Conducting your research

Using Pseudonyms

What happened?

In a recent study, a question arose about the use of pseudonyms. All the participants were asked to suggest a pseudonym for themselves that the researchers could use in writing up. There were three results: (a) people gave the researchers a fake name, which was used, (b) they didn’t give one, whereupon one was allocated to them, and (c) they said they would like their real name to be used. In the case of (c), the researchers wanted to respect people’s request to be identified,  but they were concerned that the interviews had addressed sensitive data, and that identifying participants might also jeopardise the anonymisation of other people that the participants had named as important to them, who were also interviewed for the study.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers explained the reason for using pseudonyms to the participants concerned.  It was noted that, generally, depending on the sensitivity of the questions and the data, the advice is not to use real names. It was gently explained that this is a straightforward research convention – because people may want their names used now, but may not feel so pleased about being named in the future – and would be unable to change their minds.  The researchers apologised for not doing what the participants preferred, and asked those people concerned if they would provide a pseudonym, otherwise the researchers would assign one.  They also said that if participants wanted to tell people they’d been involved in the research (and share newsletters of findings) that was, of course, fine – and up to them.