Despite the growing interest in qualitative research and discussion of ethics, there has been little focus in the literature on the specific ethical dilemmas faced by researchers. In this paper, we share our fieldwork experiences regarding the ethical dilemmas that we encountered while doing research on a sensitive topic. Specifically, we share some of the ethical dilemmas, that is, concerning confidentiality, anonymity, legitimacy, controversial data, interpretation and off-the-record data, which emerged from the research. Most importantly, this paper shares ideas concerning how researchers might deal with ethical issues while preserving their integrity in the research process. Overall, this paper suggests approaches that qualitative researchers can adopt when doing research on sensitive topics. The paper contributes towards closing an existing gap in the literature, making visible the challenges frequently faced by qualitative researchers, that is, the vulnerability of researchers while preserving research integrity. Finally, this paper concludes with the suggestion that ethical dilemmas are part of the research process in doing qualitative research. However, it is suggested that future research should focus on ethical issues from the perspective of the researchers as well as the respondents.


Ethical Dilemma, Research, Sensitive, Qualitative Research, Confidential, Anonymity

Author Bio(s)

Zaleha Othman is a senior lecturer at Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business, College of Business, Universiti Utara Malaysia, Sintok, Kedah. She teaches forensic accounting, qualitative research, and research method. Zaleha is a qualitative researcher. Her research and publication focused on ethical governance, professional ethics and corruptions. She has published in several SCOPUS journals, both International and National. She also presented her research output in local and international conferences. She completed her postdoctoral study at CASS Business School, London, United Kingdom in 2104, under the mentoring of Prof. Rob Melville. She is a member of Association of Certified Fraud Examiner (US) and Malaysia Chapter. Prior to academic position, she was a practitioner working at audit firm, Malaysia and accounting firm in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: zaleha@uum.edu.my.

Fathilatul Zakimi Hamid is a senior lecturer at Tunku Intan Shafinaz School of Accountancy, Universiti Utara Malaysia. He holds a Ph.D. from University Teknologi Mara (UiTM). He teaches undergraduate courses such as Accounting Theory and Practice, Financial Accounting. He has published in several SCOPUS journals such as Qualitative Research and presented his research in local and international conferences. His research interests are corporate responsibility, sustainable development, professional ethics, and integrated reporting. He is a member of two professional bodies namely Malaysian Institute of Accountant's (Certified Financial Accountant) and Malaysian Institute of Management (Malaysia Institute of Management - Certified Professional Trainer). Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: zakimi@uum.edu.my.


We would like to acknowledge the reviewers for their kindness and constructive comments. Specifically, we would like to convey our thanks to Sally St. George for her guidance to improve this paper. We would also wish to convey our gratitude to the participants of The 8th Annual Qualitative Conference 2017 for their suggestions during the presentation. We are grateful to Adam Rosenthal for his continuous commitment to TQR.

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