Research Design in Criminology: Definition of Terms

Research Design in Criminology

When conducting research in criminology, one is faced with a myriad of issues and considerations that he has to make. This is no different from other forms of research in other fields. But in criminology, the researcher has to contend with the fact that he is dealing with one of the most central aspects of the society: matters of crime and justice. This paper is going to look at some of the terminologies that revolve around research design especially in criminology.

1: Ethics Normative Codes

Matters concerning ethics arise often when conducting any form of research, especially that which involves human subjects. There are several forms of ethics that the researcher encounters in the field. There is, among others, descriptive ethics which investigates how people do actually act (Hirschi: 123). In other words, this branch of ethics examines the morality of people’s acts.

Normative ethics is another branch of philosophical ethics (Carridge: 255). The distinctive aspect of this branch of ethics is that it tends to investigate how people ought to act, as opposed to how they actually act. It investigates how people ought to act morally (Hirschi: 124). The codes of this ethics include those that describe how life should be like, morally speaking.

2: Ethical Codes

Research Design in Criminology: Definition of Terms

Ethics can be conceptualized as that arm of philosophy that attempts to address issues to do with morality in the society (Carridge: 255). It seeks to address issues of how people should or does conduct themselves morally in the society. It also addresses how morality of an act can be determined and how it can be attained within a given context (Hirschi: 124).

A code can be conceptualized as a collection of laws or standards of conduct (Carridge: 255).

This been the case, ethical codes can be conceptualized then as the collection of standards or

procedures that should be followed in order to attain ethics or to determine ethics in the society.

3: Ethical Dilemma

A dilemma is a complex situation that one finds himself when he is presented with a multitude of choices that he is supposed to make. Picking one course of action usually leads to transgressing on the other. This is the same in ethical dilemma. It is a situation where a person finds himself confronted with a conflicting set of moral imperatives (Hirschi: 124). The person experiences a mental conflict because if he chooses to act on one, he will be transgressing on the other (Hirschi: 124).

Carridge (255) refers to this as an ethical paradox. For example, there is a moral code stating that one should love his neighbor as he loves himself. But an ethical dilemma arises when the same neighbor tries to harm you. Should you fight back or continue loving him?

4: Shield Laws

There are circumstances when a reporter might be forced to provide information regarding his sources, which he deems to be confidential, in a state court. This is where shield laws come in.

Research Design in Criminology: Definition of Terms

they protect the reporter in the United States of America with some form of immunity against disclosing his confidential sources (Carridge: 256). These laws vary in scope from state to state. As of 2008, there was no shield law that existed at federal level (Carridge: 255). But the bottom line of this legislation is that no court of law can subpoena a reporter to disclose his sources.

5: Anonymity Deception

In recent years, technological development has made it possible for people to act anonymously, undetected and undeterred by others in the society. For example in cyberspace, it is possible for a person to assume a new persona. This is what Hirschi refers to as “averta” (124). The person behind the persona can be the same as the persona or totally different. When this person anonymously roams the cyberspace, he might disseminate information that is misleading. This is what is referred to as anonymous deception since the person deceived anonymously (Hirschi: 124).

Anonymous deception is not only to be found in cyberspace. In research, the researcher might introduce himself or his research using a pseudonym. He might then go ahead and deceive the subjects, for example as pertaining to the use of the study. This is anonymous deception (Hirschi: 123).

6: Psychological Harm

When the criminologist is conducting his research, he might subject his subjects to stressing conditions either by design or otherwise. These stressing conditions injure the emotions and psychology of the individual. Though this injury is not as conspicuous as physical one, the wounds are equally deep, and equally devastating, depending on the magnitude of the injury

Research Design in Criminology: Definition of Terms

(Carridge: 256). This is referred to as psychological harm, since it affects the psychological balance of the individual. The definition and scope of psychological harm does vary from one person to the other (Carridge: 255). For instance, one may be psychologically harmed for losing an argument, while another may not.

7: Nuremberg Code

Research in criminology more often than not involves human subjects. The Nuremberg code arose from the Nuremberg trials that were conducted to bring to book perpetrators of the Jewish holocaust in Germany. It is a set of research ethics that has to be adhered to when dealing with human subjects (Hirschi: 124). This code contains ten points that has to be met by the researcher. They include, among others, voluntary consent of the subject (Carridge: 255). The code also states that the aims and results of the research should have benefit rather than harm to the society. The experiment should not unnecessary harm the human subjects and it should have been conducted before on animals to determine consequences, especially in drug experimentation.

8: Informed Consent

This is a legal condition as far as criminology and other form of research are concerned. The subject should give his consent on the basis of information that was provided to him about the scope and possible consequences of the research (Carridge: 256). The researcher is expected to furnish the potential subject with information regarding the benefits, implications and other pertinent issues of the research. It is after analysis of these facts that the subject either accepts or declines to be a subject (Carridge: 256). The person who is giving consent must be proved to have reasoning capacity. For example, he must have attained eighteen years and sane.


Research Design in Criminology: Definition of Terms

Artichoke is a form of vegetable that is native to lower parts of Europe and Mediterranean. It is composed of arching leaves that are arranged around a central head, like in cabbage. The edible parts of this plant are to be found at the heart of the converging lobes. To get to the heart of the plant, one has to tear off the out covers that protect and surround it. When the flowers get old, they are inedible, so they have to be accessed early.

This analogy has been used to describe organized crime, like that of the mafia (Hirschi: 123). The gang is composed of several concentric circles, each getting deeper and tighter. The chief members of the gang lie at the heart of the concentric circles. When conducting a research on these gangs, the researcher has to strip off the loose “artichoke” covers on the outside to get to the core (Hirschi: 123). This has to be done systematically.

10: Unethical Conduct

In every field, there are sets of laws that govern the conduct of professionals within this field. These are referred to as the code of ethical conduct. They determine the procedures that have to be followed for ethics to be maintained in the field (Carridge: 255). For example, informed consent is one ethical conduct in research. Unethical conduct describes a situation where certain actions fall below or violates the professional standards that had been set in that field. For example, when a researcher misleads his subjects, this is an unethical conduct in criminology.


Carridge, Brown M. “Conducting Research in Criminology: Ethical Considerations.” New Jersey:

Prentice-Hall, 2009. 255, 256.

Hirschi, Patrick I. “Qualitative Social Research.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 123-124.

Research Design in Criminology: Definition of Terms