Good manners in research #researchetiquette

They say good manners can take you a long way in life. My first Chair at the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), the wonderful Dame Bridget Ogilvie, used to swear by them (that doesn’t sound quite right doesn’t it?). She taught me how important they can be in bringing people with you – even your stoutest opponents. How effective they can be in confronting the poor behaviours of others. Indeed, I often think they are one of the most under-rated transferable skills that we should be teaching young people when they enter the workforce.

This time last week I took part in the annual summer training camp that the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) runs for its trainees – post doctorate researchers. The theme of this year’s camp was communications. I had to deliver masterclass on ‘developing a good communications plan.’

The time-pressed researcher must wonder if there can be any more they can fit into their day such are the demands on them. As one cheeky young wag tweeted after my session ‘now we have to tweet and blog and go on speaking tours.’

Well, um, yes I do actually. Good communication is fundamental to excellent research. And isn’t it true in research as in many other aspects of life that when issues or problems arise, poor
communications is not far away?

Communications need not be as labour intensive as we think. Sometimes it’s purely a case of good etiquette. This was brought home to at a couple of recent dementia events. The first hosted by the award winning Lancashire NHS Foundation Trust Dementia Nurses Team. The second, a regular meeting of the Lay Champions Group that has helped develop the Join Dementia Research register.

At both these meetings, people with dementia and their carers talked about the things that can be dispiriting and sometimes downright rude from a research volunteer’s perspective. For me they all come down to good manners.

Researchers not responding to people who express an interest in participating in their study. Poor communication during research with long gaps where people hear nothing (or not being told this will be the case for good reasons). Not responding to emails or questions. Not being able to put a face to a name. Not being thanked. Never hearing what happened with the research. Not recognising that participants are also patients who will need encouragement and motivation sometimes to stay with a trial. Lack of basic information being provided. Email addresses that don’t work, phones that don’t get answered.

Our researchers and their colleagues should also have the right to expect to be able to do their job and be treated with courtesy and respect by patients, carers and families. To be thanked. For the difficulty of their task to be acknowledged in the level of our own commitment and responsiveness to being a participant.

There is no doubt that surveys by the UK Clinical Research Facilities (UKCRF) network as well as many others have shown that most people’s experience of being in research is a good one. But we should always be looking to improve and there seems enormous scope to get these simple things right.

The Health Research Authority (HRA) is currently taking forward work on the next version of the Research Governance Framework – the ‘how to’ bible for research and researchers. A public consultation is due later this year. Perhaps there should be a section on research etiquette?

Have a good weekend and remember…..mind your manners.

One thought on “Good manners in research #researchetiquette

  1. Another aspect of good research etiquette is telling people who worked on your study, and the participants who took part in it, what you found before you tell the rest of the world. Unfortunately, some major journals make it hard for researchers to do this – they threaten not to publish it if it’s already been communicated, even if it is only to investigators and/or participants.


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