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BMSC103 Research Design and Ethics

Teaching organisation

150 hours of focused learning

Unit rationale, description and aim

Carefully designed research is the single critical component of all science and evidence-based practice. All scientists need to be able to evaluate the research carried out by others and to design their own research. Students will begin by explaining the appropriate use of different types of measurements, sampling, and research procedures and designs as well as the fundamental concepts of ethical practice. They will then review a number of pieces of research, critically evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in their designs and the ethical considerations involved. Finally, as a small group, students will spend a few weeks developing a novel research question of interest, and then designing an ethical experiment that would be able to answer that question. The aim of this unit is to provide students with the opportunity to develop the skills of a practicing scientist so that they can be critical users of the research of others, as well being able to design their own ethical research that could answer important questions.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Explain the appropriate use and limitations of different types of measurements, sampling methods and research procedures and designs commonly used in scienceGC1, GC9, GC11
LO2Critically evaluate the ethics, research procedures and designs found in the scientific literatureGC1, GC7, GC9, GC11
LO3Develop a novel research question and design an ethical experiment that could generate an answer to that questionGC1, GC2, GC4, GC7, GC8, GC9, GC12


Topics will include:

  • Research practice in the sciences  
  • Developing good research questions and hypotheses 
  • Scientific literature 
  • Academic writing 
  • Research designs  
  • Populations and sampling 
  • Measurement and error 
  • Validity and reliability 
  • Human participants and animal subjects in research 
  • Ethical issues associated with biomedical research 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

Lecture and tutorial classes will help students gain essential knowledge in various foundational research design concepts including literature searching, research methods, measurement, sampling, validation and ethical considerations.

Students will then be in a position to review and critically evaluate research designs and procedures in a broader scientific context. They will be required to individually review research reports, answer structured questions, as well as actively participate in small group discussion as guided by their tutor.

Finally, students will form small groups and propose a design for their own experiment. Through the guidance and advice of their tutor and the undertaking of an individual literature review, students will identify and develop a suitable, novel research question of interest. They will then need to evaluate possible measurement, sampling and research methods that are appropriate to answering their developed question. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessments in this unit reflect the progression of students’ research design skills and knowledge as they work through the unit of study. The quizzes test students’ understanding of foundational terminology and concepts of research design and ethics that will be later required to assess the work of others, and to design their own. The literature review provides an opportunity to critically appraise past research as both models and starting points for future research design. Finally, the research proposal provides an opportunity to collaboratively implement the principles of good ethical research design, based on previous work, in a novel proposal.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Quizzes: Requires students to demonstrate a knowledge of research design and the principles of measurement.



Literature review essay: Requires students to review and synthesize research in a topic area related to a research question that they develop. This exposure to past research allows students to learn about design through what has worked/not worked for others.


LO1, LO2

Research proposal: Requires groups to develop collaborative skills and their understanding of ethical research and experimental design by creating their own research proposal


LO1, LO2, LO3

Representative texts and references

Brink, H., Van Der Walt, C., & Van Rensburg, G. (2006). Fundamentals of Research Methodology for Health Care Professionals (2nd ed.). Cape Town: Juta. 

Greenhalgh, T. M. (2019). Understanding research methods for evidence-based practice in health (2nd ed.). Milton, Qld: John Wiley & Sons Australia.

Jacobsen, K. (2012). Introduction to Health Research Methods: A practical guide. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett Learning. 

Kumar, R. (2014). Research Methodology: a step-by-step guide for beginners (4th ed.). London: Sage Publications. 

Laake, P., Benestad, H., & Olsen, B. (Eds.). (2007). Research Methodology in the Medical and Biological Sciences. Amsterdam: Academic Press. 

Portney, L. G., & Watkins, M. P. (2008). Foundations of Clinical Research: applications to practice. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River. 

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