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Form and Style Review Process: FAQ on Confidentiality

Frequently Asked Questions About IRB, Anonymity, and Confidentiality

Prepared by the Walden Dissertation Editors and IRB Staff

All doctoral students at Walden University are required to submit an application to conduct research to Walden’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Program-specific information on when and how to apply as well as other information on anonymity and confidentiality of sources can be found in the Dissertation Guidebook, Doctoral Study Guidebook, or DNP Project Process Guide. Information and forms for the IRB process can be found on the Center for Research Quality’s website.

Q: Does everyone at Walden writing a dissertation, doctoral study, or project study need IRB approval?

A: Yes, even archival research, which qualifies for an expedited review, requires IRB approval.

Q: Do I need to include the Walden IRB application in an appendix of the dissertation?

A: No. The application is used internally by Walden University to ensure compliance with federal guidelines on research for the protection of study participants. It contains identifying information and therefore is kept secure by the researcher.

Q: Do I need to include the e-mail from the Walden IRB office in an appendix of the dissertation or doctoral study?

A: No.

Q: Do I need to include a copy of any consent forms in an appendix?

A: No; the consent form is part of the IRB application. Because signed forms contain identifying information, they are kept secure by the researcher and should not appear in the dissertation or doctoral study.

Q: Do I need to include a copy of any data use agreements or letters of cooperation in an appendix?

A: No; Data Use Agreements or Letters of Cooperation from community partners and Confidentiality Agreements that are signed by transcribers, statisticians, and research assistants who might have access to the raw data are included as part of the IRB application. These documents are kept in a secure location.

Q: What IRB information do I need to include in the dissertation or doctoral study, and where does it go?

A: The Walden University IRB approval number is provided in the appropriate location in the narrative chapter or section, typically in the methodology section where you describe the protection of participants. It can simply be included in parentheses (Walden IRB approval no. xxxxxx).

Q: Do I need to include the IRB application or approval from a community partner?

A: Ask the community partner what approval is needed from that institution. If the partner requires the approval number be provided, remember that you do not want to identify that institution in most cases, so indicate Community Partner IRB #, without identifying the actual name of that entity. If in doubt, ask either the community partner’s or Walden’s IRB office.

Q: Can I use the name of a community partner in the dissertation/doctoral study?

A: Best practice at Walden is to mask the name of the community partner, which makes the identity of any participant within at the study site more secure. Technically, if the letter of cooperation includes no terms of confidentiality and/or even states that the organization's name and research results will be shared with the professional community, then it is not an IRB violation to name the community partner.

Q:If the actual name of a community partner is not used, what do I use instead?

A: Use a general description, or use a pseudonym. Care must be taken in describing the location so as not to provide enough information that the exact location could be ascertained. For example, if you use a pseudonym and describe the location as “an elementary school in Small Town, Name of State,” and there is only one elementary school in that town, then you would need to be more general in your description. The general rule is that there must be at least three elementary schools, for example, in the town in order to describe it using the name of the town. If you use a pseudonym, be sure to indicate in the narrative that the name being used is a pseudonym, and be sure that any geographical location meets the criteria above for generality. Note: Do not include pseudonyms or geographical locations in the study title, and do not use pseudonyms in the abstract. A geographical location in the abstract or narrative is not necessary unless the geographic area or population is significant to call out for some reason, for example in an international location.

Q: What do I do with publications in the reference list that name the community partner, such as catalogs from the school where a study is taking place?

A: Where inclusion is necessary, redact the identifying information by blacking it out. Check with your committee chair to determine whether that information really needs to be cited.

Q: How do I cite in text publications that name the community partner, such as catalogs from the school where a study is taking place?

A: If, for example, you want to cite the source for school demographic statistics without revealing the study site, find a public source for that information; usually a school district will publish demographic information and statistics on a public website. Because other school demographics would be included on the same website, you would establish a credible source without necessarily identifying the specific school.

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