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CCCC Position Statement

CCCC Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct of Research in Composition Studies - Previous Revision

Conference on College Composition and Communication, November 2003


Composition specialists share a commitment to protecting the rights, privacy, dignity, and well-being of the persons who are involved in their studies. These guidelines are intended to assist them in fulfilling this commitment.

The guidelines apply to all efforts by scholars, teachers, administrators, students, and others that are directed toward publication of a book or journal article, presentation at a conference, preparation of a thesis or dissertation, display on a website, or other general dissemination of the results of research and scholarship. The guidelines apply to formally planned investigations and to studies that discuss writers and unpublished writing that composition specialists encounter in other ways, such as when teaching classes, holding student conferences, directing academic programs, conducting research in nonacademic settings, or going about their professional and personal lives.

The guidelines do not apply to studies that composition specialists conduct solely for the purpose of improving their own practice or solely for discussion within their own school, school district, college, or university. However, even in the latter types of studies, composition specialists carefully protect the rights, privacy, dignity, and well-being of the persons they study. These guidelines suggest ways to accomplish this goal.

Composition specialists are encouraged to seek additional ways beyond those identified in these guidelines to assure that they treat other people ethically in their research.

Compliance with Policies, Regulations, and Laws

Composition specialists learn about and comply with all policies, regulations, and laws that apply to their studies. If their work is subject to review by an Institutional Review Board (IRB),1 they submit their plans for advance review and approval, and they conduct their studies in accordance with the approved research plans. If their studies are subject to an alternative review process at an institution that does not have an IRB, they comply with this process. Composition specialists who believe that their studies are exempt from any regulation or review process contact the appropriate committee or authority for confirmation. If they do not work or study at an institution with an IRB or other review process, they contact colleagues at other institutions so they can learn about and follow the procedures IRBs require. Composition specialists who are uncertain whether their institutions have an IRB or alternative review process initiate the inquiries necessary to find out for certain.

When conducting studies that their IRBs determine to be exempt from IRB review, composition specialists follow the applicable provisions of these guidelines.

While complying with the final decision of their IRBs, composition specialists may educate and negotiate concerning IRB requirements or restrictions that hamper research without increasing protection of the rights, privacy, dignity, and well-being of the persons studied.

Maintaining Competence

Composition specialists assure that they and their assistants are appropriately trained and prepared to conduct the studies they undertake. Training and preparation may include enrollment in courses, study of relevant published research and methodological discussions, and consultation or collaboration with experienced researchers. Composition specialists strive to refine their competence and to keep apprised of the ongoing discussion of best practices in research (see the “Selected Bibliography” section).

Obtaining Informed Consent

When asking people to volunteer to participate in a study, composition specialists explain the study in a way that enables the potential participants to understand the following points:

  1. The purpose of the research and its possible benefits.
  2.  What participants will be asked to do and how long it will take.
  3. What the composition specialists plan to do with the information or data they obtain from participants.
  4. Any potential discomforts or harms one might incur as a result of participating.
  5. Whether or not composition specialists intend to include information in research reports that would render participants identifiable. (Composition specialists always honor participants’ requests that reports contain no personally identifiable information including information that would make them identifiable to persons familiar with the research site.)

In addition, composition specialists emphasize the following points:

  1. Participation is completely voluntary.
  2. Participants may withdraw at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which they are otherwise entitled.

For studies involving minors or adults who have legal guardians, composition specialists obtain written permission from the parents or legal guardians and also the assent of the minors or adults. If required, composition specialists also gain the permission of sponsoring institutions, such as public schools or private workplaces. They are careful to observe that whatever terms of access they agree to are consistent with the stipulations of applicable IRB regulations and the provisions of these guidelines.

These guidelines concerning informed consent are intended to complement (not replace) any additional requirements of applicable policies, regulations, and laws.

Conducting Studies Involving Classes

When conducting studies involving classes, composition specialists give primary consideration to the goals of the course and fair treatment of all students. Toward that end, they take the following measures, whether the students are members of their own classes or are from classes taught by other people:

  1. They design their studies so that participation is completely voluntary.
  2. They assure that volunteering, declining to volunteer, or deciding to withdraw after volunteering will not affect a student’s grade.
  3. They assure that pursuit of their research goals will not hinder achievement of the course’s educational goals.
  4. They assure that all students will receive the same attention, instruction, support, and encouragement in the course, whether or not they have volunteered to participate in the composition specialists’ study.
  5. They assure that reports on the research do not include information about students who did not volunteer.
  6. If there is a possibility that one or more of the volunteering students have changed their minds since the study began, composition specialists obtain confirming consent at the end of the course.


When conducting studies with individuals such as subordinates or others whose well-being depends on the composition specialist’s opinions, decisions, or actions, the composition specialist takes special care to protect prospective participants from adverse consequences of declining or withdrawing from participation. 2

To avoid situations in which students feel that their decision to participate (or not) in a study might affect their instructors’ treatment of them, composition specialists recruit participants from other classes or other sources unless the topic of the research or other special circumstances require that the study involve the composition specialists’ own students.

Responding to Questions

Composition specialists provide those invited to participate an opportunity to ask questions about the study. When asked questions by participants during or after a study, composition specialists reply in as timely a manner as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of the project.

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Reporting Statements

In their publications, presentations, and other research reports, composition specialists quote, paraphrase, or otherwise report unpublished written statements only with the author’s written permission. They quote, paraphrase or otherwise report spoken statements only with written permission or when the speaker uttered the words in a public forum. Composition specialists always obtain written permission to use a spoken statement they believe was made in confidence with the expectation that it would remain private.

When quoting, paraphrasing, or reporting unpublished writing and when reporting (with permission) oral statements made in private, composition specialists respect the writer’s or speaker’s wishes about whether or not to include the writer’s or speaker’s name or identifying information. When the writers or speakers are minors, composition specialists obtain written permission from the parents or legal guardians and also the assent of the minors. When composition specialists have used a consent process approved by an IRB or similar committee, they have obtained the necessary permission.

Composition specialists report written and spoken statements accurately. They interpret the statements in ways that are faithful to the writer’s or speaker’s intentions, and they provide contextual information that will enable others to understand the statements the way the writer intended. When in doubt, composition specialists check the accuracy of their reports and interpretations with the writer or speaker. They are especially sensitive to the need to check their interpretations when the writer or speaker is from a cultural, ethnic, or other group different than their own.

When discussing the statements they quote, paraphrase, or otherwise report, composition specialists do so in ways that are fair and serious and cause no harm.

Using Videotapes, Audiotapes, and Photographs

Because videotapes, audiotapes, and photographs allow individuals to be identified, composition specialists include them in conference presentations, publications, or other public displays only with written permission from all persons whose voices and/or images were recorded or shown unless these persons were taped or photographed while speaking in or attending a public forum. When the persons taped or photographed are minors or adults with legal guardians, composition specialists obtain written permission from the parents or legal guardians and also the assent of the minors or adults. When composition specialists have used a consent process approved by an IRB or similar committee, they have obtained the necessary permission.

Describing Individuals and Groups

Composition specialists describe individuals and groups fairly and accurately, in ways that are accountable to the data, observation, or other evidence on which the descriptions are based. They describe other people in ways that are fair and serious, cause no harm, and protect privacy.

Using Unpublished Writing Collected Outside of an IRB-Approved Study

When studying unpublished writing samples (e.g., job application essays) that have been collected outside of a study approved by an IRB or other process, composition specialists determine whether their planned use of these samples is consistent with the policies governing research at their institutions and, if different, the institution at which the samples were collected.

Selected Bibliography

CCCC has compiled a selected bibliography of sources on the ethical conduct of research involving human participants. It is available at


  1. An institutional review board is a committee established under the federal regulation for the protection of research participants (45 CFR 46). Each IRB is legally responsible for assuring that all research involving human participants that is conducted under the aegis of its institution complies with this regulation. For more information, visit the website of the federal Office for Human Research Protections:
  2. This sentence is adapted from the American Psychological Association Ethics Code, 6.10.c.

Created as an extension of the "CCCC Guidelines for the Ethical Treatment of Students and Student Writing in Composition Studies" and approved by the CCCC Executive Committee, November 2003.

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