Consent Form Vs. Permission Letter

2009 Mar 26 Posted by Courtney Jarboe

letterResearch terminology can drive you crazy sometimes, but make sure you know the difference between a permission letter and a consent form. Knowing the difference between these terms can save you a lot of time and even trouble.

A permission letter is a document you obtain from a potential research site. You could be seeking permission to use their facilities, contact their members, or access data that is owned by them.

An informed consent form is a document you distribute to potential research participants. This document provides information to the participants about the research study. This form cannot be sent to participants until you have received IRB approval from Capella University.

Seeking permission:
When seeking a site’s permission, you need to make sure you are obtaining the permission from the appropriate authority. For example, if you intend to use a school in your research study, you must contact the school district’s superintendent for permission. If you plan to use a contact list from a list-server, you will need to obtain permission from the owner/company of the list-server before using the list for research purposes. Although the list may be public, it is a research best practice to obtain permission to use the list.

Do they have an Institutional Review Board?
You will need check if the site has an Institutional Review Board (IRB). If it does, you will need to seek the their approval before submitting your IRB application to Capella University’s IRB. When you are completing the IRB application for Capella, you will need to indicate the existence or non-existence of an IRB at the research sites. If your research study involves another college or university, you can guarantee that the IRB reviewer from Capella will ask for documentation from the site.

Permission letter requirements:
Capella University also has requirements that the researcher must follow when obtaining a permission letter. The letter must state the site’s understanding of the research project, be hand-signed by the appropriate authority, and must be on the site’s letterhead. An e-mail from the site will not be accepted as a valid permission letter.

3 Responses to “Consent Form Vs. Permission Letter”

Cynthia Sheppy Says:

Would I need to wait for IRB approval of the application before I begin the process of seeking permission to recruit volunteers for the study?


Courtney Jarboe Says:

Hi Cynthia, great question!

You can seek permission from a research site to recruit volunteers. However, you cannot interact with the potential research participants (volunteers) until you receive IRB approval.

For example, if I would like to conduct research at a company and recruit their employees for the research, I would need to get permission from the company saying that it is okay to do so before going to the IRB for review. However, again, I would not be allowed to conduct research or interact with potential research participants until I have received IRB approval from Capella University.

Margaret Says:

What is confusing about this is when those who grant site permission (e.g. at small facilities) are potential participants. I delayed in obtaining formal site permissions because I was so worried about revealing too much and violating the guidelines regarding obtaining consents. For myself, I think I have this straight. However, there may be someone else who falls into the trap of thinking as I did.