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Unit information: Research Methods in 2018/19

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Unit name Research Methods
Unit code BRMSM0002
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Kipping
Open unit status Not open




School/department Bristol Medical School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences


This unit introduces key qualitative and quantitative research methods as applied to public health. It aims to enable students to develop an understanding of the role and importance of both approaches to inquiry and when they might be appropriate. Students will gain a practical understanding of survey and questionnaire design and the main methods of qualitative data collection and analysis. The unit will provide an overview of the key principles of randomised controlled trial (RCT) study designs as applied to issues of public health importance and provide students the skills to judge the validity of conclusions that can be drawn from the results of a RCT. It will introduce systematic reviews of RCTs, with the aim of ensuring that students can recognise the implications of being non-systematic, non-comprehensive, non-rigorous or non-transparent in putting together evidence syntheses. The key evidence synthesis skills and knowledge acquired during this unit will be transferable to all epidemiological and public health research designs.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will:

  1. Understand the role of qualitative and quantitative research designs in public health research and the types of inquiry for which each may be relevant;
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of how quantitative and qualitative methods can be combined
  3. Outline ethical issues that can arise when designing and undertaking public health research.
  4. Critically appraise the validity of research studies for public health inquiry and assess the credibility of study conclusions;
  5. Identify different RCT designs and the public health questions to which each is suited;
  6. Explain common challenges in the design and statistical analysis of RCTs and describe how they are addressed;
  7. Develop eligibility criteria and a PubMed search strategy for identifying evidence for inclusion in a systematic literature review;
  8. Recognize the implications of being non-systematic, non-comprehensive, non-rigorous or non-transparent in putting together evidence syntheses;
  9. Demonstrate an understanding of the principles of survey and questionnaire design and validation
  10. Apply knowledge of the main methods of qualitative data collection and analysis
  11. Describe how qualitative research findings can be reviewed and synthesized

Teaching details

The unit will consist of 10 teaching weeks, plus reading and revision weeks. The unit is taught in teaching blocks 1 and is campus-based.

The format of the teaching weeks will be:

Directed and self-directed study: e.g. reading, e-learning, completion of assessments (150 hours)

Contact time: 20 lectures (20 hours) and 30 hours of tutorials. Informal progress checks of learning will be in-built based on exercises, quizzes, feedback from group discussions, and strategic questioning during lectures and practicals.

Assessment Details

Formative assessment will support student learning by using informal questioning, quizzes and group exercises in lectures and practicals. Students will complete a short-answer critical appraisal of a published research study using social research methods. This forms an assessment for learning and will not contribute to the final unit mark (ILOs 1-4 and 9-11). Students will also individually complete a mini-project on systematic reviewing and in groups undertake a critical appraisal of an RCT (ILOs 1-8). This will be an assessment for learning will not contribute to the final unit mark. However, engagement with the systematic review mini-project is required for credit to be awarded. Feedback will be provided to prepare students and consolidate their learning for the summative assessments.

Summative assessment: The unit is assessed by closed-book exam (50% of total mark) and coursework (50% of total mark). For the coursework component students will produce a 1,500 to 2000-word research protocol for a primary public health study using social research methods (ILOs 1-4 and 9-11). The closed-book exam will be 1.5hours and will cover the RCT and evidence synthesis aspects of the course. It will contain short-answer critical appraisal questions and multiple-choice questions. (ILOs 1-8).

An overall score of 50% will be required to pass the unit, with the contributions from coursework and exam equally weighted.

Reading and References

There is no essential course text.

Recommended reading:

  1. Egger, M., Davey Smith, G., Altman, D.G. (2001). Systematic Reviews in Health Care; Meta-analysis in Context. 2nd Ed. London. BMJ Books. [NB 3rd edition due out in 2018]
  2. De Vaus, D. (2013). Surveys in Social Research, 6th ed. Abingdon: Routledge.
  3. Dillman, D.A. (2007). Internet, Mail and Mixed Modes Surveys: the tailored design method. 3rd ed. New York: Wiley.
  4. Streiner, D., Norman, G., Cairney, J. (2015) Health Measurement Scales: A Practical Guide to their Development and Use. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Bryman, A. (2015) Social Research Methods. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.