Learn to conduct research in horticulture or gardening. 100 hour course to understand theory, then apply that understanding in a major project.

Course Code: BHT118
Fee Code: S3
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement 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.


The course contains seven lessons:

  1. Determining Research Needs
  2. Searching for Information
  3. Research Methods
  4. Using Statistics
  5. Conducting Statistical Research
  6. Research Reports
  7. Reporting on a Research Project

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.

What you will do in this course

  • 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.

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.


Exploratory research uses existing information, and generally, and may be classified according to the kind of date required.

Primary Data Research

Primary data are information obtained by the researcher for a particular research project. The information can be gained from observation, testing, interviews and other people-based sources. For example, research may be conducted by a school music teacher into the effectiveness of different methods for teaching young children to read music. The research might include many observations, discussion with different music teacher, experimentation etc.

The possible sources of primary data for exploratory research are:
a) Observation – descriptive studies are based on the observation of people, behaviours, animals, nature or things. Many discoveries are based on simple observation of patterns or trends.
b) Casual interviews   talking informally with people (whether friends or strangers) can help develop your ideas and provide you with additional information. There is no real pre-planning of the questions you will ask.
c) Focus group interviewing   this involves carefully selecting the people you talk to about a subject (eg: if you are writing on business, you talk to businessmen). You should plan the interview and know what questions you are going to ask.
d) Formal surveys.

Secondary Data Research

Secondary data are gathered from existing resources that have often been created for other purposes. These include existing documents, records, collections of specimens, reports etc. that were did not originate for the purposes of the experiment. For instance, a research into migration patterns in a particular city might draw on statistics based on prior government census reports. 

The sources of secondary data for exploratory research are:
a) Universities and research organisations. Here sources for information are their libraries and talking to researchers.
b) Published sources including books, magazines, journals, and newspapers
c) Internal company records
d) Government (e.g.: Bureau of statistics, year books, department publications and reports)
e) Trade, professional and business associations (e.g.: Unions, Chamber of Commerce, Institute of Architects).
f) Private businesses
g) Marketing and information sourcing companies. Such businesses make their living from selling information that they collect and file.

Literature Reviews

In general, all research projects, reports and thesis start with a literature review that analyzes the need for a research in a particular topic.

It justifies why there is a need for a research in a particular area, what is the current situation of the research in the world, which are the main issues that affect the problem to be studied, how other researchers are approaching the problem, and what have been the proposed solutions in the past.
The literature review organizes the information gathered in the exploratory phase of a research in a format that can be used to present it to tutors, reviewers, bosses and potential funding bodies as a research idea. It is the first step of a research proposal. If the idea gets attention, then a research proposal can be developed formally.

Steps of a literature review:
a) Make a list of possible publications or sources of information that will be valuable and a list of essential sources to consult. You can do that by internet searches with the key words and “bibliography”, “literature”, “reviews”. It is always very effective to find the latest review paper on the subject, as that will provide information on the most important researchers and research groups in the world, therefore guiding the literature review. 

b) Start by  scanning the papers and articles, and classifying them in “themes” or subjects, like:
a. By methods and methodologies
b. By topic
c. By cause-effect
d. By results
e. By arguments that support your hypothesis and
f. Arguments against your hypothesis

c) Prioritize the groups, and prepare a folder or table where you have the whole reference of the paper/book, etc. and a comment on what is there that is interesting for your research. This will make report writing quick and easy.

d) The last step is to write a draft of your literature review chapter of your report. It contains your hypothesis, the literature that supports your hypothesis AND the opinions of authors that don’t support your hypothesis, with an objective discussion (critique) of their opinions. This will support and explain your research goals and your chosen methods.

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

Barbara Seguel

Teacher and Researcher, Biologist, Aquaculture expert.
Barbara has a B.Sc. and M.Sc in Aquaculture Engineering.
Over the past decade, Barbara has worked in Hawaii, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, and is now settled in Australia. She has co authored severa

Dr. Lynette Morgan (Crops)

Lyn has a broad expertise in horticulture and crop production. Her first job was on a mushroom farm, and at university she undertook a major project studying tomatoes. She has studied nursery production and written books on hydroponic production of herbs.

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