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Publication ethics and research integrity: policy guidelines for authors

We all want to ensure that the research you publish with us meets strict quality guidelines. Your reputation, and ours, depends on it. So does the reputation of your research institution on the global stage. 

Here you will find guidance on policies that help us achieve this, and what we ask of you to comply with them. We also recommend taking a look at the guidelines provided by The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)  

Open Access Publishing Options

Declaration of conflicting interests

If you’ve received research funding, or been paid for attending a talk related to your work, these may be interpreted as competing interests. You should declare anything relevant, and we’re here to help you to do so easily by providing sample wording for typical scenarios.

What do I need to declare?
How do I make a declaration?
Further information

Open Access Publishing Options

Funding statements

All research articles need a funding statement, so here’s a quick guide to writing one.

Writing a funding statement
Industry-funded articles

Open Access Publishing Options

Ethics approval and informed consent statements

Guidance on preparing ethics statements in support of research findings, with multiple examples of scenarios and statements to get you started.

Studies involving humans
Studies involving animals
Studies not involving humans or animals
Global research ethics and inclusion

Declaration of conflicting interests

If you’ve received research funding, or been paid for attending a talk related to your work, these may be interpreted as conflicting interests. You should declare anything relevant, and we’re here to help you to do so easily by providing sample wording for typical scenarios. This guidance also applies to you if you are an editor or guest editor writing any editorial to be published in one of our journals.

COPE states in its Guidelines on Good Publication Practice that:

‘Conflicts of interest arise when authors, reviewers, or editors have interests that are not fully apparent and that may influence their judgments on what is published. They have been described as those which, when revealed later, would make a reasonable reader feel misled or deceived.’

A potential competing interest may arise from relationships, allegiances or hostilities to particular groups, organizations or interests, which may influence your judgments and impact objectivity. The issue is particularly sensitive when such interests are private and/or may result in personal gain. We ask our Authors, Reviewers, Guest Editors and Editors to declare any potential competing interests in a “Declaration of conflicting interests” statement.

Examples include:

  • Having received fees for consulting
  • Having received research funding
  • Having been employed by a related company
  • Holding stocks or shares in a company which might be affected by the publication of your article
  • Having received funds reimbursing you for attending a related symposia, or talk. 

What do I need to declare?

In your Contributor Agreement you will be asked to certify that:

  1. All financial support is acknowledged in your article.
  2. Any commercial or financial arrangements related to your article have been discussed with your Editor, who will advise whether details should be declared.
  3. You have not signed an agreement with any sponsor that might compromise the impartial reporting of data.

Not all SAGE journals require a declaration of conflicting interests alongside your article, so check on your individual journal page if they do, and what they require of you, as this will vary.

Submissions will be evaluated fairly and will not necessarily be rejected when any competing interests are declared. 

How do I make a declaration?

If you are publishing in a journal that requires a declaration of conflicting interests it should be added under the heading ‘Declaration of conflicting interests’ after any Acknowledgments and before Funding, Notes and References.

If there are no conflicting interests, we’ll publish this statement: ‘The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article’.

Further information

  1. Guidelines published on good publication and the Code of Conduct by the Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE).
  2. guidelines published by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).
  3. Common Standard for Conflict of Interest Disclosure published by Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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Funding statements

All research articles need a funding statement, so here’s a quick guide to writing one. It should appear under the heading ‘Funding’ after any Acknowledgments and Declaration of conflicting interests, and before Notes and References.

This should comprise the text in bold in the example below, followed by the full name of the funding agency, and the grant number in square brackets:

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Medical Research Council [grant number xxx].

Multiple grant numbers should be separated by commas, multiple agencies by semicolons.

What if your research was supported indirectly by grants available to your institution, but not to you personally? In this case, simply include this statement:

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Note: If you have any concerns that the information you give may compromise your anonymity prior to the peer review process, you can choose to wait until you submit your final accepted manuscript.

Industry-funded articles

We can only consider industry-funded articles if funding is fully declared within the manuscript, together with any role in the design of the study or in the analysis and interpretation of data played by the funder.

Both direct and indirect funding must be declared, whether funding is in full or in part. Indirect funding includes organisations associated with the research and/or authors receiving funding from one of the industries below, or any industry where the funder could be seen to have a vested interest in the results of a study.

Industries include but are not limited to:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Tobacco
  • E-cigarettes
  • CBD

Failure to declare industry-specific funding can lead to the rejection of your article at submission, or retraction of the whole article if the oversight comes to light after publication.

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Ethics approval and informed consent statements

How do we make sure that we maintain high ethical standards in publishing? By including clear statements in support of results reported in articles. Here is guidance, with examples of sample statements, for:

Studies involving humans

All studies involving humans, for example including patients, their samples, data or any other study involving human participants must be evaluated by a suitably qualified research ethics committee prior to undertaking the research in line with the Declaration of Helsinki.

All studies involving people, whether patients or research participants, must be evaluated by a qualified research ethics committee prior to undertaking the research in line with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Ethics statements should be included in the methods section of all relevant submissions (unless the journal you’re submitting to publishes them under a separate heading – the journal’s submission guidelines will make this clear) and must include the name and location of the review board, approval number and date, as in the examples below.

Ethics approval statements

These examples can be used If ethics approval was obtained:

This study was approved by the XXXX Research Ethics Committee (approval no. XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY.

This study received ethical approval from the XXXX IRB (approval #XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY.

Examples of ethics approval statements suitable for different scenarios:

  1. A study of survey participants

    The XXXX Ethics Review Committee at XXXX University approved our interviews (approval: XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY. Respondents gave written consent for review and signature before starting interviews.

  2. Studies where patient consent was not required

    This study received ethical approval from the XXXX IRB (approval #XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY. This is an IRB-approved retrospective study, all patient information was de-identified and patient consent was not required. Patient data will not be shared with third parties.

  3. A retrospective study

    The study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and was approved by the Ethics Committee of XXXX (no. XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY, with the need for  written informed consent waived. 

  4. A retrospective, multicentre study

    This study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval was granted on Month DD, YYYY. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) at XXXX acted as the central IRB, whose review was accepted by all participating institutions’ IRBs (Ref. XYZ123). The central IRB determined that this research involved minimal risk and approved a waiver for informed consent.

  5. Studies reporting results of human samples

    This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of XXXX University (Ethics Code: XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY. All participants provided written informed consent prior to enrolment in the study. This research was conducted ethically in accordance with the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki.

    The ethics review committee of the XXXX University approved this study on Month DD, YYYY. Number: XYZ123. Date: Month DD, YYYY. Written informed consent for inclusion in this research was obtained from the patients prior to surgery.

    The experimental protocols were approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the XXX University (No. XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY. All research activities complied with ethical regulations and were performed in accordance with regulations of each hospital. Informed consent to use histopathological samples and pathological diagnostic reports for research purposes was obtained from all patients prior to surgery. They were given the option to refuse to participate by opting out.

These examples can be used if ethics approval and patient consent were waived:

The Ethics Committee of the XXXX waived the need for ethics approval and patient consent for the collection, analysis and publication of the retrospectively obtained and anonymised data for this non-interventional study.

The study was approved by the Danish Data Protection Agency. According to Danish legislation, neither ethics approval nor patient consent is required for registry linkage studies [23].

Case reports

Ethical approval to report this case (or case series) was obtained from *name of ethics committee or institutional review board (approval number/ID)*. 

Our institution does not require ethical approval for reporting individual cases or case series.

Patient or participant consent

In all cases, it’s important to state that consent has been granted to use any personal information, and how that consent has been gathered. Informed consent includes three key components: 

  1. Communication of information 
  2. Comprehension of information 
  3. Voluntary participation

For research articles, you need to state in the methods section whether the participants provided written or verbal informed consent. This statement should include whether the participants provided consent to conduct the study, publish the study, and have their photos or other images used. If information has been anonymized, that should be clearly stated too. If you are publishing on an open access basis, patients or participants must be aware that the article will be available to anyone with an internet connection.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends that for those who are legally incapable of giving informed consent, researchers should: 

  • Provide an appropriate explanation 
  • Seek the individual's assent 
  • Consider the person’s preferences and best interests 
  • Obtain appropriate permission from a legally authorized person, if such a substitute consent is permitted or required by law 

If the law doesn’t permit or require a legally authorized person to provide consent, you’ll need to show that you’ve taken reasonable steps to protect the individual's rights and welfare. Participants should be informed about: 

  • The purpose, duration, and procedure of the research 
  • Their right to decline to participate and how to withdraw from the research along with the possible consequences 
  • Factors that may be expected to influence their willingness to participate, such as potential risks, discomfort, or adverse effects 
  • Prospective research benefits and incentives for participation 
  • Limits of confidentiality 
  • Whom to contact for questions about the research and research participants’ rights. 

You can access Sage’s Participant Consent Form here. Authors should not submit completed consent forms alongside the manuscript files unless specifically requested to do so, owing to potential legal/privacy issues with sending and receiving confidential information. Instead, they should confirm in the relevant section of the – e.g. manuscript – text that the individual(s) or their proxy has provided written informed consent for the publication of this information in the present work.

Informed consent for ethnographic research 

Ethnographic research requires similar ethics approvals from an International Review Board or independent local, regional, or national review body as well as participant consent to conduct and publish the research. Consent should obtained before the research is conducted and it should be part of the project design, implementation, and other parts of the research process. Consultation with groups or communities affected by the studies and consideration of their input on the study design should happen throughout the entire research period. If consent is not obtained before the study perhaps because of the research context, process, or researcher/participant relations, you can seek to obtain it retroactively if necessary. 

Participants should also understand that there is a possibility that confidentiality might be compromised, despite best efforts. This is especially important to note for small communities where participants may be more easily identifiable.

Examples below if consent was obtained:

1.     Written informed consent

The study was approved by the XXXX (Ethical Clearance Reference Number: XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY. All participants provided written informed consent prior to participating.

Written informed consent was obtained from a legally authorised representative for anonymised patient information to be published in this article.

2.     Verbal informed consent

Informed consent was obtained verbally before participation. The consent was audio-recorded in the presence of an independent witness.

3.     Patient consent for studies involving minors

Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants’ legal guardians/next of kin. 

4.    Patient or participant consent for use of images including faces

Written informed consent was obtained from the individual(s) for the publication of any potentially identifiable images or data included in this article.

If patient consent was not obtained:

Informed consent for information published in this article was not obtained because [please state the reason].

Studies involving animals

All studies involving animals, particularly vertebrate animals, must be evaluated by a qualified animal ethics or welfare committee. Ethics statements should include the name and location of the reviewing committee, approval number and date, as in these examples:

Protocols for animal experiments were approved by the Animal Experimental Ethics Committee of the XXXX University (Approval no. XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY, in compliance with the National Institutes of Health guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals.

All animals were cared for in strict accordance with the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (NIH Publication No. 85-23, revised 1996), and the experimental design was approved by the Ethics Committee of XXXX (Approval no. XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY.

If IACUC approval was obtained you can use the example below:

The XXX Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approved the experimental procedures used in this study (approval no. XYZ123) on Month DD, YYYY.

An example on animal welfare:

All animal housing and experiments were conducted in strict accordance with the institutional Guidelines for Care and Use of Laboratory Animals at [insert name of institution where the research was conducted and/or where the author is based].

Studies not involving humans or animals

These statements can be used in situations where a study did not involve human or animal participants as well as non-research articles such as reviews:

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal participants.

There are no human participants in this article and informed consent is not required.

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Global research ethics and inclusion

If your article reports on global research, you should follow the Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings. We recommend including a statement in your methods section describing how your work adheres to the Articles in the Code. Some journals may require a statement under the separate heading ‘Global research ethics and inclusion’ at the end of your article. This should cover the following:

  • Confirm that the research has local relevance and has been designed and conducted in collaboration with local communities. Note that contributors meeting the requirements of authorship as per the ICMJE Guidelines must be listed as authors. Sometimes research is conducted in low- and middle-income countries in partnership with researchers from higher income countries. In these cases it is expected that local researchers are listed in first and/or last authorship positions to reflect the significant contribution they will have made. Joint first and/or joint senior authorship is an option here.
  • Confirm that local ethics review was sought and if not, explain the reasons why.
  • Where research involvement presented any kind of risk to participants e.g. discrimination, incrimination or risk to personal health and safety, describe the special measures taken to ensure their safety and wellbeing that were agreed with local partners.
  • Explain how communication was tailored to the requirements of local participants to ensure that informed consent was freely given, and any feedback on findings was comprehensible to local communities. Describe how any potential cultural sensitivities were explored in advance.
  • Confirm that all research was conducted to the highest possible ethical standards, regardless of the requirements of the local setting.

We also recommend the guidance provided by Consensus statement on measures to promote equitable authorship in the publication of research from international partnerships (Morton, B. et al, 2022).

 

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