Human Subjects FAQ

Is my project considered research?

Does my research involve human subjects?

Is WWU IRB the right IRB for my project?

I think my project is exempt, do I still need to submit it for review?

Can my project still be considered research if I am majoring in a field that doesn't typically do research (Journalism, History, Art, etc)?

Do I always have to get informed consent?

Can any required elements by waived by the IRB?

What is considered minimal risk?

Should I use the words 'anonymous' or 'confidential' when describing my data security?

I want to do a survey of high school students, do I need parental consent? What is assent?

I plan to do research using social media (Facebook posts, Tweets, etc). Do I need IRB review?

Am I allowed to use course credit or extra credit in classes as incentives?

Can I ask the students I teach to participate in my research?

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Is my project considered research?

Research is a systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizeable knowledge.

If you are having trouble determining if this definition applies to your project, please view our expanded definition in our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual.




Does my research involve human subjects?

A human subject is a living individual about whom an investigator conducting research obtains data through intervention or interaction with the individual or obtains, uses, studies, analyzes, or generates identifiable private information.

If you are having trouble determining if this definition applies to your project, please view our expanded definition in our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual.




Is WWU IRB the right IRB for my project?

We are the right IRB if the research:

  • Is conducted by University faculty, staff, and students
  • Is performed on the premises of the University or its branches
  • Is performed with or involves the use of facilities or equipment belonging to the University
  • Involves University students, staff, or faculty as participants
  • Satisfies a requirement imposed by the University for an honors or a graduate degree program



I think my project is exempt, do I still need to submit it for review?

Yes, only the IRB can make the determination that your project is exempt.




Can my project still be considered research if I am majoring in a field that doesn't typically do research (Journalism, History, Art, etc)?

Yes! Review the definition of research above to determine if your project will be considered reearch and should be reviewed.




Do I always have to get informed consent?

Almost always, yes. Informed consent is a foundation of ethical research. It's about a person's understanding and willingness to participate, not about signing a form. Informed consent is a process where the subject is given adequate information about the study, time to consider the tasks, the opportunity to ask questions, and the ability to decide whether to participate.

In some circumstances the IRB may be able to waive documentation of consent or certain elements of consent, but these waivers must be well justified by the researcher and are not guaranteed.

Please view our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual for more information.




Can any required elements by waived by the IRB?

Depending on the risk level of your research, yes. In some cases the IRB can waive certain regulations, such as waiving documentation of consent, if there is a compelling reason. It is the investigator's responsibility to request waivers of consent or any specific elements of consent. The rationale for waiving a requirement cannot be convenience for the researcher.

Please view our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual for more information.




What is considered minimal risk?

Minimal risk is when the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests.




Should I use the words 'anonymous' or 'confidential' when describing my data security?

Rather than using either of these words, the IRB will ask you to describe how data will be collected.

In research there are no consistent usages of the words "anonymous" and "confidential." Anonymous in some contexts can mean no face-to-face interaction has ever occurred. In others anonymous is only referring to there being no link between data and identifiers. Confidential in some contexts can mean that the information is kept private, which would mean that anonymous data can also be confidential. In other contexts, confidential refers to the link between data and identifiers and therefore making “anonymous” and “confidential” mutually exclusive. For participants and researchers alike, this a problem for comprehension.

To prevent this confusion, describe in detail how the data is collected, whether it will ever be linked to a subject's identifying information, and how it is linked.




I want to do a survey of high school students, do I need parental consent? What is assent?

Yes. When you conduct research in the United States with subjects under 18 years old, you need to obtain parental consent for the minor to participate. Assent is when a minor agrees to participate in research. Minors over the age of 7 are considered capable of providing assent as well as receiving parental consent.

Please view our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual for more information.




I plan to do research using social media (Facebook posts, Tweets, etc). Do I need IRB review?

It depends. It's always a good idea to run your project past a Research Compliance Officer just to be sure. You need IRB review for any research involving intervention or interaction with human subjects or you will be obtaining private identifiable information.

Please view our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual for more information.




Am I allowed to use course credit or extra credit in classes as incentives?

Yes. Just like with monetary compensation, the IRB will want to know the amount of course credit or extra credit you plan to offer, or an estimated range. If course credit or extra credit is offered for research, a non-research alternative must be provided. These extra credit opportunities should be posted on Canvas.

Please view our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual for more information.




Can I ask the students I teach to participate in my research?

Yes, but special protections need to be in place.

The power dynamic between students and their professors/teachers and the influence this may have on consent has to be given particular consideration. Although you may feel like your research is not coercive, students may feel pressured to participate.

Please view our Human Subjects Research Compliance Manual for more information.