How to write a successful ethics application

Dr Kathryn Snow is an epidemiologist whose work focuses on vulnerable populations.

She has a particular interest in tuberculosis, viral hepatitis, adolescent health, and the health of people in criminal justice settings.

Kat advises colleagues from diverse backgrounds on research ethics, study design, and data analysis.

She tweets from @epi_punk.


The word “ethics” strikes fear into the hearts of most early career researchers.

Some of the reasons are beyond our control, but there’s actually a lot we can do to make our own experiences of the ethics approval process less painful.

Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

Photo from Bernard Hermant | unsplash.com

I’m writing this from two perspectives: as an early career researcher (I finished my PhD in 2019), and as a committee member (I’ve sat on an ethics advisory group since the start of my PhD in 2014).

The job of ethics committees is to identify the possible risks in a project, and then assess whether the research team:

  1. are aware of the risks.
  2. are taking appropriate steps to minimise them.
  3. have a plan to handle anything that does go wrong.

To do this, ethics committees need information. If you want your ethics application to get through the process as quickly as possible, you need to give the committee enough detail so that they understand your project and how you are managing any risks.

Getting your application as right as possible the first time makes the whole process go more quickly. If you don’t provide enough information, the committee will come back with questions. You may need to resubmit your application to the next meeting, which could be a month or two away.

Spending more time on your application for the first meeting can save you months later on! Read more of this post