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Unit information: Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences in 2014/15

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Unit name Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences
Unit code SPAIM0031
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

Description including Unit Aims

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 Information

The main method of teaching will be weekly face-to-face seminar sessions which will involve a combination of lecturing, group discussion and student presentations.

Assessment Information

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.