Comment on:

The following comment refers to this/these guideline(s)

Guideline 2

Professional ethics

Researchers are responsible for putting the fundamental values and norms of research into practice and advocating for them. Education in the principles of good research begins at the earliest possible stage in academic teaching and research training. Researchers at all career levels regularly update their knowledge about the standards of good research practice and the current state of the art.


Experienced and early career researchers support each other in a process of continuous mutual learning and ongoing training and maintain a regular dialogue.

Guideline 3

Organisational responsibility of heads of research institutions

The heads of HEIs and non-HEI research institutions create the basic framework for research. They are responsible for ensuring adherence to and the promotion of good practice, and for appropriate career support for all researchers. The heads of research institutions guarantee the necessary conditions to enable researchers to comply with legal and ethical standards. The basic framework includes clear written policies and procedures for staff selection and development as well as for early career support and equal opportunity.


The head of each HEI and non-HEI research institution is responsible for ensuring that an appropriate organisational structure is in place at the institution. He or she makes certain that the tasks of leadership, supervision, quality assurance and conflict management are clearly allocated in accordance with the size of individual research work units and suitably communicated to members and employees.

With regard to staff selection and development, due consideration is given to gender equality and diversity. The relevant processes are transparent and avoid implicit bias as much as possible. Suitable supervisory structures and policies are established for early career researchers. Honest career advice, training opportunities and mentoring are offered to researchers and research support staff.

Guideline 10

Legal and ethical frameworks, usage rights

Researchers adopt a responsible approach to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of research. They comply with rights and obligations, particularly those arising from legal requirements and contracts with third parties, and where necessary seek approvals and ethics statements and present these when required. With regard to research projects, the potential consequences of the research should be evaluated in detail and the ethical aspects should be assessed. The legal framework of a research project includes documented agreements on usage rights relating to data and results generated by the project.


Researchers maintain a continual awareness of the risks associated with the misuse of research results. Their responsibility is not limited to compliance with legal requirements but also includes an obligation to use their knowledge, experience and skills such that risks can be recognised, assessed and evaluated. They pay particular attention to the aspects associated with security-relevant research (dual use). HEIs and non-HEI research institutions are responsible for ensuring that their members’ and employees’ actions comply with regulations and promote this through suitable organisational structures. They develop binding ethical guidance and policies and define procedures to assess ethical issues relating to research projects.

Where possible and practicable, researchers conclude documented agreements on usage rights at the earliest possible point in a research project. Documented agreements are especially useful when multiple academic and/or non-academic institutions are involved in a research project or when it is likely that a researcher will move to a different institution and continue using the data he or she generated for his or her own research purposes. In particular, the researcher who collected the data is entitled to use them. During a research project, those entitled to use the data decide whether third parties should have access to them (subject to data protection regulations).

Ethical aspects of research in the humanities and social sciences

The aim of addressing ethical considerations is the conscious reflection on the responsibility of science and the humanities in the research process, to weigh up potential risks caused by research to individuals, society, animals, cultural assets and the environment and to avoid harm.

Different standards and methods for dealing with ethical aspects of research have developed in the various disciplines. Scholarly societies and associations in the humanities and social sciences usually formulate guidelines for research ethics. Regardless of the degree of standardisation in the respective disciplines, ethical aspects of research are fundamentally relevant to the planning and implementation of research projects and so reflection in this area is required.

The significance and extent of the potential risks of research will depend significantly on the respective topic, objective and methodology of a research project. Research projects in which other people besides the researchers are involved raise different ethical questions from those relevant to philologically oriented research, for example.

Particular risks may arise in research projects involving persons with a special need for protection, such as those with a limited capacity to give their consent. The same applies if the investigation to be conducted and the material to be used may trigger powerful emotions or cause severe psychological stress or trauma that goes beyond the day-to-day experience of participants (interviewees, those providing information, project staff, researchers and research subjects). It is also important to reflect on whether investigations imply a physical risk to participants or expose them to specific risks (such as social risks, risks of criminal or civil liability, financial loss, occupational disadvantages or reputational damage; the risk posed by a difficult security situation in the area in which the study is being carried out).

Reflection and consideration are particularly required in connection with research projects in which potential participants are not informed in advance about the research or about the possible risks of participation and measures to avoid harm, or in which participants cannot be fully informed about the aims of the research.

In addition to their own reflection on these ethical aspects, researchers should always check whether a statement by an ethics committee is required for their project.

Some research institutions do not have ethics committees that are responsible for the humanities and social sciences and that could support researchers from these disciplines by providing advice and evaluating ethical aspects. Here, scholarly societies have a particularly important role to play in developing subject-specific guidelines. Research institutions likewise face the challenge of providing subject-specific advice to researchers and evaluating research ethics aspects.

The link list contains references to websites that provide information on ethics committees and codes of ethics/professional ethics guidelines in the humanities and social sciences as well as useful resources on the topic of research ethics.

The comment belongs to the following categories:

GL2 (Humanities and social sciences) , GL3 (Humanities and social sciences) , GL10 (Humanities and social sciences)