So, you are a graduate student looking to do research with human subjects. You have taken those required research methods classes. You have some classroom experience conducting your own research, and you’ve even got a few A’s here and there. And now, you know the next step is to submit an Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol for review.

But you hesitate and ponder other options for research—perhaps you’ll analyze the contents of a book instead. I mean, who wants to do an IRB protocol anyway with all the paperwork and red tape? That’s what an IRB does, right? An IRB keeps you from doing the research you want, right?

As a compliance coordinator and graduate student, I can say with certainty the IRB is just the opposite. In fact, our IRB wants you to do the research you envision, in all of its immaculate glory. Here’s what you need to know about the IRB submission process and how you can reach your goal of researching with human subjects.

The IRB protocol submission is:

  1. Systematic
  2. Comprehensive
  3. All possible (with some negotiations and compromises).
  4. An intellectual exchange.


It’s systematic. Just like the stops on a train line, IRB is systematic. To submit an IRB protocol, you have to systematically organize the content so that it is understandable to an audience that may not know your specific topic, but is familiar with research overall. Read the instructions of an IRB protocol carefully, review templates, and look at examples of approved protocols.



It’s comprehensive. Just like managing any important task, IRB protocols are comprehensive and take time to complete. As such, start thinking about your research early. Start by constructing your research plan. Consider the risk-level of your study. Are participants experiencing minimal risk? What should you include in your materials—a recruitment flyer or script, an informed consent form, parental permission form, student assent form, copy of the survey or interview questions? Have you thought through the parameters of your research plan, including implementation and physical or digital data storage? Keep in mind the IRB has to review your protocol. They may have questions or need clarification and a review process may take time—be sure to budget for it.

It’s all possible. Just like checking a box on a to-do list, your research plan is possible (with some negotiations and compromises). When presenting your IRB protocol, remember, the IRB board is comprised of experts who have a wealth of information and experience in research design. Collectively, they consider the parameters of your proposed work and how you are presenting it to ensure participants are informed and protected. Based on their knowledge, they will make recommendations that can further ensure you are looking out for the participant and following compliance procedures. This is not to keep you from your research; rather, these negotiations and compromises are designed to make your research better.


It’s an intellectual exchange. Just like putting puzzle pieces together, IRB and researchers engage in an intellectual exchange. IRB members will offer you feedback that supports compliance and ethical conduct so your work best fits those parameters. The IRB includes a collection of skilled, professional, and mindful scholars who want nothing more than to see good research out in the field making the world a better place.



To summarize, yes, you can research the contents of a book and do well as a scholar. However, if you want to research human subjects, remember IRB protocols are systematic, comprehensive, possible, and are part of an intellectual exchange between you the researcher and the IRB members.