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Unit information: Research Methods in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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. Jones
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 some key 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 an 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

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the principles of survey and questionnaire design and validation
  2. Identify different RCT designs and the public health questions to which each is suited
  3. Explain common challenges in the design and analysis of RCTs and describe how they are addressed
  4. Develop and conduct a PubMed search strategy to identify reports for inclusion in a systematic review;
  5. Conduct and interpret meta-analyses of RCTs
  6. Differentiate between different types of evidence syntheses and describe when to apply these
  7. Understand the role of qualitative and quantitative research designs in public health research and the types of inquiry for which each may be relevant;
  8. Apply knowledge of the main methods of qualitative data collection and analysis
  9. Demonstrate an understanding of how quantitative and qualitative methods can be combined
  10. Outline ethical issues that can arise when designing and undertaking public health research.
  11. Critically appraise the validity of research studies for public health inquiry and assess the credibility of study conclusions

Teaching details

There will be 10 teaching weeks, plus reading week and revision week.

Face to face teaching for a total of 50 hours will include lectures and tutorials. Directed and self-directed learning (150 hours) will include activities such as reading and preparation for assessment

Assessment Details

Formative assessment will support student learning by using informal questioning, quizzes and group exercises in lectures and tutorials. These will form assessments for learning and will not contribute to the final unit mark. Feedback will consolidate learning for the summative assessments.

Summative assessment: the unit is assessed by coursework (100%):

A written assignment, addressing critical appraisal of RCTs and interpretation and synthesis of results, in a systematic review (50% of total mark), (ILOs: 2-7; 11)

Students will produce a research protocol (up to 2000 words) for a primary public health study using social research methods (50% of total mark), (ILOs 1, 7-11).

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

Reading and References

There is no essential course text.

Recommended reading:

Ben Shlomo Y, Brookes S, Hickman M (2013) Lecture Notes: Epidemiology, Evidence-based Medicine and Public Health. 6th Ed. Wiley Blackwell.

Egger M, Davey Smith G, Altman DG (2001). Systematic Reviews in Health Care; Meta-analysis in Context. 2nd Ed. London. BMJ Books. [NB 3rd edition due out in 2019]