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TRIO McNair Undergraduate Research Guide: Informed Consent


Informed consent is the process through which a researcher obtains, as well as maintains, the permission of a person or a person's authorized representative to participate in a research study. Informed consent is achieved when a subject of your study receives full disclosure of the research plan and its intent, understands all of the information that is disclosed to him or her, voluntarily consents to participate in the study and is competent to do so, and understand they may withdraw from the study at any time. 

Obtaining Informed Consent

One of the most important ethical rules governing research is that individuals must voluntarily give their informed consent before participating in a study. However, the conditions under which you may be required to obtain permission from those being observed vary. For example, observations taking place in open, public spaces, such as at a park or the beach, usually do not require informed consent because there is no expectation that you cannot be observed. 

However, in most cases, you will need to obtain informed consent from those you are studying. According to the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections, the Code of Federal Regulations requires that specific information be provided to research subjects before they participate in a study. Rules related to conducting qualitative research at UWS are governed by the UW-Superior Institutional Review Board [IRB]. If your professor has asked you to write a field report involving methods of observation, be sure you understand the procedures you may be required to follow for obtaining informed consent. 

NOTE: The informed consent forms that you and your research subjects must sign have to be written in plain language. In addition, the form should not contain any exculpatory language. That is, subjects should not be asked to waive [or appear to waive] any of their legal rights, nor should they be asked to release the investigator or university from liability for negligence.