Rhetorical Strategies for Working with Institutional Review Boards

Elizabeth L. Angeli and Z. Koppelmann

Computers and Composition Online


Theoretical Framework: Rhetorical Ethics in Action

For an IRB, research often begins with the research proposal. IRBs are concerned with ethical and sound research, and these characteristics extend to the IRB application when submitted for review. Therefore, RC researchers should strive to submit research proposals that are ethical so as to begin the IRB process in a positive way.

To provide a lens in which to understand ethics in RC research, we turn to James Porter’s discussion of rhetorical ethics and critical rhetoric in Rhetorical Ethics and Internetworked Writing. Porter defines ethics as “the practical art of determining the should, Porter defines ethics as “the practical art of determining the should, the action we should take” (xiv); rhetorical ethics, he states, “has to do with questions about human relations as they are constructed and maintained through acts of discourse” (xiv). The connection between rhetoric and ethics, according to Porter, is action. Porter claims that one of rhetoric’s central aims is “improved communicative relations” (145) and that “[e]very act of writing is an attempt to change an audience” (68). Rhetoric and composition researchers have suffered from miscommunication and misunderstandings in discourse exchanges with IRBs due to the different contexts from which each group resides.

Some exchanges with an IRB occurs in writing via application forms and email, and in these exchanges, both the researcher and the IRB communicate in order to effect change. For example, the IRB may provide applicants with feedback and assistance to help the proposal receive approval, while the researcher revises a proposal based on that feedback in order to receive approval. By critically examining both parties, RC researchers and IRBs, and by calling on researchers to purposefully challenge their relations with their IRBs, we aim to facilitate the “improved communicative relations” between researchers and their IRBs and call RC researchers to action.