Dr Jim’s Doctoral Thesis on Research Ethics

Here is a brief extract from my doctoral thesis, posted here primarily for the purpose of displaying the multi-coloured thinking heuristic that I devised.  In my published thesis, this had to be reduced to grayscale, but the directions for use includes references to the colours, so if you are reading through my thesis, and want to see the full-colour version, then here it is, below:

4.5.1.  Introductory comments

I have recently – meaning early 2008 – developed an ethical research thinking heuristic which could be used as a guide to action by Doctoral research tutors and students.  It consists of two main parts: The illustration in Figure 4.3 below, and the elaboration in the legend (or key) that follows the illustration.

The illustration follows next, in Figure 4.3 below.

Figure 4.3

   Figure 4.3. My ethical research thinking heuristic

My thinking heuristic, in Figure 4.3, consists of twenty-four elements, including values, principles, processes and events/objects.  This structure was inspired by a significantly different (though somewhat overlapping) twenty-element model in Seedhouse (1988: 141)[1].  My heuristic is organized into five hierarchical levels, working outwards from a core of four red requirements.  Those four elements are surrounded by four rectangular rings.  The first three of those rings each contains four elements; while the outer ring contains eight elements.

(a) How to use it. In essence my heuristic is a way of graphically displaying a hierarchical list of the most relevant values, principles, processes and events/objects.  The aim is to optimize the territory to be explored and covered by Doctoral tutors and students, by providing a map of the most important elements of the territory that need to be considered, plus some guidance on how to relate to those elements.

This heuristic can be used for the following purposes.

  1. To conduct a self-training programme in research ethics (for Doctoral tutors or/or students);
  2. To design the ethical research component of a Doctoral research programme;
  3. To plan a scheme of work.

Before I present the legend which elaborates and explains each of the twenty-four elements in Figure 4.3 above, let me explain the best way to use this heuristic.  This step represents ‘author as teacher’, promoting effective learning; or modelling some approaches to teaching research ethics.

  1. Look through the twenty-four elements of the heuristic model above, and select up to seven of them (plus or minus two) – cf: Miller (1956) – that are of most interest to you at this moment in time.
  2. It would be better to choose five or six of them rather than eight or nine, because of the small size of human working memory. (Simon, 1979).
  3. List your (let us say) five elements in priority order (for you), with the most important at the top of the list.
  4. Against each element, write a question or two about that element, in terms of what you hope to learn from this heuristic; or what you think it will cover[2].
  5. Then read through the legend, which follows; reading each element in turn; and noting down anything that comes to your attention that is relevant to your questions and goals.  (There may be things of relevance to your five elements in any or all of the twenty-four elements, so it is important to read the whole of the legend).

[1] Seedhouse’s (1988) model is designed to guide healthcare workers in their professional roles; and has the following four elements at the core: Create autonomy; respect autonomy; Respects persons equally; and Serve needs before wants. The first rectangular ring in his model contains four elements as follows: Promise keeping; Minimize harm; Intent to enable (beneficence); and Truth–telling.  The second ring contains: Increase of individual good; Increase of the good of a particular group; Increase of social good; and Increase of self-good.  The final outer ring contains: The responsibility to justify all actions in terms of external evidence; Effectiveness and efficiency of action; Wishes of others; The risk; Legal rights of others (the law); Codes of practice; Disputed facts; and The degree of certainty of the evidence on which action is taken.  These are clearly mainly different from my elements.

[2] Buzan (1973) presents evidence that more material is noticed, retained and recalled by a reader who looks for just one or two pieces of information from a text than is retained and recalled by a reader who tries to extract “all the information” from a text.  Northedge (1990: 25) argues that it is questions that make our reading interesting, and help us to engage with what is on the page.

If you have not seen my thesis, then I introduce it on the following page: Dr Jim’s Doctoral Research Thesis.***



I am also adding here a illustrated consideration of feminism and ethics, which is also in colour, which is not shown in my published thesis in paperback book form:

Feminist ethics heuristic