Frequently Asked Questions:

What if I think my study is "exempt" from review by HPRB?

We have some answers for you on our Key Questions for Getting Started webpage. If you think your study qualifies, you will need to include the HPRB form Request for Exempt Status along with your justification when you submit your research proposal to HPRB. Both the Unit Designate and the HPRB Chair must agree that your study meets the criteria. Base your justification upon the descriptions provided in the HPRB Policy Manual Sections II.A and II.B, pages 4-6. Anticipate the questions that may arise when your proposal is being reviewed; remember that the burden of justification is upon you as the researcher, not upon the reviewer.

How do I know whether or not to submit a research proposal to HPRB for consideration?

Talk with a Unit Designate who has expertise in the area in which you are proposing to conduct research, or contact the chair of HPRB ( We are here to promote best practices in research with human participants at PLU. Because we review a wide variety of research studies on campus, HPRB may be able to offer suggestions or insights that aid you in accomplishing your goals with respect to autonomy, beneficence, and justice for participants regardless of whether or not you “should” be submitting your study for HPRB review.

What is the difference between journalism and "research"?

Scientific research is intended to produce generalizable knowledge (e.g., test theories or hypotheses, develop models). Journalism focuses on reporting specific events, trends, or news. As explained in Media Ethics Magazine (Fall 2013, vol. 25, no. 1), studies that provide conclusions regarding how people use different media types could be academic research if it is for presentation at an academic conference or publication (such as in the Journal of Mass media Ethics).

Regardless of whether or not their writings and media productions are considered “research,” journalists use consent forms when conducting interviews and producing documentaries, in accord with their Code of Ethics. For further information on this issue, see Cornell University’s Guidance on IRB Review of Projects Collecting Oral (or Life) Histories, Journalism or Case Studies.

What is the difference between anonymity or confidentiality?

Research projects may assure either anonymity OR confidentiality (but not both). Anonymity is when the participants’ identities and data cannot be linked in any way. Surveys can be anonymous IF there is no identifying information and all participants are asked to use the same writing instruments. With confidentiality, the researcher–but no one else–knows the identity of the participants and can link participants with specific data. Confidentiality, but not anonymity, is possible during face-to-face interviews or interactions with participants. More information on how to maintain anonymity can be found here.

How will I know when I can begin my research?

The chair of the HPRB committee will contact you via email as soon as a decision about your proposal has been reached. An initial review will determine if your study meets the criteria for research and that it is not exempt from further review. There are then several possibilities: (1) Your study is approved and you may begin to recruit participants; (2) You must respond to with your Response to Stipulations before a letter of approval is sent; or (3) Your study is not approved.

Approval with stipulations is the most common decision. If you receive notice that your project has been approved with stipulations, you must respond to these stipulations and await final approval from the HPRB chair before beginning any work with human participants. Remember that incomplete or poorly written research proposals delay the entire review process.

What is the difference between expedited and full review?

Proposals that are expedited are reviewed by the unit designate and the HPRB Chair. Most research is expedited. Proposals that require full review are those that involve (1) greater than minimal risk (see below); (2) deception; (3) a vulnerable population, such as children, prisoners, or others with limited decision-making capabilities; (4) interview or survey questions that are of a sensitive nature (e.g., use of alcohol or drugs, cheating, sexuality, violence); or (5) studies where the researcher cannot assure confidentiality. If any of these conditions are present, the proposal must undergo a full review by the HPRB committee.

Do I have to get informed consent?

In short, yes. The questions you need to ask in order to determine the appropriate type of informed consent will help you decide whether your study has confidentiality without anonymity or anonymity. For any kind of confidential research, informed consent can be obtained by asking participants to read and sign a written informed consent. For anonymous survey research, a cover letter is appropriate, as long as participants are informed in writing of their rights as participants and that their completion of the survey indicates their consent to participate.

What kind of research has higher than minimal risk?

Risk is most obvious in medical and behavioral science research projects involving procedures that may induce a potentially harmful state or condition. Research that subjects participants to deceit, public embarrassment, self-incrimination (including the admission of illegal or immoral behavior), or humiliation involves higher than minimal risk. Research that includes physical activity, such as strenuous physical exercise, is also considered risky. More detailed descriptions of risk are available here.

I'm still confused! I need to talk with someone.

Your faculty supervisor knows your study best. If there are questions that are still bothering either of you, then contact your Unit Designate or a Board Member.

Did you get your questions answered?

We have answers to questions other than these at several other locations on our website. Check out the answers to Questions When Getting Started for more details on what types of studies require submitting a research proposal to HPRB and whether or not a study can qualify as exempt from further review. Once you understand the basics of consent, you may have more questions about research situations that require further consideration.