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BSREC FAQs

1. What documents do I need to submit with my BSREC application?

2. I haven’t developed my questionnaire yet as this depends on the responses I receive in focus groups- what do I do?

3. Do I have to use the BSREC templates in my application?

4. Does my Supervisor need to sign the application form?

5. I am based in the Faculty of Science or Medicine but my research is more social science based, can I submit to HSSREC instead?

6. How much information do I need to provide in my protocol/application?

7. Do I need participants to sign a consent form for studies only involving questionnaires?

8. What is personal data?

9. What is pseudonymised data?

10. What is anonymised data?

11. Is it possible to anonymise images of faces?

12. I am receiving data from another organisation to use in my research, who is best placed to anonymise that data?

13. Do I need ethical approval to send research data to a third party?

14. My study involves online surveys that will be completed anonymously, can participants still withdraw?

15. Which online survey tools do BSREC recommend to use to distribute questionnaires in studies?

16. Can I obtain consent from participants on an ‘opt-out’ basis?

17. An organisation supplying me with data for my study has asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement, should I sign it?

18. My Study involves children, do I need to get consent from their parents as well as the children?

19. Do I have to provide details for participants to be able to make a complaint?

20. Is it enough for me to state that I will comply with the Data Protection Act in the protocol?

21. How long should research data be stored for?

22. Can I pay participants for taking part in my study?

23. Can I use social media to recruit to my study?

24. Do posts on social media count as publicly available data?

25. Do I need a date and version number on all study documents?


1. What documents do I need to submit with my BSREC application?

BSREC will need to see a copy of the protocol and all supporting documents including: information leaflets, consent forms, questionnaires, interview schedules/topic guides, invitation emails, leaflets, posters and any other participant facing documents relevant to the project.

2. I haven’t developed my questionnaire yet as this depends on the responses I receive in focus groups- what do I do?

This is fine, the questionnaire can be submitted later on as an amendment to the project once it has been developed.

3. Do I have to use the BSREC templates in my application?

No- it is not mandatory to use the BSREC templates available, but it is strongly recommended that you refer to these for guidance on what to include in each document.

4. Does my Supervisor need to sign the application form?

BSREC requires evidence that your Supervisor has reviewed and approved the application before it can be sent for review. If it is not possible for the application form to be physically signed by your Supervisor, then an email in lieu of this can be accepted, from the Supervisor’s Warwick email address.

5. I am based in the Faculty of Science or Medicine but my research is more social science based, can I submit to HSSREC instead?

No- Committee review is determined by the Faculty in which you are based, not by the type of research. The only exception to this, is for projects that involve the NHS, which will be reviewed by BSREC, regardless of where the applicant is based.

6. How much information do I need to provide in my protocol/application?

The application needs to provide enough detail so that another research could pick up the protocol and carry out the project without needing to ask any questions. This also needs to be clear and written in a lay manner so that a non-specialist in the field can understand the study. Technical terms should be avoided where possible.

7. Do I need participants to sign a consent form for studies only involving questionnaires?

No- questionnaires are considered self-consenting so it is not necessary for participants to complete a separate consent form. Instead a statement should be included in the introduction to the survey to state that by completing the survey, participants are consenting for their data to be used in the study. An information leaflet should still be provided to explain what the study is about, and what will happen to the data etc. but this can be built into the introduction and doesn’t need to be a separate document. It should be clear to participants how they can withdraw from the study if they change their mind.

8. What is personal data?

Personal data refers to data which relate to a living individual who can be identified:

  • from those data, or
  • from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller, and includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual. Further guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office can be found here.

9. What is Pseudonymised data?

Pseudonymised data means replacing any identifying characteristics of data with a value which does not allow the data subject to be directly identified. This is different to anonymous data and only offers limited protection, as it still allows identification by an indirect means. It is therefore still classed as personal data and should follow the same guidance.

10. What is anonymous data?

Anonymisation is the process of removing personally identifiable information from data sets so that an individual cannot be identified by the remaining data set. Simply redacting an individual’s name does not necessarily make the data anonymous. There is still a risk of indirect re-identification if the data set could be linked to a data subject by age, postcode, medical condition or job title. The more information included in each data set, the greater the risk of identification when combined. Small data sets and specific characteristics e.g. ethnicity or gender may also increase the chance of identifying individuals. The Information Commissioner’s Office guidance on the principles of anonymising data can be found here.

11. Is it possible to anonymise images of faces?

Whilst blacking out eyes of photographs or digitally blurring images can distort features, it is entirely possible that a subject could still be identified by friends or family. Since complete anonymity of faces is almost impossible to achieve, informed consent should always be sought from participants. Applicants should be aware of ensuring anonymity where this may not be possible.

12. I am receiving data from another organisation to use in my research, who is best placed to anonymise that data?

Researchers should not be sent, or have access to any identifiable, personal data that is outside of their professional/clinical role, without the appropriate permissions in place e.g. consent or Confidentiality Advisory Group approval (CAG) for large NHS patient datasets. The data should be anonymised by an individual at the organisation supplying the data, who has appropriate permissions to access this data, before this researches the researcher or University. The terms of use for this data should be outlined in a data sharing agreement provided by the organisation releasing the data. Researchers should contact R&IS for any agreements to be signed off by an appropriate individual on behalf of the University, and not the researcher themselves.

13. Do I need ethical approval to send research data to a third party?

Not necessarily. It would be the responsibility of the researcher receiving the data to check with their organisation on the ethical review requirements for secondary analysis of previously collected data. However, before any research data is sent to a third party, it is your responsibility to note the terms in which this data was originally collected. This should be detailed in the research protocol and relates to what the purpose the data was originally collected for (i.e. was this limited to use for research purposes), the consent given for the data collection (i.e. was it specified that the data would not be shared with third parties) and in what format the data will be transferred (i.e. anonymised, identifiable). You do not need individual consent to share anonymous research data with a third party but you must make sure there is no chance any individuals can be identified from the data set. Please contact R&IS to discuss data sharing agreements before any data is transferred out of the University. To use research data for commercial purposes, please contact Warwick Ventures.

14. My study involves online surveys that will be completed anonymously, can participants still withdraw?

Participants need to be aware that they can withdraw from a study at any time without giving a reason but it needs to be clear how they do this. For online surveys participants can change their mind at any time by closing the browser. It must be made clear that once responses have been submitted, it will not be possible to withdraw data from the study as responses are anonymous and it will not be possible to identify individual responses.

15. Which online survey tools do BSREC recommend to use to distribute questionnaires in studies?

The University recommends using Qualtrics or Bristol Online Surveys to distribute online surveys/questionnaires. These tools have been approved by the University’s Information Governance team as secure for hosting data. Please note Survey Monkey is not currently a University approved service.

16. Can I obtain consent from participants on an ‘opt-out’ basis?

Opt-out consent is permissible in certain projects where the participants are not considered vulnerable or the study is not investigating a sensitive/intrusive topic. The process must be clearly detailed in the protocol and justification for why this is considered appropriate should be provided.

17. An organisation supplying me with data for my study has asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement, should I sign it?

No. All research agreements/contracts should be signed off by an appropriate individual on behalf of the University, not the researcher or the supervisor. Please contact R&IS for guidance.

18. My Study involves children, do I need to get consent from their parents as well as the children?

It depends on the age of the children and also their competency. Good practice would be to also obtain consent from the parents as well but this depends on the nature of the study. The approach taken should be appropriate, detailed and justified in the research protocol. The ESRC provides further guidance on this.

19. Do I have to provide details for participants to be able to make a complaint?

Yes- the current contact for complaints is the Head of Research Governance/Deputy Director of Research & Impact Services. Contact details can be found in the BSREC template Information leaflet.

20. Is it enough for me to state that I will comply with the Data Protection Act in the protocol?

No- the protocol needs to detail exactly how you will ensure compliance with the data protection regulations/principles.

21. How long should research data be stored for?

University policy is that research data should be stored for 10 years. Consent forms should be stored separately to research data.

22. Can I pay participants for taking part in my study?

Yes- a small token as a ‘thank you’ can be offered to research participants but this must be appropriate and proportionate to the amount of time/level of involvement required from the participant in the study. Payments must not be excessive so that they could be seen as a bribe or to coerce people into taking part in a study. Vouchers are generally considered more appropriate than cash rewards. The chance to be included in a prize draw is also another common incentive used in research. See further guidance from the Heath Research Authority  .

23. Can I use social media to recruit to my study?

Social media can be used as a method of recruitment but consideration should be given to who’s account will be used to advertise the study, how this will be done, and where the advertisement will be placed. The advertisement text used will need to be reviewed by BSREC. Permissions must be sought from the administrator of any specific groups targeted, before posting any recruitment materials.

24. Do posts on social media count as publicly available data?
No- quotes and opinions posted on social media do not count as publicly available data, and should not be used for research purposes without permission/consent from the individual, regardless of privacy settings. Studies gathering information this way must also be subject to ethical review by BSREC.

25. Do I need a date and version number on all study documents?

Yes- this is for audit purposes, and so it is easy to keep track of documents should amendments be required to the study as it progresses. It also makes sure that the study team are using the correct and latest version of information leaflets and consent forms etc.