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Angell, E. L., & Dixon-Woods, M. (2008). Style Matters: An Analysis of 100 Research Ethics Committee Decision Letters. Research Ethics, 4(3), 101–105. https://doi.org/10.1177/174701610800400304


Disquiet about the research ethics review process has, historically, been anecdotal and often takes the form of ‘atrocity stories’ from researchers about the bureaucratic nature of the application process or inconsistency and capriciousness in decision-making. However, systematic evidence has often been lacking. We analysed 100 decision letters written by NHS research ethics committees (RECs). We found evidence of poor communication in the way in which REC decisions were conveyed to applicants. Typos and grammatical mistakes were found in almost 30% of letters; sometimes wording was impolite and demonstrated a lack of respect towards applicants; and there was often lack of clarity about the nature of a revision and whether the revision was compulsory or optional. The analysis provides messages for RECs about how they can improve their practices to establish a more cooperative relationship between researcher and committee through the careful use of language and attention to detail in decision letters.