J Med Ethics 35:130-132 doi:10.1136/jme.2008.025940
  • Research ethics

Do research ethics committees identify process errors in applications for ethical approval?

  1. E Angell,
  2. M Dixon-Woods
  1. Social Science Research Group, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
  1. Professor M Dixon-Woods, Department of Health Sciences, 2nd Floor, Adrian Building, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK; md11{at}
  • Received 16 May 2008
  • Revised 18 July 2008
  • Accepted 14 August 2008


We analysed research ethics committee (REC) letters. We found that RECs frequently identify process errors in applications from researchers that are not deemed “favourable” at first review. Errors include procedural violations (identified in 74% of all applications), missing information (68%), slip-ups (44%) and discrepancies (25%). Important questions arise about why the level of error identified by RECs is so high, and about how errors of different types should be handled.


  • Funding: National Research Ethics Service; Economic and Social Research Council (grant number RES-000-22-1908).

  • Competing interests: None.