Advice: How to quote non-anonymous Research participants in an academic journal?


When I wrote my Ethics Application- I felt very strongly that my research participants should have the choice to be anonymous or not 

The research participants will be able to decide on the consent form if they wish to be identified or remain anonymous in the research.  As ‘qualitative’ and ‘social’ research, it should not be assumed that all participants wish to be anonymous, or that there are any benefits to the participants for remaining anonymous. Clearly, the participants that agree to participate in the video recording will not be anonymous and their identities will be public. ” However, I did add some extra information

“Audio and video recording that may be made public will also be subject to a specific separate process of informed consent and based on principles of representing people with dignity and respect. This includes issues such as not portraying people as ‘victims of poverty’ and avoiding images and messages that potentially stereotype, sensationalise or discriminate against people, situations or places (Child Rights Information Network, 2010)  “

I’ve blogged on the issue of anonymity of participants previously. 

However, now I am stuck. I am writing a Journal Article for a fairly conservative journal -I want to include quotes from my participants (none of whom opted to be anonymous) BUT I’m unsure the best way to do this … 

In previous reports I have written about my research, I’ve opted to use the standard Gender + number + key descriptor – in this case it was “Female, #8, Palm” (as Palm was the crop grown)

The APA Style guide recommends the following: 

What About Research Interviews?
One exception to this guideline applies to participants that you interview in your own research. These interviews are qualitative data; they’re part of the research on which you are reporting and do not constitute the work of others. They should never be individually cited or treated as personal communications in APA Style, because this could compromise confidentiality. Researchers are prohibited by the APA Ethics Code from disclosing personally identifying information about research participants (pp. 17—18). Depending on the circumstances, such information could include the date of the interview as well as surname and initials.

How then should you handle the need to quote from participant interviews? Some authors quote participants without distinguishing them at all, like this: “Indeed, a comment by one of our participants illustrates some of these complex issues: [quote follows without other attribution].”

Others identify participants by demographic or other data: “At my age I think we know who we are and what we are. (Female participant, 69 years of age).” You can also identify participants with letters (Participant A, Participant B), nicknames (Sonny, Tracey), or by role (Doctor, Patient).

However – I’m now more uncomfortable with this approach. I’ve written quite a bit in my thesis about co-creation of research and recognising that my research participants have agency, choice and opted not to be anonymous – by making them anonymous I feel like I am not being true to my research approach and philosophical underpinnings. I’ve also published videos online of the research in which the participants are clearly not anonymous. 


However, it seems weird in the Journal article to see the participants full name listed under their quotes.  Is this just because its rarely done? 

Advice please!!! I’ll try to add Twitter responses to an update of this blog. 




About Sarina Kilham

I'm a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Trained as a social scientist and with a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture, I'm interested in farmer's experiences of growing feedstock for biodiesel production. My research has focused on biodiesel production in Brazil and Timor-Leste. Also on Twitter @sarinakilham and blogging at
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2 Responses to Advice: How to quote non-anonymous Research participants in an academic journal?

  1. Eleanor Glenn says:

    What do Journal authors do? Or it might be worth asking the journal?

    Also you’re not doing psych research so I wouldn’t necessarily go by APA – I think in that context they’re writing about research that IS confidential, where you’ve sworn to the participants’ anonymity/confidentiality.

  2. glenn eleanor says:

    meaning in the specific journal you’re targeting

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