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Unit information: Research Design Methods & Skills in the Social Sciences in 2021/22

Unit name Research Design Methods & Skills in the Social Sciences
Unit code GEOGM0035
Credit points 15
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Mr. Hayes
Open unit status Not open

As this is an advanced-level quantitative course, working knowledge of the theory and application of regression analysis is assumed.


Other mandatory units

School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

This is an advanced level research design and methods course intended to equip students with a broad range of relevant skills and knowledge, allowing them to formulate research questions and later carry out their own research projects. The primary aims of the unit are to:

  • Introduce the epistemological and methodological traditions in social science research and map the social science research space, particularly highlighting the range of quantitative methods used;
  • Introduce key skills for designing and organizing a research project, conducting critical reviews of published research; and disseminating and communicating research.

The main topics to be covered include: ontology and epistemology in social research; varieties of approaches to research design from different disciplinary backgrounds; question design and formulation; criteria for evaluating research and strategies to enhance research quality; critical evaluation of different methodologies; preparing research proposals and communicating research.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this unit, students will:

  1. Understand the principles of research design and appreciate multiple alternative approaches to research questions;
  2. critical understanding of the scientific method;
  3. understand the significance of alternative epistemological positions that provide the context for theory construction, research design and the selection of appropriate analytical techniques;
  4. acquire advanced knowledge of interdisciplinary research skills;
  5. understand the principles behind causal inference;
  6. understand the theoretical and data structure assumptions underlying a range of advanced quantitative methods;
  7. understand the relationship between empirical research and theory generation and testing (theory-evidence links);
  8. understand the principles of policy-relevant research – including the development of evidence-based policy;
  9. understand the appropriate contexts for different analytical techniques and their limits, including experimental versus observational study designs;
  10. appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of data from primary and secondary sources, and be able to select relevant information and data sources;
  11. be able to define a researchable problem and formulate research questions and hypotheses that are amenable to empirical investigation;
  12. develop capacity in problem solving, conceptualising the dimensions of a problem and operationalising its key parameters;
  13. understand issues posed by social research in relation to ethics, confidentiality and legality.
  14. be familiar with the format and mechanisms for the dissemination of research through relevant professional bodies, including conference papers, posters and journal articles, and the process of peer review.
  15. Scholarly written communication including the clear elucidation of abstract concepts underlying research design;
  16. Ability to select, summarise and synthesise written information from multiple sources;
  17. Ability to develop rigorous arguments through precise use of concepts and models;
  18. Ability to critically evaluate different research approaches and apply appropriate design principles to particular disciplinary contexts;
  19. Ability to evaluate research findings produced by a range of different empirical methods;
  20. Ability to work with others from different disciplinary backgrounds and development of good communication skills when delivering material to inter-disciplinary audiences;
  21. Ability to understand issues posed by social research in relation to ethics, confidentiality and legality (including intellectual property rights), and acquire the skills needed in order to respect, consider and attend to the rights of other researchers and, where appropriate, research participants
  22. Bibliographic skills, enabling them to identify and use library and other bibliographic resources and maintain a personal research bibliography;

Computing skills including word processing, spreadsheets and database management.

Teaching Information

This course is delivered in sections divided between each institution (Bath, Bristol, Exeter)

Assessment Information

3 x 500 - 1500 word project

One project based on the component taught at each of the three institutions. This will meet all the learning outcomes


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. GEOGM0035).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.