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Unit information: Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences in 2020/21

Unit name Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences
Unit code SOCIM0013
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Therese O'Toole
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The unit offers graduate level grounding in the rationale, strengths and limitations of a selection of key research methods most commonly utilised in contemporary qualitative social research. The training covers topics that may include the reasons why qualitative research methods are adopted; a range of the most common methods used; the ethics and problems associated with conducting qualitative research; the use of observation, ethnography, interviews and focus groups as research methods; the use of archives and documents; visual research; techniques in e-research; research design; the use of covert and overt research; data protection; intellectual property rights; plus practical sessions on information retrieval, and the ethics and governance of data protection.


  • To explain the philosophical background to qualitative forms of social research
  • To make students aware of the wide variety of qualitative social research methods and how to select the techniques most appropriate to their task
  • To aid students in understanding how to formulate focused research questions and how to translate these into manageable projects
  • To make students aware of practical issues in information retrieval and the ethics of data protection

Intended learning outcomes

  • Capacity to design qualitative research on substantive area of interest to social science, using appropriate methodological tools
  • Ability to evaluate the research practice, data and interpretations of others
  • Sensitivity to ethical dimensions of social research
  • Appreciation of a reflexive approach to social research
  • Capacity to work as part of a team, as well as individually

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

Summative assessment will have two elements:

A). Research Design (maximum 1500 words, 25% of total assessment)

Research Design involves the following: students will be asked to design a qualitative research project which will incorporate identifying research question, aims and objectives, methodology (including ethical and political issues raised) and rationale for chosen methodology.

B.) 1 assessed essay (1 question from choice of 8) (2500 words, 75% of total assessment).

Reading and References

  • Berg, B. 2004 Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, Allyn and Bacon Press.
  • Bryman, A. 2001 Social Research Methods, Oxford University Press, Oxford UP.
  • Bloor, M.2001 Focus Groups in Social Research, Oxford University Press
  • Esterberg, K. 2002 Qualitative Methods in Social Research, McGraw Hill
  • Gilbert, G. N. (ed.) 2001 Researching Social Life, 2nd edn, Sage.
  • Liamputton, P. 2005 Qualitative Research Methods, Oxford University Press.