regard, visits to State Public Health Units, local government departments or special institutes would be rewarding in that staff are usually pleased to discuss issues with students. While there is no requirement that students provide a written record of such visits, reference to any such visits in the Protocol would be useful.
- A compulsory part of the Protocol is the production of a questionnaire to elicit information from a sample of the population (techniques and calculations for estimating sample size must be shown). While it is not intended that the student carry out an actual survey using the questionnaire, it could nevertheless be pilot tested by applying it to a small but relevant group of 4-5 fellow students, work colleagues, family or friends, with their permission, in order test their understanding of the questions, and the ability of the questions to elicit the right information. Numerical data obtained from this pilot study does not have to be presented but its existence of pilot testing could be mentioned.
- It is suggested that in the final Protocol students show “before and after” versions of their questionnaires (before and after pilot testing) with an explanation of why the changes were made. Some of the later Study Modules discuss methods for the successful construction and use of questionnaires, and their use as standardised instruments for the accurate gathering of data. While the exercises associated with these Modules do not have to be handed in for marking, completion of them will assist in developing the Portfolio.
- It is important that the proposed study is realistic, being based on fact and on existing conditions and that it is both viable and relevant in terms of local epidemiological constraints and needs. If you choose a health condition for your investigation and there have been few relevant papers published, this might be a warning sign that the condition is too rare or difficult to study effectively, or has multiple hypothesised causes (risk factors) which are difficult to prove or tease apart. Many behavioural problems, such as anxiety neurosis, or social problems, such as motor vehicle accidents, fall into this category, and this may suggest why we have been relatively unsuccessful at identifying and addressing the base causes of these problems. It is suggested you discuss feasibility with the lecturer. If you feel, however, that you have developed capacity during the program to design a complex protocol, the challenge presented might count in your favour when the mark is awarded.
- To proceed with the assignment, you could initially identify more than one disease or health state in which you are interested or which seem important, explore the literature for previous studies and identify the feasibility of a local study. Alternately you might find out that a local study already exists, so that a design for repeating this would not be very highly regarded by the examiner, unless you have a new perspective to offer. Do not forget that you need disease information, risk factor information and probably demographic information about the general nature of the effected population. A primary aim will be to carry out analysis of the disease in terms of the local risk factors you have identified to see if these contribute significantly to its occurrence. This will inevitably involve the identification and explanation of the analytical method you would apply to the data, although you will not have any actual data to work with. Refer back to the “Toolkit” lectures to identify a suitable method. The study must therefore be more than a mere description of a health problem and its contributory factors. Methods for analysing different “blocks” of data must be identified and described. Do not worry if this all seems daunting on the first read-through of this section as you still have to learn the analytical techniques which are carefully and clearly explained in the lectures and notes.
- Reading the literature will help you to decide on a Protocol topic, and once this decision is made you should select the three most important papers and carry out a journal review of each these. The review for each paper should be in three parts; a summary, assessment (discussion of the meaning, strengths and weaknesses of the paper), and statement of relevance to your own study, as presented in your Protocol. These analyses are included in the submission; equal marks being awarded for each of the three parts. The papers can be used again in referencing the text and can be mentioned in your final reference list so time spent on your journal reviews has potential to produce outcomes in two assessable parts of the Protocol. No referencing or cross-referencing for each review is expected as the source of all information is already being obtained from a peer-reviewed document.
Components of a good Protocol
This discussion describes sections which would be expected to be found in a good protocol, in the order given. The sections and their arrangement might, however, vary with the topic selected: a. Title: A good title says what will be done, and where it will take place. It is usually best to “polish” the title when you have finished a report as your ideas will inevitably shift as your study proceeds. A typical title would be “Risk factors for teenage smoking in the Blacktown community” .
Make sure the title reflects what the intended study will actually cover and avoid giving a vague, rhetorical or
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