When conducting academic research (regardless of the type of research or the stage you are at in your studies), it is important to have a grasp of basic research ethics and to make sure that your research is conducted appropriately and with integrity. ‘Research ethics’ is a very broad field, but at undergraduate level, your main focus should be on grasping the concept of academic integrity and ensuring that you apply its key principles when doing and reporting on your research.

While most of your research at this level is likely to be secondary (that is, researching the work of others), you may also engage in some primary research (that is, original research that you design and carry out yourself), particularly in the later stages of your degree. Principles of academic integrity and honesty apply to both types of research. 

Here are three key principles of academic integrity:

Do not twist the facts to suit your hypothesis: A hypothesis is an idea or a statement that can be tested through research. Here are some examples of hypotheses:

  • Plastic has hitherto untapped potential as a building material.
  • Universities serve to reproduce socioeconomic advantage.
  • Global warming is not caused by human activity.

A hypothesis is not a truth. The point of almost all academic research is to test hypotheses for truth. You do this by considering all of the available evidence (both in support of and undermining of the hypothesis you are testing), and presenting the evidence as faithfully, objectively and fairly as you can. It is really important that you don’t ignore, downgrade or misrepresent evidence that does not support your hypothesis, although of course you can question the reliability or validity of that evidence if there is objective justification for this. Acknowledge and give due consideration to all of the relevant evidence and perspectives that you encounter in the course of your research.

Give due credit to other people and their work: Whether you are replicating an author’s research methodology, using a juicy quote that you have come across in your reading, outlining the history of an idea or concept, or including a photograph or other image in your research project, you are required to give due credit to the people who came up with these things. It should hardly need to be said that copying, pasting, and modifying the work of others without giving credit is an absolute no-no, as is getting someone else to do your research and then trying to pretend that it is yours. At NUI Galway “[a]ll work submitted by students for assessment, for publication or for (public) presentation, is accepted on the understanding that it is their own work and contains their own original contribution, except where explicitly referenced using the accepted norms and formats of the appropriate academic discipline” (NUI Galway code of practice for dealing with plagiarism).

It is unfair and unethical to pass other people’s ideas or contributions off as your own, or to fail to acknowledge their contribution to a body of knowledge. Make sure that you understand the definition of plagiarism, the different ways in which it can occur, and the penalties that apply if you are caught doing it. Protect yourself and your reputation by learning how to correctly reference the work of others. Why not check out this guide from the library on Research Skills.

Do not submit the same or similar work in different contexts without declaring that you are duplicating your work:  As well as stealing, copying, or purchasing other people’s ideas or intellectual property (whether deliberately or otherwise), you can plagiarise your own work. This occurs if you resubmit a piece of work – or an extract from a piece of work – that you have already submitted for grading in another context, whether it has been modified or not. Remember: academic integrity incorporates the principle that you should make an original contribution every time that you conduct research or complete an assignment.

As you progress and maybe continue to postgraduate study, you will need to develop a deeper understanding of research ethics, including requirements to:

  • Declare any potential conflicts of interest
  • Obtain informed consent from research participants
  • Observe data protection laws and policies and respect the confidentiality and privacy of research participants
  • Protect human and animal safety, welfare and rights as much as possible
  • Respect cultural and other sensitivities and differences
  • Share your data when appropriate 

See this Library Guide on academic integrity for more, including examples of plagiarism in the news, videos demonstrating ways to avoid it, and information about citation and referencing.