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Module DXX-4527:
Research Planning & Comm

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1 & 2

Organiser: Dr Simon Willcock

Overall aims and purpose

The primary aim of this module is to introduce of MSc students to the research process and to enhance your capacity to conduct independent research for your dissertation. A secondary aim is to consider the implications and dissemination of your research to various audiences.

This module is taught in association with DXX4534 (10 credits) and DXX4535 (15 credits).

Semester 1

We will consider how research is conducted and the logic underlying it, how to design a study, what questions to ask, how to collect the right data and analyse the data. This will be achieved using data from a short field study early in semester 1. Following on from that, what use we can make of our findings – a consideration of different reporting methods for various audiences. Those in DXX4527 will report their findings via an individual dissemination document. Throughout this semester, we will enhance your skill set via a number of practicals in R statistics (increasing analytical skills and coding skills) and ArGIS (providing the ability to use spatial data). Further additional training in numeracy (using Excel) and agent-based modelling (using Netlogo to model human and animal behaviour) will be available.

Semester 2

Early in semester 2, you will start the process of choosing your dissertation topic. In preparation for your dissertation, you will be introduced to a range of different kinds of study which may be undertaken for your dissertation, and how to plan these studies. As groups, you will undertake a mini-project in which you will identify a tractable, policy-relevant scientific question, and design, plan and carry out a fieldwork-based study to gather supporting evidence. This work culminates in the preparation of an individual poster, summarising your mini-project for a scientific audience. Following this, we will consider the ethical, health & safety and practical aspects of scientific research work. You will then individually present your dissertation idea orally as a ‘pitch to peers’ proposal in front of your class and the course director. You will receive feedback from both staff and fellow students, allowing you to refine your dissertation ideas. Finally, at the end of the module, you will produce an ‘Expression of Interest’ for your dissertation idea. This written work will include full risk and ethics assessments.

Course content

The scientific method and logic; the research matrix; introduction to the research process; experimental and study design; collection, entering and analysis of data in small scale projects; consideration of different kinds of research suitable for MSc dissertations; dissertation planning; specific techniques used in research; assessment of ethics and risk in research; dissemination of research findings; writing for different audiences; the why and how of fieldwork; training in R, ArcGIS, Excel, Netlogo & environmental evidence.

Assessment Criteria


A sufficient level of involvement in many aspects of the experimental process. Outputs show evidence of use of resources provided for the module but with little sourcing of external content. Best practice note written in an inaccessible style or format OR contains significant superfluous detail. Policy briefing document omits important relevant detail OR contains superfluous detail. Poster shows limited evidence of appropriate data management and analytical skills and the limited understanding of how to present results to a scientific audience. Omissions in understanding and knowledge of the topic are evident. Research matrix contains all the necessary elements but incomplete in content and/or shows flaws in scientific logic. Connection to the dissertation proposal is not very clear. The oral presentation of the dissertation proposal is incomplete in content or logic. Evident flaws in oral presentation skills (beyond the usual issues of nervousness).


A reasonable level of involvement in many aspects of the experimental process. Evidence of supplementary reading, original information and some critical thought in all aspects of the module. Best practice note written in an accessible style or format OR contains some superfluous detail. Policy briefing document omits certain relevant detail OR contains minor superfluous detail. Poster shows evidence of appropriate data management and analytical skills and the ability to display results to a scientific audience, with minor omissions or errors. Shows good understanding and knowledge of the topic. Research matrix clearly demonstrates an understanding of the scientific process and is logically connected to the dissertation proposal. The oral presentation of the dissertation proposal is complete clearly thought through and presented. The above two with minor faults in logic and presentation.


A full involvement in all aspects of the experimental process. Policy brief or practitioners' note, poster and oral presentation all very well developed, showing excellent understanding and depth of knowledge of the chosen topic. In all aspects of the module, evidence of substantial supplementary reading, sound collection and use of original information, and much critical thought. Best practice note written in an easily accessible style or format and contains no superfluous detail. Policy briefing document is effective in conveying all relevant information with no superfluous detail. The poster is well designed, presents evidence of ability to analyse data and present results to a high degree of expertise, and is a concise, precise and accurate summary of the small project findings. The research matrix is complete in content and logic with no errors and omissions. How it serves as a foundation for the dissertation proposal is clearly evident in the presentation. The oral presentation is complete and contains no omissions, leaving the audience with a clear understanding of what is proposed, why it is being done and how the research will be conducted.

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the logic underpinning the scientific method

  2. Demonstrate the practical and theoretical skills to devise, plan, conduct and analyse experiments or a natural resource management study for various purposes.

  3. Demonstrate the ability to convey the results of a scientific study to both scientist and non-scientist audiences

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Written assignment, including essay Scientific Poster 30
Written assignment, including essay Dissemination Document 25
Written assignment, including essay Expression of Interest 25
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT Online assessment of numeracy and excel skills 0

Teaching and Learning Strategy


Class presentations and skills seminars

Private study 114
Practical classes and workshops

Two types of practical work: 1) collection of data in the field; 2) computer practicals (both R and GIS)




Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Develop and identify research question(s) and/or hypotheses as the basis for investigation.
  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Awareness of the concepts of spatial and temporal scale in understanding processes and relationships.
  • Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
  • Employ appropriate social-survey methods.
  • Preparation of effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.
  • Engagement with current developments in the biosciences and their application.
  • Engage in debate and/or discussion with specialists and non-specialists using appropriate language.
  • Undertake field and/or laboratory studies of living systems.
  • Undertake practical work to ensure competence in basic experimental skills.
  • Understand the provisional nature of information and appreciate competing and alternative explanations.
  • Recognize the moral, ethical and social issues relating to the subject.
  • Collect and record data generated by a diverse range of methods.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation


Resource implications for students

Outdoor all-weather clothing and footwear.

Talis Reading list

Courses including this module