Horticultural Research I

Study a foundation subject to learn basic research skills for horticulture, amenity and cropping; for better business or to work in scientific enterprises.

Course CodeBHT118
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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What can good research skills do for you?

Good research skills will enable you identify emerging trends and changes that affect horticulture, and to help formulate better strategies, practices and uses for horticulture. Your ability to conduct and present research can lead to innovations that address crucial local and global issues, or to the provision of cutting-edge horticultural services.This course will develop your ability to research and present a critical, written and numerical assessment of information related to social, technological, environmental and economic issues that impact on Horticulture today. Good research skills will enable you be an innovator in horticulture, and to identify trends, issues, and needs that can create new opportunities and directions in horticulture.

For many students, their first experience with research occurred in school where they were required to prepare a research report or a presentation on a particular subject. This is the fundamental level of research, and its aim is to gather information on a topic, which is later to be presented to an intended audience (a class, teacher etc). Examples are research on a particular country, animal, or political system.

Another level of research aims at answering a research question (often called the thesis question). The information that is gathered and presented is chosen in order to answer that question. Examples of research questions are:

  • What main social and political factors contribute to poverty in country X?
  • Why is the Madagascan lemur an endangered species?
  • How was language used to justify and maintain the Cold War last century?
Well formulated and pertinent questions can lead to meaningful research projects that can greatly increase our understanding of the world and ourselves. The problem with this kind of research, though, is that it can be very difficult to know what questions to ask.


Lesson Structure

There are 7 lessons in this course:

  1. Determining Research Needs
    • Overview
    • Identifying research needs
    • The research goal
    • The research question
    • Other questions to clarify the research goal
    • Sources of information
    • What information is required
    • Depth and bredth of data
    • Setting realistic research parameters
    • Constraining factors
  2. Searching for Information
    • Kinds of exploratory research
    • Primary data research
    • Secondary data research
    • Literature reviews
  3. Research Methods
    • Key research terms
    • Experimentation
    • A controlled environment
    • Field trials
    • Steps in collection and analysis of data
    • Conducting a crop trial
    • Setting up a Comparison trial
    • Running a trial: records and recording
    • Evaluating the trial
    • Interviewing skills: procedure, asking questions, types of questions
    • Ways of handling difficult questions
  4. Using Statistics
    • Overview: Descriptive statistics, Inferential statistics
    • Official statistics
    • Reasons for using statistics
    • Advantages of statistics
    • Statistics: as guides and motivators
    • Disadvantages of statistics
    • Issues to consider
    • Descriptive statistics
    • Observed and expected rates
    • Confidence intervals
    • Standardizing
    • Reliability of statistics
    • Presenting statisticsa: pie charts, bar charts, histograms
    • Descriptive statistics: mean, median, mode, variation, variance, standard deviation, correlation, probability, etc
  5. Conducting Statistical Research
    • Collecting quantitative data
    • Conducting a survey
    • Form of data
    • Planning a formal survey
    • Designing a questionnaire
    • Common problems
  6. Research Reports
    • Report writing tips
    • Structure of a report
    • The report online
    • Research papers
    • Referencing
  7. Reporting on a Research Project
    • This lesson brings together what you have learned in previous lessons, in terms of critical assessment of other authors research papers or reports, and demonstrating your report writing skills.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

What You Will Do

  • Conduct preliminary investigations to determine areas where there is a valid need for research in social, technological and environmental issues that impact on horticulture today
  • Conduct an information search into a defined issue related to social, technological and environmental issues that impact on Horticulture today.
  • Explain research methods, including experimental techniques, commonly used.
  • Demonstrate and explain the basic statistical methods used for research.
  • Conduct a minor statistical research project into a well defined area, relevant to your area of study.
  • Prepare a research report in a format which conforms to normal industry procedures.
  • Demonstrate critical analytical thinking, reviewing skills and report writing skills



Research projects are not always handed to us.


Much of the time, we conduct research, or are asked to do so, in response to a perceived need. For the student seeking a meaning, relevant research project, the first step is to identify a need for that research. The need not be great or immediately pressing; it can be as simple as satisfying someone’s curiosity, or as practical as seeking a way to do things better or solving a persistent workplace problem. Therefore, there is no single correct way to find a need for research. You can begin investigating by talking to people in the field, listening to their needs and problems, asking around, observing processes, and even by asking yourself: What do I want to know but can’t find the answer to?

You can identify research needs by reading through the conclusions and recommendations of existing reports relevant to horticulture, horticultural research, environmental impacts on horticulture, horticultural business trends, etc. Information can be found in conferences reports, review papers and books and in the internet.

Report writers often note areas needing further investigation, or where the current information is inadequate.

You can also undertake what is called a “survey of the current literature” in a field (which can be limited to main trade journals in that field or extend to a survey of recent books as well as academic or professional journals in that field). This can help you identify some persistent or common questions or problems, and can also help you get an idea of what else you might like to know, or what area arouses your curiosity.

Another way is to identify problem areas in your workplace (or intended workplace) and consider how these problems might be solved. For instance, you work in retail horticulture and have noticed that while sales are good, you get many complaints from existing customers, and little return business. You might discuss this with others and also observe what’s happening, and might identify a possible problem in post-sale customer service. This presents a possible area of research in which you might examine the processes in place, the training, business culture etc. to identify specific weakness and needs and make recommendations for improvement.

Another example: Let us say that you are around 40-50 years old, and without much thinking about research, you have talked to friends also in your age group, some of whom are employers, managers and ordinary workers. Time and again, they complain that young people just don’t have a work ethic and cannot be relied upon to do their jobs well. You wonder about that, because you believe that your children, for instance, are hard-working and thorough, and you wonder how true your friends’ perceptions are. There is a possible research topic.

What do you do? When you have an idea, do a preliminary research to find if that topic has already been thoroughly investigated. Maybe you find a few small studies, based on a very limited number of subject, but nothing that can allow you reach an informed conclusion. There, you have possible area of research. Now, you need to narrow your focus more to come up with a research goal.

The Research Goal

The first question to ask after you have chosen a general area of research, and are trying to narrow it down to a research topic is: What is my research goal? This might seem like a simple question, but it is not always easy to answer. Let us say you plan to start an online school to teach English for business worldwide, and you want to research the need for grammar instruction in the business world. Think about what kind of information you need. Do you want information on available grammar courses? Do you want information on how well or poorly business people use correct grammar? What grammar do you want to focus on? Basic grammar or higher level grammar? All aspects or specific aspects of grammar, such as punctuation or sentence structure? What business world: in your country, in general, in a specific sector? In one continent? In one city? In one particular industry in your region? A specific research goal in this instance might be: To identify common areas of written English grammar deficit among low to middle level managers in Asian economies.


The Research Question

Now, you need to form the research question: a carefully worded question that your research will attempt to answer. One reason for forming a research question is that the purpose of research is to find answers; therefore, you need to ask a question. A question presents the problem as an enquiry. A goal, on the other hand, is a statement of intent, and in itself, it implies certain things about the topic. Take the goal: To identify common areas of written English grammar deficit among low to middle level managers in Asian economies.

The assumption in that statement is that there are common areas of written grammar deficit in the target group. Also, the function of a goal is to focus on an outcome, whereas the function of a question is to stimulate discovery or learning. Forming the goal into a question removes the assumption hidden in the goal and creates a more open-ended research thesis.

Consider the following research question that can be derived from the above-stated goal: What common areas of written English grammar deficit can be found among low to middle level managers in Asian economies? Or let’s try a more neutral question: Are there common areas on written English grammar deficit among low to middle managers in Asian economies?


Other Questions to Clarify the Research Goal

The second question should only be asked after you have answered the first question. The second question is: What do I need to know?

This means, what do I need to know in order to achieve the research goal, both for myself and the intended audience. In the case of the online English school, the answer might be: I need to know what areas of grammar low to middle level managers perceive as being problematic, and in what areas of grammar their staff and employers perceive them to be deficient. (You can see how more focused goals can begin to suggest avenues of research).


A third question might be: What do I want to know?

This could include information that is of particular interest to the researcher (such as, what prior grammar training these people have received, or current social perceptions and values regarding the learning of grammar), or it could include information that you think the intended audience might want to know but that is not essential to achieving the research goal (e.g. levels of grammar used by low to middle-level managers in other countries).


What Can This Course Do For Me?

Being able to conduct and understand research is a valuable skill to have. Not only can you explore areas of interest within the field of horticulture, but you can make sense of research which has been undertaken by others and determine how useful it is. Research is the backbone of all sciences. It is through research that new ideas and theories are born. Research is valuable both for personal development and the advancement of horticulture. This course will be of value to people wishing to work in:

  • Horticulture research
  • Teaching
  • Horticultural science
  • Plant breeding
  • Botany
  • General horticulture

Horticulture research is also suited to people who have a genuine interest in learning more about their field of interest, and even to those with little background in horticulture.    

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Dr. Lynette Morgan

Broad expertise in horticulture and crop production. She travels widely as a partner in Suntec Horticultural Consultants, and has clients in central America, the USA, Caribbean, South East Asia, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.
Marie Beermann

Marie has more than 10 years experience in horticulture and education in both Australia and Germany. Marie's qualifications include B. Sc., M. Sc. Hort., Dip. Bus., Cert. Ldscp.
Martin Powdrill

25 years working in Telecommunications, IT, Organisational Development, and Energy Conservation & Efficiency, prior to setting up his own Permaculture consulting business. Martin has a Bsc (Hons) Applied Science (Resources Option), MSc Computer Studies, P
Jacinda Cole

B.Sc., Cert.Garden Design. Landscape Designer, Operations Manager, Consultant, Garden Writer. He was operations manager for a highly reputable British Landscape firm (The Chelsea Gardener) before starting up his own landscaping firm. He spent three year
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