This programme is designed to build on the links between social work research and practice in a range of settings to develop the skills required by practice-based professionals and postgraduate students interested in carrying out social work and social care research.

You will learn the skills researchers need in order to maximise the impact of their work in addressing real issues of concern with policy makers, managers, practitioners and service users in social work and care.

The programme offers a combination of academic rigour, up-to-date practice content and relevant and transferable research skills development. Core units will draw on theories and research methods from across the social sciences - including economics, law and philosophy - providing you with a strong foundation with which to carry out your own research.

The programme is delivered through a combination of intensive block teaching and weekly delivery so that it is as accessible as possible to postgraduate students, busy policy professionals and practitioners. Units are designed to allow students to accumulate credits flexibly and organise their patterns of attendance to suit their needs and circumstances.

The MSc and Postgraduate Diploma consist of four core, two optional units and, for the MSc only, a dissertation of 10-­15,000 words.

Optional units build on the school's particular research expertise and will focus on the skills you will require as a social work researcher engaged with a variety of disciplines. For example, you may choose to study community development programmes in the context of poverty, interventions to tackle domestic violence, or programmes for young offenders. Other optional units focus on the wellbeing of particular groups such as children with disabilities, people with severe and long-term mental illness, or asylum seekers and migrants.

This programme does not include practical training or lead to a professional qualification in social work. If you want to study for a qualification in social work practice, please see the MSc Social Work.


This programme aims to develop the student's interest in and knowledge and understanding of:

  • The epistemological, methodological and ethical aspects of conducting social science research;
  • The essential skills (research design, data collection, data analysis, presentation of results and policy/practice recommendations) for conducting high impact quality research on issues of concern to policy makers and practitioners in statutory, voluntary and charitable sector organisations;
  • The broader social, political and economic context in which practice research is carried out and applied in social work and social care;
  • The requirements for effectively managing and commissioning research, including the utilisation and dissemination of research findings to policy makers and practitioners.

On successful completion of MSc Social Work Research, students should be able to:

  • critically interpret and evaluate research on social work/practice;
  • design and conduct research appropriate to the requirements and questions of policy makers, practitioners, service managers, service users and carers;
  • apply appropriate research designs, methodology, and methods of data collection and analysis in a rigorous manner;
  • use social work/practice research to impact policy and social work/practice.

Teaching methods

A variety of teaching methods are used across the different units. Lectures are combined with seminars, and in many units, students are given the opportunity to develop presentational skills through group projects.


The programme units provide a range of both formative and summative assessment methods:

  • formative (group presentations or individual assignments)
  • summative (essays on given topics)
  • dissertation.

Other methods of assessment include:

  • project proposals
  • research briefs
  • critical evaluations of design/methods in practice research proposals
  • data analysis and interpretation exercises.

Study support

The programme offers support for essay and dissertation writing, and those who need extra or intensive support can access a range of study skills and language classes at the University. Support is offered in study skills, particularly for those who do not have an academic background, or who have had a long time away from academic study. All students will be assigned a personal tutor, and will have an allocated time for a 1-1 tutorial during the course of each unit. During the dissertation phase, a dissertation workshop and individual one-one supervision are key to progress, and students receive support from experts in their own chosen topic area and/or methodological interests.


The dissertation is based on an empirical research project carried out under the guidance of an academic supervisor. It may focus on any aspect of Social Work Research, as defined above and may use any of the methods taught on the programme. The dissertation itself is 10-15,000 words in length. The dissertation counts for three (3) units (60 credit points out of a total of 180 credit points) and is mandatory for the student to be awarded an MSc in Social Work Research.

The dissertation allows students the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge acquired in the taught component in planning and carrying out a piece of research on a practice-related issue of their choice. Students are expected to demonstrate the relationship between empirical research and theory generation and theory testing. In addition, the dissertation must address explicitly the question of research utilisation and reflect critically on the ways in which research has been or might be used in the practice setting in question.

While students are not expected to apply all of the methods and techniques covered in the programme, they are expected to frame an appropriate question and design a robust research approach within the constraints of a 10-15,000 word dissertation carried out usually within a period of three months for full-time students (up to 12 months for part-time students).

Programme handbook

You can download the current handbook here: MPR-MSWR-MDS-Combined programme handbook 2019-20 (PDF, 1,183kB). If you have problems accessing the documents please contact the Postgraduate Student Administrator who will email or send you a copy.

Meet the staff

School admissions: sps-pgadmissions@bristol.ac.uk, +44 (0)117 954 6785

Unit convenors:

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