Per Erik Strandberg /cv /kurser /blog

During our work on the paper on Information Flow In Software Testing we had many ethical concerns on research interviews with industrial practitioners. We wanted to minimize risks and conduct ethically sound research. Based on these experiences I wrote a paper with guidelines on how to conduct ethical interviews.

Unfortunately the paper is not Open Access (ESEM did not offer it 2019 despite doing so in 2018), so a publicly available PDF can be found at arxiv: [1]

Slides from presentation: [2]

Short video presentation at Youtube: [3]


Background: Despite a long history, numerous laws and regulations, ethics remains an unnatural topic for many software engineering researchers. Poor research ethics may lead to mistrust of research results, lost funding and retraction of publications. A core principle for research ethics is confidentiality, and anonymization is a standard approach to guarantee it. Many guidelines for qualitative software engineering research, and for qualitative research in general, exist, but these do not penetrate how and why to anonymize interview data.

Aims: In this paper we aim to identify ethical guidelines for software engineering interview studies involving industrial practitioners.

Method: By learning from previous experiences and listening to the authority of existing guidelines in the more mature field of medicine as well as in software engineering, a comprehensive set of checklists for interview studies was distilled.

Results: The elements of an interview study were identified and ethical considerations and recommendations for each step were produced, in particular with respect to anonymization. Important ethical principles are: consent, beneficence, confidentiality, scientific value, researcher skill, justice, respect for law, and ethical reviews.

Conclusions: The most important contribution of this study is the set of checklists for ethical interview studies. Future work is needed to refine these guidelines with respect to legal aspects and ethical boards.

Informal Summary

Figure: Ten main elements of an interview study.

Important ethical principles relevant for research are: consent, beneficence, confidentiality, scientific value, researcher skill, justice, respect law, and ethics review.

In the paper I argue that there are ten main elements of an interview study: planning for ethical research, pre-interview discussions, room, interview, audio files, transcription, interviewee correspondence, data analysis and thematic data, writing and the publication, as well as archive.

Based on our experiences (and many others) I wrote check-lists for the ten interview elements to improve an interview study in terms of ethics.

The Checklist

Planning for Ethical Research

Pre-Interview Discussions



Audio Files


Interviewee Correspondence

Data Analysis and Thematic Data

Writing and the Publication



  author = {Per Erik Strandberg},
  title = {Ethical Interviews in Software Engineering},
  month = {September},
  year = {2019},
  booktitle = {Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement, 13th International Symposium on}

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