies (EMKP, AHRC, British Academy, NRF etc.) to provide an ethics approval.


  • Many countries and organizations require you to carry the ethics approval document with you to confirm who you are and that what you are doing has been approved.
  • If you are doing a PhD, you may be required to provide documentation of ethics approval (e.g. in the thesis appendices) and it may jeopardize your PhD if you cannot provide it.


  • It will help you comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in relation to research data.



  • If a research contains significant ethical implications, the researcher (s) will need to write an application for ethics review and approval of the proposal and attach the required information. A soft copy should be sent to the Committee’s email address: [email protected] . Ten (10) Hard copies of the application materials are to be submitted to the Secretary, Humanities and Social Sciences Ethics Committee- (Phone No: 07033079543).


  • The proposal submitted for ethics review should not be longer than ten (10) pages but should include enough details for the Committee to be able to assess the ethical acceptability and implications of the study. If the proposal is longer than ten (10) pages, the Committee may request an executive summary/synopsis.


  • It is the applicant’s responsibility to ensure that their application to the Committee is complete and submitted on time; to track the progress of their application, and to respond to feedback from the committee and submit their revised applications on time.


The template below is to be used in making submissions to the Ethics Committee.



1) Title: Title of the proposed Study


3) Introduction, Background and Rational for the Research

There must be a clearly articulated purpose. Questions that could guide the applicant would be: For what purpose is this research done? What will be done with the findings of the research? For whose benefit is this research done?


3) Research Questions, Aim and Objectives

The research questions and the aim and objectives should be stated. This will provide a summary of the short- and long-term goals of the project and indicate clearly the problems and opportunities the project will help to address.


4) Methodology

The method proposed for data collection and analysis should be described in as much details as possible, as this will affect the validity of the study. The chosen method should fit the purpose of the study. It is often in the method where the risks of research lie. This section should depart from the typical student’s way of citing textbooks, toward a clearly articulated logic of how the research is designed, which scientific methods form part of the design, and most importantly, how the research will be carried out step by step. In this latter part, adherence to ethical principles should be explained as part of the process.




The Committee shall examine the data collection plan and the intended research method from the perspective of avoiding risk and harm. It shall also examine the documents drawn up for informing research participants and obtaining consent. The ethics review shall weigh up the potential harm to participants, their families or the researcher themselves as well as the damage resulting from participation in the research in relation to the intended scientific value of the research. Researchers and reviewers are expected to familiarize themselves with the requirements and considerations stated below, to ensure a thorough and relevant ethics review of proposals. The major ethics considerations are:



Written consent is usually preferred, and is expected by many participants. It provides written evidence (for you and for the participant) that the person voluntarily consented. You and the participant should sign two copies of the information sheet. Retain one sheet yourself and give the other to the participant.

Consent considerations include:

  • the voluntary nature of participation, including recruitment;
  • confidentiality;
  • anonymity;
  • information about the project;
  • the right to withdraw at any time (before, during or after data has been collected) without disadvantage to the participant.

If written consent is not possible (e.g. because it would be culturally insensitive or disruptive to the data collection process), then this should be explained and full details of the oral consent procedure given.

If people are being observed as part of a participant observation, or online, you must consider:

  • accessibility: to what extent would participants reasonably expect to be observed (e.g. is it a public space, or a private chatroom?);
  • how private do they perceive the event/place to be (e.g. do they expect their discussions to be repeated outside?).


The Informed Nature of Participation

Participants need to know what the project is about and what any risks or benefits of participating might be. This is usually done by writing an information sheet that is often distributed together with the consent letter. In the rare cases that an information sheet is not appropriate (e.g. because oral consent is preferable), please justify this and explain how participants will be able to contact you for further details or to withdraw from the study.

Focus Groups and Participant Observation

In the context of focus groups, the informed consent document must include a statement indicating that the researcher cannot guarantee that participants’ confidentiality will be maintained as other participants in the group may disclose what was discussed with persons outside the group. The researcher can request that focus group members respect each other’s confidentiality by not speaking to others about matters raised in the group.

In the context of participant observation, the researcher should:


  • Ensure that participants are aware of the researcher’s identity and purpose among the
  • Disclose and disseminate as broadly as possible through general announcements or other informal means the researcher’s purpose, research topic, and data gathering methods. Participants should be aware that any of their interactions with the researcher may constitute some form of data gathering.
  • Obtain permission from group leaders or spokespersons, where appropriate, but especially if they can help communicate to a community the researcher’s identity, purpose and At the same time, researchers must be careful to avoid situations where such public endorsements or announcements to the community create pressure to participate. Participants must remain free to avoid all interaction with the researcher.
  • To the extent possible, the researcher must try to obtain informed consent from each individual participant with whom the researcher interacts.

Social Media and online Research

Researchers using social media platforms to recruit participants or collect data, should reflect on and familiarise themselves with the specific ethical issues this type of research creates and how general principles of ethical research will be interpreted and applied.

The British Psychological Society notes in its guidelines for internet-mediated research that “the extent to which the research can be thought of as occurring within a private or public domain, given that those boundaries are often blurred online, may be difficult to decide. It is not always easy to determine which online spaces people perceive as ‘private’ or ‘public’ or under which circumstances they might be happy to be observed, or otherwise.”

Assessment of Possible Harm

Assessment of possible harm covers both harm to participants, and harm to you the researcher. Participants could potentially be harmed:

  • psychologically (e.g. if they get distressed or an interview provokes earlier trauma);
  • legally, politically or economically (e.g. if confidential information from the interview were shared, or if their anonymity were compromised without consent, or their employer felt the data did not represent their organisation, or the police viewed the material as criminal);
  • physically (e.g. individuals in domestic violence situations, political prisoners in regimes with punitive measures for talking to researchers, taking part in new clinical drugs testing).

You do not need to exaggerate the potential harm to participants, but you need to think about how you will ensure that your project adheres to the principle of ‘do no harm’. Involving collaborators with relevant experience (e.g. community groups, specialised counselling services, support networks) when designing your project can be crucial. It is also important to consider (and explain to the Ethics Board) how participants might benefit from participating in the research activities. Researcher safety is important to consider as well, particularly where the researcher is researching alone (e.g. interviewing in people’s homes), with groups that may pose difficulties (e.g. people with a history of violent behaviour), in situations of conflict or cultural contexts that might entail danger for individuals on the basis of their identity, e.g. gender, sexual, racial, ethnic or religious identity, or in countries with known risks (e.g. war zones, terrorism).

Data Protection and Storage

When writing your application, please explain:

  • if and how anonymity will be protected. If anonymity is not an option, it is your responsibility to ensure that this is clear to participants; you also need to ensure that you protect both participants and potential third parties from possible harm resulting from non-anonymised data;
  • how the security of the data will be guaranteed, for example, where and how it will be stored;
  • how long the data will be retained. Many people specify a time period (e.g. five years) before material will be destroyed; others say that material will be kept indefinitely; either way, you must include these details on the participant information sheet.


Declaration of Interests

A conflict of interests does not only arise if you have a commercial motive for research, it can also arise if your job title, position in life, or source of funding might affect your impartiality in relation to participants (e.g. if you are a Christian minister researching non-Christian faiths, or you are funded by a charity with a particular agenda). The solution is to inform participants if this is the case, let them know who your funders are, how and for what purpose the research will be used, and how and where the results may be published.


For submissions and more information about the ethics review process, contact the Secretary, Humanities and Social Sciences Ethics Committee Chinazom Obegolu, Personnel Unit. Phone: 07033079543 Email:  [email protected]