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Sociological Research Methods

Course overview

(MA) Master of Arts
Sociological Research Methods
University of Essex
University of Essex
Colchester Campus
Full-time or part-time
MA L30124

A 2:1, or international equivalent in a social science, humanities or other discipline which must include at least two humanities or social science modules (this can include the research project/dissertation).

Applications from students with a 2:2 or equivalent or a non-social sciences degree will be considered dependent on any relevant professional or voluntary experience, previous modules studied and/or personal statement.

For MA Migration Studies only, you may be required to attend an interview/Skype interview as part of the application process.

If English is not your first language, we require IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 6.0

External Examiners

Prof Jacqui Gabb
The Open University
Professor of Sociology and Intimacy
Prof Paul Stretesky
The University of Northumbria at Newcastle
Professor of Criminology

External Examiners provide an independent overview of our courses, offering their expertise and help towards our continual improvement of course content, teaching, learning, and assessment. External Examiners are normally academics from other higher education institutions, but may be from the industry, business or the profession as appropriate for the course. They comment on how well courses align with national standards, and on how well the teaching, learning and assessment methods allow students to develop and demonstrate the relevant knowledge and skills needed to achieve their awards. External Examiners who are responsible for awards are key members of Boards of Examiners. These boards make decisions about student progression within their course and about whether students can receive their final award.

eNROL, the module enrolment system, is now open until Monday 21 October 2019 8:59AM, for students wishing to make changes to their module options.


Core You must take this module You must pass this module. No failure can be permitted.
Core with Options You can choose which module to study
Compulsory You must take this module There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the degree if you fail.
Compulsory with Options You can choose which module to study
Optional You can choose which module to study

Year 1 - 2019/20

Exit Award Status
Component Number Module Code Module Title Status Credits PG Diploma PG Certificate
01 SC504-7-AU / SC520-7-SP / SC524-7-SP / SC901-7-SP / SC905-7-AU / Sociology option Optional 0 Optional Optional

Year 2 - 2020/21

Exit Award Status
Component Number Module Code Module Title Status Credits PG Diploma PG Certificate
01 SC981-7-FY Dissertation Core 60 Optional
02 SC504-7-AU / SC901-7-AU / SC905-7-AU / SC520-7-SP / SC524-7-SP / Options from list Optional 0 Optional Optional

Exit awards

A module is given one of the following statuses: 'core' – meaning it must be taken and passed; 'compulsory' – meaning it must be taken; or 'optional' – meaning that students can choose the module from a designated list. The rules of assessment may allow for limited condonement of fails in 'compulsory' or 'optional' modules, but 'core' modules cannot be failed. The status of the module may be different in any exit awards which are available for the course. Exam Boards will consider students' eligibility for an exit award if they fail the main award or do not complete their studies.

Programme aims

To provide students with an advanced understanding of the distinct character of the sociological research process.

To provide students with a knowledge of the main traditions of contemporary sociological research.

To provide students with the necessary skills of the main qualitative and quantitative sociological methods of data collection and analysis.

To establish a critical understanding of integration of theory, concepts, data, and analysis.

To train students in the design and conduct of original research.

To provide students with the knowledge and skills to enable them to proceed to further independent, self-directed research.
Postgraduate Diplomas are identical to those for MA Schemes with the exception of the Learning Outcomes of the Dissertation.

Diploma Students do not write a dissertation.

Learning outcomes and learning, teaching and assessment methods

On successful completion of the programme a graduate should demonstrate knowledge and skills as follows:

A: Knowledge and understanding

A1 A solid sociological knowledge at the forefront of thinking in sociological research
A2 An advanced comprehension of the principles of research design and strategy, such as how to formulate researchable problems and to evaluate alternative approaches to research
A3 A critical understanding of the relationship between theory and empirical research
A4 A knowledge of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative designs and skills
A5 A knowledge of an integrative approach to data collection and analysis
A6 A knowledge of relevant computer-assisted methods of analysis
A7 An appreciation of the centrality of research questions and hypotheses in sociological enquiry
A8 An understanding of how to address the ethical and political dimensions of research
A9 A critical understanding of the significance of alternative epistemological and ontological positions and ethical considerations that provide the context for sociological research
A10 In depth knowledge of a chosen field through independent original research
Learning Methods: The schemes involves one foundation module in sociological theory, one foundation module in research design and three modules of research methods, and one option.

Students are required to conduct interviews (SC520), to carry out fieldwork and analyse texts and documents as data (SC523), investigate surveys and ethnographies (SC905), do surveys and conduct advanced multivariate analysis (SC504).

We use lectures to present material, ideas, data and arguments, in a clear and structured manner using examples, mapping the field and the contours of debates.

Lectures are also used to stimulate students interest in learning the methods for sociological research.

In each module the issues and methods covered in lectures are explored further through hands on practices or assignments for which students have to prepare.

The course is designed to involve clear connection between the foundational theories and principles in the research design and theory modules and the skill oriented modules.

There is a strong emphasis on developing students advanced understanding of epistemological traditions through contemporary debates and the process and logic of research design in SC901 and SC905.

Classes and seminars provide the opportunity for students to develop their knowledge and understanding of the content of the modules.
In addition student learning takes place through the work they do preparing essays and, where appropriate, practical assignments.
Assessment Methods: Outcomes A1 to A9 are assessed through coursework.

Coursework includes oral presentations, assignments, and essays.

In addition, the assessed work for all MA students includes a dissertation, which specifically assesses Outcome 10.

B: Intellectual and cognitive skills

B1 An advanced ability to search, summarise, and critically review sociological literature
B2 A sense of criticism in comparatively reviewing competing theories and explanations
B3 The ability to develop an original sociological argument
B4 An advanced ability to formulate researchable sociological questions
B5 A practical capability to collect qualitative sociological data
B6 A practical capability to collect quantitative sociological data
B7 An advanced ability to evaluate, analyse, and interpret empirical evidence
Learning Methods: Students enhance the above intellectual skills primarily through the work they do for their modules, although lectures and classes provide a means of teachers demonstrating these skills through example.

Learning is enhanced by hands on exercises in all the modules.

Preparation for classes involves the reading, interpretation and evaluation of sociological texts and the collection and analysis of empirical data to hone methodological skills.

Class tutors provide feedback on all student work through comment and discussion.

In addition, tutors also engage students outside the classroom during office hours, appointments, and increasingly more often by email.

Similarly the preparation of essays and other assignments also develops the listed intellectual skills.

Students are provided with feedback on all assessed work and this is crucial to their intellectual development.

The dissertation is used to demonstrate their mastery of a particular method of sociological data collection as well as their analytical ability and understanding of the complete research process.

Additionally, MA students, along with PhD students and staff, are encouraged to attend the two day Annual Graduate Conference, which is held in February off campus.

Addressing a different topical theme each year, it provides a stimulating forum for intellectual debate and discussion.
Assessment Methods: Outcomes B2 and B3 are judged and evaluated in SC901, B1 and B4 are assessed in SC905, and B5 is evaluated in SC523 and SC520, and B6 in SC504.
B7 is evaluated in each of the half units and all outcomes are assessed once more in the MA dissertation (though a choice is usually made between quantitative and qualitative approaches).

Demonstration of advanced intellectual skills is a key criterion in awarding distinctions for essays and dissertations.

C: Practical skills

C1 An advanced ability to retrieve relevant socioloical literature using library and online searches
C2 A practical ability to summarise, evaluate and review sociological arguments, sociological texts and sociological findings
C3 Competence in at least one major qualitative software package for analysis
C4 Competence in at least one major quantitative software package for analysis
C5 A practical ability to apply statistical techniques, from basic to advanced, to sociological data
C6 A hands-on ability to use data from a variety of sources
C7 A capacity for self direction in the planning, management and presentation of a piece of medium scale research, making judgements about the best use of time and data
Learning Methods: In SC905 students learn to conduct professional literature searches and reviews and to work on various aspects of the sociological process.

SC905 covers the basics of quantitative and qualitative data sources and methods, and the more advanced skills of using Stata are taught in SC504.

SC520 covers qualitative data analysis using WinMAX, both relying on practical engagement in class.

SC523 covers the analysis of texts and observational/ethnographic research, both relying on practical exercises in delivery.

All the five modules teaching practical skills emphasise the integration of data collection and analysis.
Assessment Methods: Skills C1 and C2 are specifically assessed in SC905 assignments, but also form part of the assessment of almost every piece of assessed module essays.

C3 is assessed in an assignment for SC520 and skills C4 and C5 are assessed in SC504.
SC520 and SC523 assess C6 for one type of data source.

For example, 30% of the coursework for SC520 is an assessed qualitative interview, SC523 includes observation exercises, while SC504 requires students to show the ability to use various sources of quantitative data.

The assessment of C7 is accomplished by the marking of the MA dissertation.

D: Key skills

D1 An advanced ability in presenting ideas and evidence to others orally, in a clear and concise manner and an advanced ability to present ideas and evidence to others in writing, in a clear and concise manner
D2 An advanced ability to collect and present materials using information technology
D3 An ability to read, interpret and draw inferences from official statistics; a capacity to carry out medium to advanced statistical calculations
D4 A good self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems
D6 An essential understanding of how to plan, set appropriate time schedules and assess the feasibility of projects; a keen awareness of the need to reflect on their own work and to respond constructively to the comments of others
Learning Methods: Key skills are taught and learned throughout the scheme through a range of strategies, such as requiring students to give oral presentations, through giving them specific assignments such as carrying bibliographic and web searches, through specific writing assignments and essays, and through class discussion and class and essay preparation.

The specific issue of dissemination is discussed in SC905, though not assessed.
Students learn to manage their own research projects through the support and advice of supervisors.

They are given feedback on all their coursework and on their dissertation research and are encouraged to reflect on their own work and improve on it.

Students also have the opportunity to develop skills in working in groups through their participation in the classes for every module.
Assessment Methods: Key skills are assessed throughout the degree through continuous assessed coursework.
D1 is assessed by in class presentations, while SC504, SC520,and SC523 all use assignments to assess written skills for communicating ideas (D2).

This skill is also assessed in the dissertation.
D3 is evaluated in specific assignments for SC504.

Depending on the students choice of topic, D4 is assessed in SC504 and by the dissertation.
D5 is evaluated through the essay for SC504 and D6 in assignments for SC905 and in the MA dissertation.
The dissertation also provides a means for an overall assessment of communication (D1), problem solving skills (D6), research management (D7), and responding to and working with constructive comments (D8).
The skill of using comments on ones work (D8) is also reflected in the assignments in SC905.


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