Maintaining Confidentiality (Part 1)maintaining the confidentiality of participants. This confidentiality means not identifying individual participants and usually also not identifying the study site (e.g., a school, a company, or some other institution) or community partners, depending on what information you agreed to protect in your research plan submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for approval. This post points out a few places in your capstone study where you should be careful not to identify your study site inadvertently.
Dedication and acknowledgements:You may want to thank your participants and study site for allowing you to conduct your research. If so, remember to refer to them only in general terms rather than naming them as individuals or organizations.
Evidence of the problem at the local level:For EdD Doctoral Studies in particular, you may find yourself inadvertently citing statistics and other material from your study site to provide necessary evidence for your problem. For other capstone studies, you may face a similar issue when you need to explain the need for your research at your study site. The second post in this series on maintaining confidentiality will focus more on recommended strategies for writing about the site without revealing its identity.
Setting and participants:When you describe your setting, the study site, you may find yourself providing information such as region, state, school district, statistics, or other features of the site that inadvertently reveals your study site. For example, if you note that your study site is the only elementary school in a particular county and then name that county, you have effectively pointed out which school you are studying. Only provide relevant details of the setting and participants to avoid this problem.
Appendices:Students provide a wide range of materials in their appendices, and sometimes that material includes identifying information (in letterheads, signatures, and other content). In general, do not include any letters or other information that you have already submitted to the IRB for research approval. That material is on file with the IRB office and is generally confidential material such as research agreements from study sites. If you must include something that has identifying information such as names, addresses, and other contact information, redact that information.
Stay tuned for another post in 2 weeks with more recommendations on how to write about your study site without revealing its identity. You might also take a look at the post at the APA Style Blog, “Let’s Talk About Research Participants,” which provides some guidance on writing about individual participants without revealing their identities.
Dissertation Editor and Web Content Coordinator Paul Lai joined the editing team in 2011 and recently expanded his role into web content coordination for the Writing Center.