Ethical Considerations in the Research of Applied Linguistics

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  • Topic: Research, Quantitative research, Scientific method
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Ethical considerations in the research of applied linguistics

JIAN HE
Monash University

1. Introduction

In applied linguistics researches, there are unlikely considerable issues related to ethics or morality due to the harmlessness of the nature of language study. And in most cases, the participants are even able to get more or less some benefits from the research. For example, the participants may have an opportunity to gain certain knowledge of a target language via practicing the tasks in the research if they are second language learners. However, once the human subjects being investigated, there will possibly raise potential risks and discomforts from the procedure of the research, for instance, the disclosure of privacy could be damaging to a person. A qualified researcher must place a premium on ethical considerations when doing the research planing , even if it appears to be of minimally risky to the subjects. In this paper, I tend to discuss on some prominent ethical issues concerned by the literatures of research methodology and to address some of them with a combination of the recommended solutions from the literatures and my own reflections after reading those texts. After all, as it is difficult to transact all of the ethical issues in all circumstances, to highlight some ethical dilemmas and make the tricky points noticeable to the researchers seems to be worth doing. And hopefully, every researcher of applied linguistics finds a balance point between the ethical considerations and their willingnesses of producing optimum researches. Anyway, whether ethically conducting the research or not also involves in the criteria for evaluating the quality of a research.

2. Researchers' value

As the German sociologist Weber (1946) indicated, "all research is contaminated to some extent by the value of the researcher" (cited in Silverman, 2004: 257). How researchers carry out their researches therefore highly depends on the value they hold. For example, generally qualitative researchers favour rich and detailed data for exploring their questions in depth, whereas quantitative researchers place an emphasis on the objectivity and generalizability of the research and the descriptive work is not seen as valuable as statistics. To conclude an ethical point of view into the content of value, on one hand, it is the researchers' consideration of protecting the rights and privacy of human participants, on the other hand it is the researchers' interest and responsibility to their researches. Sometimes, certain dilemma rises from the conflict of both side. Silverman (2004) notes that both qualitative researcher and quantitative researcher are impinged by such dilemma of willing to fully inform the participants with the details of the research but not contaminating the quality of their research by letting the participants know too much about the research questions. In this sense, the researchers have to ponder over some dilemmas emerged in the course of conducting their researches and to clarify the value to themselves about how to use the sample, adopting a particular method and doing what kind of research. In Cohen et al.'s (2000:63) words: "What is the poper balance between the interest of science and the thoughtful, humane treatment of people who, innocently, provide the data?" (cited in Dornyei, 2007:65) If we can provide a precisely constructed value frame as the answer to the following questions: How much percentage should the ethical considerations take in researchers' value frame and to what extent would it effect the research procedure and the results, there would have been an overall guideline for all the researcher to follow which offers them an explicit instruction on dealing with any ethical issues by a fixed principle. However, it is unlikely that even a very well-built ethical guideline could always be a proper one across various situations. Primarily, the applied linguistics...
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