Research for Beginners: Handling Participant Vulnerability

A professor would iterate that we do research to bring change by raising the voices of the unheard. Though a valid motive, it does not prevent a novice researcher from contemplating the worth of recruiting vulnerable subjects given the ethical considerations. In case there is a strong commitment to cover a topic with less protected participants, I believe one needs sufficient justification and preparation.

First and foremost, ask yourself if the benefit research subjects gain outweighs the imposed threat (Weisser-Lohmann, 2012). Ethical guidelines and requirements from supervisors possibly tie your hands either explicitly or implicitly. Yet vulnerable groups deserve accessing the advantages of research as well as shedding light on their issues (Bracken-Roche, Bell, Macdonald & Racine, 2017). Having someone armed with science and authority willing to tell your story is a substantial incentive itself. Participants whose voices were heard would also not only give courage to their peers but also set an example for the latter to follow and make more valuable contributions to research. Provided the scholar is set to benefit the individuals under the scope, it is best not to exclude them from research solely based on their vulnerability.


I am not convinced motivation to partake in data collection diminishes the harm participants may suffer unless the investigator is prepared to explore the matter ethically. Conducting procedures conscientiously necessitates “beneficence of treatment of participants, respect for participants, and justice” (Creswell, 2014, p. 36). Emerging researchers such as us would especially need to abide by the mentioned basic principles. Treating every step of our study with care and emotional investment should become a habit nurtured from the very first projects we conduct since that seems to correlate to securing study partakers from imaginable perils.

Working with the vulnerable population to fulfil one’s duty as a researcher requires additional mindfulness in terms of ethics and preparation. It is key to make sure participants will gain more than what they may lose. More than that, preparedness to proceed ethically throughout the study is a primary consideration.

What is your idea of working with vulnerable people? Would you recommend anything else to those willing to engage in such projects?



Bracken-Roche, D., Bell, E., Macdonald, M. E., & Racine, E. (2017). The concept of ‘vulnerability’ in research ethics: an in-depth analysis of policies and guidelines. Health Research Policy and Systems, 15(8), 1-18.

Creswell, J. (2014). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research: International edition (4th ed.), Ch. 1. Electronic Package. Boston: Pearson.

Weisser-Lohmann, E. (2012). Ethical aspects of vulnerability in research. Poiesis Prax, 9, 157–162.

3 thoughts on “Research for Beginners: Handling Participant Vulnerability

  1. Serik, to write a tip about research for beginners is a good idea:)
    “…participants will gain more than what they may lose” is so aspirational sentence.
    I do agree that vulnerable people should not be excluded from research because their voice must be heard as well. We should be kind and sincere to all men and women, to all old and young, to people of every type.
    I deem that all the tips must be followed by other researchers:)


  2. Very inspiring post, Serik, and one which goes beyond the “listicle” approach (Five Easy Ways to Research Vulnerable Populations!). The unique image adds a nice visual element to your post (be sure to acknowledge the source, perhaps as a caption), and your writing is accurate, engaging, and easy to follow. I hope others get to chime in with their thoughts, especially at this crucial stage of planning their thesis project.


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