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The IRB performs three types of review involving varying degrees of scrutiny according to the potential risk posed by the project. The type of review a project requires is determined by a collection of factors, including the study methodology, the population being studied, and the research topic. Studies involving invasive techniques, vulnerable populations, and/or sensitive topics require more intensive levels of review because of the higher level of risk involved.

Brief descriptions of these types of review are provided below, along with examples of projects that may qualify for each. However, it should be reiterated that study methodology alone does not determine the appropriate level of a review for a project. The investigator is responsible for determining the appropriate level of review and following the correct procedures for requesting that review.

  • Exemption: This category of review encompasses projects that are considered noninvasive and of minimal risk to the subjects. Types of projects typically eligible for an exempted review include but are not limited to comparisons of instructional strategies, analyses of existing data sets, and studies of food taste and quality (a more definitive list is provided on the Exemption Application). However, exemption must be formally granted and not merely assumed by the investigator.
  • Expedited Review: This category of review is intended for research activities that involve no more than minimal risk to the subjects. Types of projects typically eligible for expedited review include but are not limited to moderate exercise by healthy individuals, minimally invasive medical procedures, and studies of perception or cognition (a more definitive list is provided on the Expedited Review application).
  • Full Review: This category of review is reserved for projects that are considered to pose significant potential risk to the subjects. Types of projects that may require full review include but are not limited to projects involving invasive medical procedures, emotionally distressing topics, investigational devices or drugs, and studies of children or other vulnerable populations.

A question often asked by researchers is which type of review to request for projects using instruments such as questionnaires or surveys. The answer to this question depends on several factors:

  • If the instrument asks questions about potentially illegal activities, such as drug use or criminal behavior, then full review is required.
  • If the instrument asks questions about potentially distressing topics such as mental illness or child abuse, then either expedited or full review is required.
  • If the content of the survey makes it possible to identify individual subjects based on their answers or other information such as demographic data, then either expedited or full review is required.
  • If the subjects will be children or other vulnerable populations, then either expedited or full review is required depending on the content of the survey.

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