The management of confidentiality and anonymity in social research

Rose Wiles, Graham Crow, Sue Heath, Vikki Charles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the ways in which social researchers manage issues of confidentiality and the contexts in which deliberate and accidental disclosures occur. The data are drawn from a qualitative study of social researchers' practices in relation to informed consent. It comprised 31 individual interviews and six focus groups as well as invited email responses with researchers working with vulnerable groups or with an interest in research ethics. Researchers reported feeling compelled to break confidentiality when participants were perceived as being at risk of harm but not in cases of involvement in illegal activity. Situations in which accidental disclosures occurred were also identified. Researchers reported varying ways in which they protected the confidentiality of their participants in the dissemination of their research, including omitting data and changing key characteristics of participants. The implications of researchers' practices on data integrity and relationships with participants are discussed. © 2008 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-428
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


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