Institute for Language Sciences Labs

Guidelines for research

Written by Hugo Quené (June 2006) and Iris Mulders (April 2012) and Desiree Capel (March 2022)

NB: this page is somewhat out of date, we’ll update it when we have time. In the meantime, take its contents with a grain of salt, and be sure to check out the FEtC-H website.


The aim of this document is to provide all researchers at the Utrecht institute of Linguistics OTS (Utrecht University) with directions about how to conduct experimental research into language and speech. These are not intended as strict rules enforcing constraints on our research, but instead as guidelines, indicating the accepted and recommended route for researchers to follow. These guidelines aim to facilitate research that is scientifically sound and publishable, but also ethically and legally acceptable. The guidelines cover all branches of linguistics that use experimental data, either in the institute’s laboratories or in off-site locations (schools, clinics, day-care centers, etc).

Please note, however, that all research with human subjects should be assessed by the Faculty Ethics Assessment Committee prior to the start of the research.

The Utrecht institute of Linguistics OTS is housed in the Netherlands and works under Dutch law. Two of these laws are of particular relevance to researchers:

Note: All relevant rules and regulations are written in the Dutch language. You are assumed to know the contents of these documents. If your mastery of Dutch is not sufficient, then consult with your supervisor or with colleagues.

Secondly, the Dutch association of universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) has developed two codes of conduct for researchers at universities:

The ‘promotiereglement’ (PhD Regulations) of Utrecht University refers implicitly to these codes of conduct.

Thirdly, many of the leading scientific journals reporting experimental linguistic studies require that the research has been conducted according to the APA Publication Manual, in order to be acceptable for publication. In practice this imposes another set of constraints.

You are advised to study the guidelines in this document, and to read the primary background documents listed. If in doubt, discuss your research plans with your supervisor or with colleagues before you get started. You, as a researcher, are responsible not only for the scientific value of your research work, but also for its legal and ethical aspects.


The basic guideline is that all research within the Institute should be conducted with respect for its participants, for knowledge, for quality of research, and for academic freedom.

Respect for participants requires that participants have a right to know the main characteristics of the research in which they might participate, such as its costs and benefits (e.g. duration, payment, purpose, etc.). Participating in a scientific study involves certain costs for its participants or subjects. Participants spend their time in your hands, performing unfamiliar tasks, and perhaps experiencing some discomfort. On the other hand, participating also yields scientific and personal benefits: growth of scientific knowledge, monetary rewards, therapeutic effects, etc. The general idea is that subjects are respected to weigh these considerations and to decide for themselves whether or not to participate. This is known as subjects’ “informed consent” to participate (i.e. consenting after being adequately informed). This implies that subjects should have enough information to make a well-informed decision, prior to your study, about whether or not they want to participate in it. Participants should also know that they can immediately withdraw their participation at any time.

At Utrecht University, obtaining and recording subjects’ explicit informed consent is a legal requirement, as it is one of the legal grounds mentioned in the GDPR on which personal data may be collected. More information on Privacy and GDPR can be found on the website of the Faculty Ethical Assessment Committee.

Children should be protected more strongly than adults, e.g. because they may not oversee all consequences of their decisions. Where children are involved, costs may weigh more, and benefits may weigh less. For adults, 10 minutes of a boring cognitive task may seem a small price to help improve science, whereas an energetic 10-year-old might think and decide differently. Or consider a fictitious study into the effects of some substance on speech motor control. For children, the negative effects of this substance may well be more permanent and more serious than for adults, and these disadvantages are probably not outweighed by the possible scientific benefits of such a study.

In the Babylab, we obtain informed consent from the parents (contact Desiree Capel for more information). For research done in primary schools, involving children under 16, the school obviously gives permission to conduct the research at their premises, and you should also have the school forward an opt-out information letter to the parents for didactic research; for non-didactic research, informed consent is required (for example letters, see documents ethical assessment, for information on (non-)didactic research, see p. 7 and p. 8 of the Guidelines on informed consent).

Obtaining informed consent is also required for participants from other vulnerable groups (pregnant women, aphasia patients, persons with low mental capabilities, etc.). Insofar as it concerns matters for which the participant is incapable of giving informed consent or is incompetent, their legal representative must provide consent in the participant’s stead.

Respect for participants also typically requires the protection of participants’ anonymity and privacy. This also means that you cannot publish video or audio or photos of a participant, unless you have obtained explicit permission from the participant. If there is a chance that this data may be presented at professional meetings, where their anonymity cannot always be guaranteed, you should make participants aware of this and obtain their permission. Personal data of the participants in your study (e.g. name, address, dialect history, etc.) should be treated as confidential information (Dutch “vertrouwelijk”).

When entering participant info into an experiment program (such as ZEP, Tobii software, Presentation etc), use a number to refer to them . Keep a separate list that links participant number to participant name, and treat this list as confidential information, too. This key should, from the point of view of privacy, be deleted as quickly as possible (but there might be research-related reasons to keep the key).

If your research affects the (physical or psychological) integrity of the participant, the Wet Medisch-wetenschappelijk Onderzoek met mensen (WMO) requires approval of a Medisch-Etische ToetsingsCommissie (METC). You should have your experimental design pre-approved by an METC if it involves administering of drugs (which compromises the physical integrity of the participant), and/or if it seriously affects the psychological integrity of the participant (think questionnaires about sex and violence, maybe manipulation of emotions). We are in the process of installing an METC at the faculty level.

Research guidelines involving respect for knowledge and quality of research can be briefly summarized as follows:

Link to general ILS guidelines, under development

  • Don’t steal: don’t plagiarize, don’t present data that other people collected as your own
  • Don’t lie: don’t fabricate data, don’t leave out data that doesn’t suit you, don’t choose one type of analysis over the other because you like the results better
  • Do your best: remember that your job is to further knowledge and understanding, and do everything you can to accomplish that goal

It is advisable to keep a log of your lab activities and the development of your ideas over time.


Codes of Conduct

  • World Medical Association, Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects (Declaration of Helsinki, last updated 2004)
  • Promotiereglement Universiteit Utrecht (PhD Regulations, Utrecht University)
    Artikel 8: Eisen onderzoek
    Het onderzoek dat ten grondslag ligt aan het proefschrift dient 
    te voldoen aan de volgende vereisten:
    a. de promovendus heeft het onderzoek zelfstandig verricht dan 
       wel een essentiële bijdrage daaraan geleverd;
    b. het onderzoek is verricht in overeenstemming met de gedrags- 
       of beroepscode, die voor het professioneel handelen op het 
       betrokken wetenschapsgebied geldt;
    c. het onderzoek is verricht in overeenstemming met wettelijke 
       en universitaire voorschriften.

Informed consent


Relevant publications