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2 posts from August 2013

August 22, 2013

Let’s Talk About Research Participants

Chelsea blog 2  Jeff blogby Chelsea Lee and Jeff Hume-Pratuch

In this post you will learn how to present data gathered during surveys or interviews with research participants that you conducted as part of your research. You may be surprised to learn that although you can discuss your interview and survey data in a paper, you should not cite them. Here’s why.

Retrievability Versus Confidentiality

Three hands

In APA Style, all sources must provide retrievable data. Because one purpose of references is to lead the reader to the source, both the reference entry and the in-text citation begin with the name of the author. But rules for the ethical reporting of human research data prohibit researchers from revealing “confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their patients, . . . research participants, or other recipients of their services” (APA Publication Manual [PM]; 6th ed., § 1.11, p. 16; APA Ethics Code, Standard 4.07). In other words, you must prevent the reader from identifying the source of information.

In this clash of principles, which one should triumph? The value of protecting participants’ confidentiality must always win out. “Subject privacy . . . should never be sacrificed for clinical or scientific accuracy” (PM § 1.11)—not even for APA Style.

Strategies for the Discussion of Research Participant Data

Although you don’t cite data you gathered from research participants, you can discuss them, provided that you preserve the confidentiality you guaranteed the participants when they consented to participate in your study (see PM § 1.11). In practical terms, this means that “neither the subject nor third parties (e.g., family members, employers) are identifiable” (PM, p. 17) from the information presented.

Strategies for the ethical use of data from research participants include the following:

  • referring to participants by identifiers other than their names, such as
    • their roles (e.g., participant, doctor, patient),
    • pseudonyms or nicknames,
    • initials,
    • descriptive phrases,
    • case numbers, or
    • letters of the alphabet;
  • altering certain participant characteristics in your discussion of the participants (e.g., make the characteristics more general, such as saying “European” instead of “French”);
  • leaving out unimportant identifying details about the participant;
  • adding extraneous material to obscure case details; and
  • combining the statements of several participants into a “composite” participant.

Choose the strategy that makes sense given the degree of confidentiality of information you must maintain and what details are important to relate to the reader. Keep in mind that in employing these strategies it is essential that you not “change variables that would lead the reader to draw false conclusions related to the phenomena being described” (PM, p. 17). 

Examples of How to Discuss Research Participant Data

Here are a few examples of how participant data might be presented in the text. The most appropriate presentation will depend on context.

  • One respondent stated she had never experienced a level of destruction similar to that caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
  • “Madge,” a 45-year-old Red Cross social worker, was in Sichuan province when the earthquake struck. “It was unlike anything else I have experienced,” she said.
  • MJ, a European social worker, said the earthquake was “unlike anything else I have experienced.”
  • A non-Chinese social worker said the 2008 Sichuan earthquake “exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”
  • Case 24 was injured in the earthquake.
  • Participant M said she had never experienced anything like the earthquake or its level of devastation.
  • Several employees of a humanitarian aid organization said that they were emotionally distressed by the devastation the earthquake left behind.

Data can also be presented in a table or figure provided these same standards are abided by. 

Going on the Record

If the research participant is willing to go "on the record," or include his or her name in the paper, use a personal communication citation (see PM § 6.20). In that case, you should write up the material you intend to use, present it to the participant, and get his or her written permission before including it (see PM § 1.11). In your paper, the information might be presented as follows:

  • M. Johnson (personal communication, May 16, 2008), a Red Cross social worker who assisted in the Sichuan earthquake recovery efforts, stated that “the earthquake exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”

Further Reading

The issues surrounding participant privacy in research reporting are complex and exceed what can be presented in this post. For further reading, consult the APA Publication Manual (6th ed., § 1.11) as well as the APA Ethics Code

August 08, 2013

How to Cite the DSM–5 in APA Style (UPDATED)

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM–5) has finally arrived! Here’s how the reference list entry should look:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and 
statistical manual of mental disorders
(5th ed.). Washington, DC:
Author.
Text citation: (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Individual chapters and other parts of DSM-5 have been assigned DOIs. If you used the online edition of the DSM, give the DOI in the publisher position.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Cautionary statement for 
forensic use of DSM-5. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of
mental disorders
(5th ed.). doi:10.1176/appi.books
.9780890425596.744053
Text citation: (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Here’s how it would look when used in your narrative:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; 
DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) is the most widely
accepted nomenclature used by clinicians and researchers for the
classification of mental disorders.


Once introduced, the acronym DSM–5 can be used instead of the title and edition:

The DSM–5’s classification involves a shift from the traditional 
categorical approach to a dimensional approach. The changes
involving the removal of the legal problems criterion and the
addition of a craving criterion were retained in the final revision
of the diagnostic criteria (American Psychiatric Association,
2013).


If you decide to use an acronym for the author, introduce it at first reference:

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; 
DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013) is the most
widely accepted nomenclature used by clinicians and researchers
for the classification of mental disorders. . . . The changes involving
the removal of the legal problems criterion and the addition of a
craving criterion were retained in the final revision of the diagnostic
criteria (APA, 2013).


UPDATE: The post has been revised to reflect the fact that there is no DOI for the entire DSM-5; each chapter has its own DOI (9/4/2013). The place of publication has also been updated (9/22/2014).

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