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Does your research require ethical approval?

To help determine whether your project requires formal ethical approval, please use the University’s Ethics Decision tool.

Important note: please use Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari to access the tool, it is currently NOT working in Google Chrome.

If after using the tool you still have specific queries about your project, please contact the central Ethics Signatory.

Please note, student projects refer to studies that are carried out as part of a University of Manchester degree programme (i.e. Undergraduate, Master’s, PhD, etc) and are supervised by a University of Manchester member of staff. Students are not permitted to seek ethical approval through the University of Manchester for research studies that are not a part of their coursework or programme requirements.

All studies must comply with the University of Manchester’s Research Governance policy and students must not conduct any unsupervised research.

Ethical Review will be required in the following circumstances (unless otherwise stated in the submenus below)

  1. Research involving the collection or use of person-identifiable or special category data
  2. Research involving the collection or use of data which is classed as sensitive or confidential
  3. Research involving the use of audio/video recordings or photographs
  4. Research involving vulnerable groups, including children or adults with special needs
  5. Research involving the ingestion (by whatever means of delivery) of any substance by participants
  6. Research involving any invasive/semi-invasive procedure or the administration of drugs
  7. Research involving the physical testing of participants or the use of medical devices
  8. Research involving the use of psychological tests or interventions
  9. Research involving privileged access to clinical or personal records, or access to potential volunteers on the basis of their being or having been patients, or the invitation to volunteers to divulge facts about themselves which they would not wish the investigator to allow to become known to other persons
  10. Research involving any form of physical risk, distress, embarrassment, anxiety, stress, fatigue or inconvenience to the participant
  11. Research involving any form of adverse effect on the personal, social or economic well-being of the participant
  12. Research involving socially sensitive topics
  13. Research likely to uncover illegal or potentially harmful activities

All of the above will require ethics approval from a Research Ethics Committee (UREC or NHS REC) but please note the list is not exhaustive.

Additional resources available:

Evaluations and Market Research

Evaluations and Market Research

Evaluations are structured processes for accessing the success of a programme in meeting its goals and reflecting on the lessons learned or gaining feedback on a specific platform or application (such as software artefacts).  These can include:

  • course evaluation
  • teaching evaluation
  • service evaluation
  • software evaluation (including user acceptance testing)

Market Research is asking members of the public questions that a reasonable person would agree are not upsetting, distressing or controversial. This normally takes the form of a paper or electronic questionnaire/survey.

The University of Manchester does not normally require formal ethical review for these activities provided the following criteria are met:

  1. The data is completely anonymous with no personal information being collected (apart from their name, their publicly available contact details and a record of consent)
  2. The data is not considered to be sensitive or confidential in nature
  3. The issues being researched are not likely to upset or disturb participants
  4. Vulnerable or dependent groups are not included
  5. There is no risk of possible disclosures or reporting obligations

IMPORTANT: Even if your study does not require formal ethical review, you must adhere to the following guidelines:

Working with Professionals

Work with Professionals

Working with Professionals refers to asking questions of professionals which are strictly within their professional remit.

Please note:

  • The term 'professionals' refers to individuals in professional organisations and does not refer to students or children
  • The phrase 'working with' can refer to conducting interviews, focus groups or questionnaires/surveys
  • The phrase 'strictly within their professional remit' refers to topics strictly within their professional competence and should not include topics that are personal or sensitive (such as their thoughts on the behaviour of their colleagues, information about their pay/benefits or their experiences of sexual harassment or bullying behaviour).

The University of Manchester does not normally require formal ethical review for these activities provided the following criteria are met:

  1. The data is completely anonymous with no personal information being collected (apart from their name, their publicly available contact details, a record of consent and an audio recording of the discussion provided the transcript is fully anonymised and the recording then deleted)
  2. The data is not considered to be sensitive or confidential in nature
  3. The issues being researched are not likely to upset or disturb participants
  4. Vulnerable or dependent groups are not included
  5. There is no risk of possible disclosures or reporting obligations
  6. The subject matter is limited to topics that are strictly within the professional competence of the participants

IMPORTANT: Even if your study does not require formal ethical review, you must adhere to the following guidelines:




Autoethnography is an ethnographic practice where the main data that is reported and analysed is the researcher’s own experiences.

Most autoethnography is concerned with the researcher’s experiences in relation to various social interactions, or participation in various events, but a smaller subset of autoethnography is based on the experience of solitary activities (i.e. where there is no one else involved in the activity itself other than the researcher).

Prospective autoethnography

Any form of prospective autoethnography, (i.e. autoethnographic research where the researcher’s experiences are either recorded contemporaneously (e.g. in field notes) or already known by the researcher to be a future object of analysis) fall within the scope of the University’s research ethics policies and will require the appropriate level of School/division or UREC approval.

This requirement for research ethics approval includes solitary autoethnography, (i.e. autoethnographic research where it is literally true that only the researcher is involved as a participant and no one else is present at the time of the research).

If you are a member of staff or a student from a Dept/Division/School without a local ethics process and planning on exclusively conducting a solitary autoethnographic study (and are not intending to include any additional data collection measures involving other human participants), please use the updated Prop UREC route, ticking ‘Solitary autoethnography ONLY’.

If you are a student from a Dept/Division/School with a local ethics process, you should consult the criteria and guidance notes from your area in order to determine if you can apply through that route.

If you are planning on conducting other prospective autoethnographic methods or a solitary autoethnographic study that includes other methods of data collection, you should check the usual Dept/Division/School criteria (students only) or Prop UREC criteria in order to determine if the study is suitable for this route. Studies that are not eligible for Dept/Division/School review or Prop UREC review must be submitted to the full UREC.

Retrospective autoethnography

A considerable amount of autoethnographic research is based on analysis of the researchers’ previous experiences/interactions, that are only later identified by the researcher as an object for research. Such retrospective autoethnography is not subject to research ethics review if and only if there was no research project, no prospective research data collection, and no intention to perform research at the time the experiences/interactions occur.

The University does not provide retrospective research ethics approval, and any attempt to redescribe a prospective autoethnography as a retrospective research ethnography in order to avoid research ethics scrutiny will constitute research misconduct and will be dealt with accordingly.

A researcher publishing a retrospective autoethnography must still consider all relevant ethical and legal implications of the publication. 

Secondary Data Analysis

Secondary Data Analysis

Secondary Data Analysis is the re-analysis of either quantitative or qualitative data already collected in a previous study, by a different researcher, normally wishing to address a new research question.

It can also refer to studies in which data collection by an organisation or institution for one purpose is being analysed by a researcher for a different purpose.

The University of Manchester does not normally require formal ethical review for these activities provided the following criteria are met:

  1. The data is completely anonymous
  2. You have explicit, written permission from the data controller to use the data for the purposes described
  3. You are able to prove that the data will be used for a purpose which falls within the remit of the original consent provided by data subjects

Please note, if you are planning on using data collected from social media or other publicly available online websites/forums/discussion boards, please refer to the Guidance on Social Media.

Stakeholder Engagement/Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Work (PPIE)

Stakeholder Engagement/Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE)

This refers to work that is carries out with or by members of the general public, patients, carers, those who use specific services and people from organisations that represent those that use specific services.

It can include working with research funders to prioritise research, offering advice as members of a project steering group, commenting on developing research materials or undertaking interviews with research participants.

Please ensure you read the information bubbles in the Ethics Decision Tool for additional information about these types of activities.

In order to determine if your stakeholder engagement/PPIE activity requires research ethics approval, you need to know:

  1. If the activity is an integral part of a current or future planned research project
  2. If the results of the activity will be disseminated through an academic journal or publication (this includes presenting the findings at academic conferences or publishing the data in an academic or scientific journal)

If the answer to both of these is 'no', the activity will not require University research ethics approval. 

If the answer to one or both of these questions is 'yes', the activity may still be exempt from University research ethics approval providing the following criteria are met:

  1. No special category data will be collected
  2. The topics investigated will not be confidential or personally sensitive
  3. No vulnerable or dependent groups will be involved or engaged in the activity
  4. Dissemination will not make individuals identifiable
  5. The activity will not involve the development of research instruments or interventions

The FBMH Social Responsibility Office can provide support with PPIE activity and have a suite of template documents available, including:

Please visit their website for more information or email the team at


Human tissue

Human Tissue

Human Tissue studies may involve the collection of new samples, including non-relevant material, from participants or the use of previously collected samples.

The Policy on Compliance with the Human Tissue Act has recently been revised and updated. Please ensure you use the ethics decision tool to verify if your study requires UREC approval. If the tool indicates that ethical approval is required, Prop UREC should only be applied for where no donors will be recruited or new samples collected.

In all cases, it is a requirement that any researchers storing or using human tissue on UoM's premises register with the Research Governance, Ethics & Integrity Team. If you are storing tissue on the licensed premises of another organisation such as one of the Trust sites, please ensure you follow any local procedures to register your samples with the relevant DI. 

Ethical Exemptions

If your study qualifies for an ethical exemption but you intend to publish the results of your research, you may still be asked for proof of ethical review from a journal or funder. Please ensure that you find out if this will be a requirement either by speaking with the journal/funder directly, seeking advice from your supervisor or asking colleagues who have previously published. If you are confident that this will be a requirement then please see below for additional advice.

We are able to offer staff and PGT/PGR students formal letters of ethical exemption that can be submitted to journals or funders as proof of ethical consideration by this institution. If you would like to request a letter, please complete the request for a formal letter of ethical exemption form and email it to along with a copy of all relevant supporting documents as outlined in the form. Please ensure the subject of your email is: Request for a letter of ethical exemption.

Please note, it may take up to 15 working days for letters to be generated so please ensure you submit your request in good time.

Please also note that letters CANNOT be granted retrospectively (once your research has started) so please ensure your submit your request before you begin recruitment or data collection.

Research training/coursework

When determining whether your research requires formal research ethics approval, it's important to first distinguish whether you are conducting research training/coursework or research as part of your dissertation/thesis/staff project.

  • Research training is an activity usually conducted as part of coursework in a taught programme in which you collect and analyse a small amount of data in order to gain experience in research methodology, the synthesising of ideas and scholarly report writing.
  • Research is primary data collection or secondary data analysis intended to lead to the advancement of knowledge or understanding in a given subject area. This type of activity in a taught programme is usually reserved for the final dissertation.

When using the University's Ethics Decision Tool, please keep in mind which of these categories your project falls into as it will help you to navigate through the tool successfully.

Please also note, if conducting research training as part of your coursework there are a number of requirements and expectations in relation to how you design your work. In addition to these, your Course Director, Programme Director or Unit Lead may have additional requirements so please ensure you speak with them directly if you have any queries.

In general, activities to be conducted as part of research training must be low risk and adhere to the following criteria:

Participant groups must be limited to one or more of the following

  • Adults who are able to give informed consent in a way that accords with accepted practice
  • Participants in professional roles who will be interviewed about their professional practice. Interviews will be conducted in their work setting.
  • Participant groups limited to peers, colleagues and family members

And all of the following additional criteria must be met

  • The research will not involve vulnerable or dependent groups.
  • The research will take place in public or private locations where the safety of the student can be protected and the privacy of participants can be guaranteed.
  • The research will be conducted with participants inside the EU or an international setting that is not on the list of countries/regions that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against 'all but essential' travel to.
  • The research will not involve the collection of video/photographs of research participants.
  • The research will not require research participants to provide information likely to cause them significant levels of distress.