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Intro to Form and Style Review: 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 guidebooks or handbooks provided on the Program pages of the Office of Student Research Administration website. Information and forms for the IRB process can be found on the Research Ethics and Compliance area of the Office of Research and Doctoral Services website.


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

A: Yes. Each student needs to submit an application and receive IRB approval before conducting research.


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. The IRB application should NOT be included in the appendices.


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. This is a document for internal use and should NOT be included as an appendix.


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, letters of cooperation, or confidentiality agreements in an appendix?

A: No. Data use agreements, letters of cooperation, 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. These documents should NOT be included in the final dissertation or doctoral study.


Q: Do I need to include the IRB application or approval number 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; instead, indicate the Community Partner IRB #, without identifying the actual name of that entity. If in doubt, ask either the community partner or Walden’s IRB office.


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: 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 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. Again, however, a best practice is to NOT name the organization. For more information, please refer to the Guidance on Masking Partner Organizations in Walden Capstones document on the IRB Guides and FAQs page.


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.

Some examples are “Data Company,” a pseudonym for describing a technology company but not using the name of the company or any other existing company, “City School” to describe a school in an urban area, again not the name of an actual school. Other examples may be “an elementary school in suburban Washington” or “a military base in the Southwestern United States."

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: How do I cite and reference publications or personal communications that name the community partner, such as catalogs from the school where a study is taking place, a company report, or a conversation with an administrator?

A: Because you are not providing a reference to a legitimate and retrievable source, you do not need to mask the information nor should you include a citation or a reference. Instead, describe in the sentence where you retrieved the information but without using the actual name of an organization or person.

Some examples are, “According to the principal of the school participating in this study, teachers receive annual training on…” or, “According to an internal report from the organization under study, xx% of employees…” Do not create a reference or citation that includes fake or masked information, or a pseudonym.