Linguistics and English Language ethics information

Portal link

All submissions for ethical approval must use the PPLS-wide Ethics Submission Portal.

All new submissions should use the GDPR-compliant consent form templates below.

LEL Honours and MSc students: do not submit an application to the portal yourself. You should do this with your supervisor, and your supervisor must submit the application. Full instructions are here.

Reviewers and drop-in ethics office hour

The LEL Ethics team: Drs. Vicky Chondrogianni (PPLS Research Ethics Convenor), Lauren Hall-Lew (LEL convenor), Jenny Culbertson, and Alice Turk are regular panel members. Drs. Claire Cowie, Itamar Kastner, Simon Kirby, Mits Ota, Bert Remijsen, and Sumin Zhao serve as extended panel members reviewing student submissions.

Have questions about ethics or applying for ethics approval? Contact the LEL convenor at

Information for those carrying out research involving live subjects in Linguistics and English Language

Some of the information provided here is adapted from the Human Subjects Manual Stanford University. It also draws on principles for ethical research and good practice in research that have been established by the American Anthropological Association in their Code of Ethics.

For researchers working in Psychology, please see guidance here.

Guidance for Staff and PhD students

In LEL (and Phil), the process for obtaining ethics approval for research projects is the same for staff, post-docs, and PhD students. If you are ready to begin the approval process, go here. However, you are encouraged to read through the information on this page to familiarise (or refresh) your knowledge of the ethical implications your research may have.

Guidance for Students

Every LEL dissertation (Honours or MSc) must include evidence of ethical approval for all projects involving collection of data from live participants or use of pre-existing data where there are potential ethical implications. Ethical approval is sought by the dissertation supervisor in consultation with the student.

  • If you are conducting a project which does not involve research with live participants or pre-existing data with potential ethical implications, then please see guidance here.
  • If you are conducting research with live human participants, please continue reading about the informed consent process, and how to create a consent form.
  • For a complete outline of the ethics process for MSc and honours students, please go here.

Informed consent

General guidance:

First, check out this short video about written consent.

Key points:

  • All human subjects in any research must give voluntary and informed consent to their participation in the research.
  • This should be obtained in advance of any data collection.
  • In order for informed consent to be considered to be valid, the participant must:
    • have the legal capacity to give consent,
    • be able to give consent freely without any element of coercion,
    • have enough knowledge of the subject matter that s/he can make an informed decision as to participation.
  • It is the responsibility of the researcher, not the subject, to obtain this consent, and to ensure that the consent is valid.

More details about the components of informed consent:

  • Legal capacity: If you will be working with subjects who do not have the capacity to give their own consent, such as infants or children, the elderly, or other vulnerable populations (disabled children or adults, prisoners, people in care, etc.), you must gain informed consent from legal caregivers. Note that teachers, nursery/nursing home nurses, GPs, etc., generally cannot give final consent for those in their care. Most other subjects should give their own consent.
  • Free consent: All subjects, or subjects’ caregivers, should be made aware that they are under no obligation to participate, that non-participation will not prejudice their continued care, educational progress, medical treatment (etc., as appropriate), and that they may withdraw from participation at any time, again without prejudicing their care, progress or treatment.
  • Informed decision: In order for a potential subject to make an informed decision as to their participation in any research, the subject must be made aware of the nature, (general) purpose and duration of the research, the method by which the research is to be conducted, and any risks or benefits which may come from participation in the research. This information must be provided by the researcher as part of an informed consent form. Please be aware of two issues:
    • Informed consent depends on descriptions of the study being comprehensible to participants. Please consider the population you are testing and consult with other experts/supervisor to ensure that you fulfill this criterion.
    • NB: This does not mean providing a summary of your experimental design or the variables you are manipulating. You do not need to (nor should you) provide information which would influence a participant’s behaviour (e.g., indicate how you expect them to behave).

For information about deception and incomplete disclosure (and the difference between them), see this page.

LEL specific guidance

Linguistics research involves other people in many ways: from long-term participant observation and elicitation of connected spontaneous speech through to controlled elicitation and the study of the physiology of speech production and perception. Here are some issues to take into consideration.

  • Use of  recorded speech or other experimental data: Participants must agree to how the data or recorded speech will be used, e.g. for a particular research project and its demonstrations, for general research and teaching use, or for the general public. Note that putting sound recordings on the world wide web constitutes general public use and must be agreed to; this includes depositing data with Edinburgh DataShare.
  • Experimental vs. qualitative/ethnographic research. Differences in research practice and method in linguistics are reflected in different ways of approaching the need to obtain prior informed consent. Two approaches are outlined in the following links. These differences are also reflected in the consent form templates below. Please use the approach/template most appropriate to your research.

Informed Consent in Experimental Research
Informed Consent in Qualitative and Ethnographic Research

About consent forms (and templates)

Please go to our dedicated consent form (and information sheet) page, and find the right template for your study.

Consent forms/information sheets in other languages
If you are collecting data in a language other than English, please submit for review copies of all consent/information forms in both English and the relevant local language(s).

What do you do with your consent forms?
Consent forms are confidential documents. No one should have access to consent forms other than researchers approved on the ethics protocol. Research staff who are PIs on projects should retain all consent forms on the project for at least three years following the completion date of the project. Consent forms should be stored in a secure location, and this location should be described in a data management plan or in the submitted ethics application. PI’s are encouraged to store digitized consent forms. In this case, originals must be securely disposed of/shredded. (The school office in DSB 7.03 has secure waste bags; this will change to console shredders in most resource rooms as of 3 December, 2018.)

Click on the link below to download a handout on consent form management for dissertation students:


Researchers may find it useful to include a debriefing of the study for participants at the close of the project. The debriefing process is a requirement for studies that employ deception. Please read this page, if you are considering using deception in your study. When deception is involves, the debrief form should include:

  • An explanation of what was being studied (i.e., purpose, hypothesis, aim) using lay terms and avoiding jargon.
  • An explanation of how participants were deceived.
  • An explanation of why deception was necessary in order to carry out the research.
  • An explanation of how the results of the deception will be evaluated.

If debriefing is used as a educational tool, participants should be given a simple, clear and informative explanation of the rationale for the design of the study and the methods used.

Data management

Researchers should have a plan for storage, maintenance and sharing of data, including:

  • Data collected or recorded from participants
  • Stimuli and software used to conduct experiments
  • Documentation of informed consent (i.e., signed consent forms)

LEL Staff, PhD, Honours/MSc students will be expected to outline their plans for data management in all applications for ethical approval. However, no separate DMP document is required.

Please visit this page for detailed information and resources about data storage and sharing.

NB: If your funding agencies requires a separate Data Management Plan (DMP), here are some templates, resources available.

What happens to the data when you leave Edinburgh? When individuals involved in a research project leave the university, they may retain research data for projects on which they have worked. We recommend that original data also be retained at Edinburgh by the PI/Supervisor.

Staff funded research projects

All staff funded projects (in any PPLS subject area) must be registered on the ethics portal, regardless of level (i.e., even level 0).

External ethics bodies: collaborations with other universities

If you are collaborating on a research project with researchers external to Edinburgh, please note the following.

  • External researchers can and should be listed in your application for ethical approval.
  • If ethical approval has been obtained through another university ethics board, but you will interact with research participants or have access to raw data, then you must log your project through the ethics submission portal. In that case, the only documentation required is evidence of prior external ethical approval. Your application will be automatically approved.
  • Please note that in some cases, collecting data outside of the UK may trigger the need to apply for additional insurance through the university.

External ethics bodies: NHS, Research sponsors, research with children and other vulnerable groups

If you intend to attempt to solicit research subjects from external bodies, such as state primary or secondary schools, the NHS (including prison service), or charities funded by the NHS, you may have to undergo a process of ethical review and approval with these bodies. In some cases, you may be required to have the university as a researcher sponsor. Plan to do this well in advance of starting your data collection, as these processes may take a number of months.

Complete the National Health Services ethics self-assessment
What requires Research Sponsorship through CAHSS?

Note: if you have obtained NHS ethics approval for your project, this approval pre-empts our ethics review process. You must log your project through the ethics submission portal, but the only documentation required is evidence of prior NHS ethical approval.

Working with vulnerable groups. If you intend to work with children, the elderly, or any other vulnerable group, you may be required to undergo further disclosure processes. Please see this page for information about conducting studies with children, and applying for Basic Disclosure or the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.

Other checks and disclosures — insurance, adverse outcomes, social media data

The University maintains an insurance policy for all level 1+ projects. If you need proof of insurance (e.g., for funding purposes), contact Sylvia Rennie who will then coordinate with the Insurance Office.

Adverse outcomes. If any participant in your study reports an adverse affect, please notify the LEL Ethics Committee (

Using data from social media. If you intend on analysing text obtained from social media (particularly where posts are not entirely public like Facebook), please first read this page, and then discuss it with your supervisor.

Recruiting through PPLS mailing lists

Researchers in PPLS and in Informatics are permitted to use PPLS mailing list to recruit participants. Please note the following:

  • Researchers external to PPLS/Informatics must have a named collaborator in PPLS/Informatics.
  • No PPLS Undergraduate mailing list may be used for participant recruitment.
    This holds as well for Psychology Undergraduate mailing lists. For questions about LEL and Philosophy Undergraduate mailing lists, please contact your Subject Area Research Ethics Convenor.
  • In order to use PPLS mailing lists you must indicate this in your ethics application, and provide the text you will send. This text that will be sent to potential participants must include a statement confirming that the project has PPLS ethics approval, .e.g.,

“This project has been approved by the [PPLS, Psychology, LEL/Philosophy] Research Ethics review panel.” (Please choose the relevant panel from this set.)

  • Please note that the above can be taken as a friendly request for Informatics-approved projected. In other words, we would appreciate seeing text in the email to indicate the project has Informatics ethics approval; any recruitment email without such text will be responded to with an inquiry about where ethical approval was obtained.

Submit a protocol for ethical review

As of March, 2017, to complete a new ethics protocol submission, or to view your existing submissions, use the PPLS-wide Ethics Submission Portal.

For a basic outline of the ethics process from start to finish, see this page.

For step-by-step instructions on using the submission tool, see this page.