Understanding Informed Consent in Dissertations and Theses: A Quick Guide and Checklist

Informed consent is the process through which a researcher gains permission from individuals or their authorized representatives to participate in a research study. This permission is not a mere signature on a piece of paper; it involves ensuring that participants fully understand the research’s purpose, procedures, potential risks, benefits, and their right to withdraw at any time. It’s about transparency, respect, and safeguarding the rights of those involved. And, most impotantly, it applies to dissertations and theses, too!

Informed Consent involves ensuring that participants fully understand the research’s purpose, procedures, potential risks, benefits, and their right to withdraw at any time

Now that we understand what informed consent is, let’s explore how to obtain informed consent in theses and disserations correctly.

The Context Matters

The conditions under which you need to obtain informed consent can vary. In open, public spaces where there’s no expectation of privacy, like a park or a beach, consent might not be necessary. However, in bounded observational spaces, such as a classroom, a homeless shelter, or a hospital emergency room, obtaining consent is crucial.

Rules and Regulations

When conducting research in the social sciences it’s essential to understand the procedures if you’re tasked with writing a field report that involves observation.

Writing an informed consent form can be a bit tricky, but it’s vital to cover all the bases. Here’s what a well-constructed form should generally include:

  • Research Information: Begin with a statement explaining that the study involves research. Describe the research’s purpose, expected duration, and the procedures involved.
  • Risks and Discomforts: Transparently outline any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts participants might encounter during the study. This includes potential embarrassing incidents that might need documentation.
  • Benefits: Mention any benefits participants can reasonably expect from the research. This might include incentives or contributing to a growing body of knowledge.
  • Alternative Procedures: Describe any alternative procedures that could be advantageous to the participant.
  • Confidentiality: Explain how the confidentiality of participants’ identities and records will be maintained. Often, pseudonyms are used to protect anonymity.
  • Level of Risk: Define the level of risk involved. In most observational studies, the risk should be minimal, meaning it’s no greater than what one encounters in daily life.
  • Contact Information: Provide contact details for any questions or concerns about the research and the rights of research subjects. Usually, this would be your professor or relevant authorities.
  • Voluntary Participation: State explicitly that participation is voluntary, and there will be no penalties for refusal or discontinuation. Mention your right to remove a participant from the study if necessary.

Remember, the informed consent form should be written in plain language, free from any exculpatory language that might waive participants’ legal rights or release the researcher or institution from liability for negligence.

Use this checklist to navigate informed consent in your thesis or dissertation writing project:

  1. Understand the Basics of Informed Consent:
    • Familiarize yourself with the concept of informed consent and its importance in research ethics.
  2. Review Institutional Guidelines:
    • Check your university’s or institution’s guidelines and policies regarding informed consent. Understand the specific requirements and procedures they recommend.
  3. Identify Participants:
    • Clearly define the participants or subjects of your research. Determine who needs to provide informed consent.
  4. Develop an Informed Consent Form:
    • Create a clear and comprehensive informed consent form that includes all the necessary elements. Ensure it is written in plain language and free from any legal jargon.
  5. Include Required Information in the Consent Form:
    • Make sure the informed consent form covers:
      • Research purpose and objectives
      • Procedures and expected duration of participation
      • Potential risks and benefits
      • Confidentiality measures
      • Contact information for questions and concerns
      • Voluntary participation and the right to withdraw
      • Use of pseudonyms or identifiers
      • Signature lines for participants and researchers
  6. Pilot Test the Consent Form:
    • Before distributing the form to participants, conduct a pilot test with a small group to identify any confusing or unclear language and make necessary revisions.
  7. Obtain Ethical Approval:
    • Submit your informed consent form and research protocol to your university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee for approval. Ensure that you receive ethical clearance before proceeding with data collection. For some institutions, it might be OK if your supervisor gives a go for the thesis (probably not so much for a dissertation project!).
  8. Seek Participants’ Informed Consent:
    • Present the informed consent form to potential participants in a clear and understandable manner.
    • Give participants adequate time to read and ask questions about the form.
    • Emphasize that participation is entirely voluntary, and there will be no repercussions for refusal or withdrawal.
  9. Collect Signed Consent Forms:
    • Ensure that all participants who agree to participate sign the informed consent form.
    • Keep signed copies securely stored and maintain confidentiality.
  10. Maintain Ongoing Communication:
    • Throughout the research process, maintain open and honest communication with participants. Address any concerns or questions they may have.
  11. Document Everything:
    • Keep detailed records of the informed consent process, including dates, times, and any clarifications provided to participants.
  12. Respect Participant Privacy:
    • Safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of participants’ information and data at all times.
  13. Monitor Compliance:
    • Regularly review your adherence to the informed consent process and ensure that it aligns with your ethical approval and university guidelines.
  14. Report Any Issues:
    • If any issues or challenges arise related to informed consent during your research, report them to your supervisor or the relevant authorities promptly.
  15. Include a Section in Your Thesis or Dissertation:
    • In your thesis or research report, include a dedicated section describing your informed consent process, how you obtained consent, and any modifications made during the study.


In conclusion, informed consent is a cornerstone of ethical research. It ensures that participants are well-informed, protected, and willingly participate in your study. So, whether you’re a student or a seasoned researcher, following these guidelines will help you navigate the ethical maze of informed consent with confidence and integrity.