1 year full time, 2 years part time
Starts September 2017

Social Research Methods

This MSc is for you if you’re interested in studying for a research degree in the social sciences, or want to learn about research methods.

This Masters is recognised by the ESRC-funded South East Network for Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership as a pathway to doctoral study.

You can also take this course as a stand-alone degree if you wish to apply advanced research methodologies to an area of academic or policy interest without doing a PhD.

“The MSc provided me with a broad methodological base of research skills, making life easier during the design and research for my thesis.” Samuel PowerSocial Research Methods MSc

Key facts

  • This course is an excellent preparation for doctoral study.
  • Recognised by the ESRC as a research training-Masters degree, the course is ideal if you are seeking ESRC funding.
  • You will be part of the School of Global Studies at Sussex.

How will I study?

You study:

  • the philosophical underpinnings of research
  • research design
  • research ethics
  • quantitative and qualitative methods.

Options in advanced research methods give you the key skills for carrying out doctoral-level research, or research outside an academic setting, for example in public policy.

You also take a research option in your chosen field of study, involving independent reading, attendance at research seminars, and regular individual supervisions with a member of faculty.

Taught modules are assessed by term papers or coursework portfolios. The research option is assessed by a 10,000-word dissertation.

Full-time and part-time study

Choose to study this course full time or part time, to fit around your work and family life. Modules for the full-time course are listed below.

For details about the part-time course, contact us at

What will I study?

  • Module list

    Core modules

    Core modules are taken by all students on the course. They give you a solid grounding in your chosen subject and prepare you to explore the topics that interest you most.

    • Introduction to Qualitative Methods

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This course introduces you to the nature and characteristics of qualitative social research and its applications in a range of contexts. It will also equip you with some key personal and practical skills relevant to successful qualitative research.

      The course comprises of four sections. Section one will introduce the variety of methodological positions and research practices associated with qualitative research strategies. Section two focuses on the nature of ethnographic fieldwork and provides critical contexts for its exploration. Section three uses the key data collection method of interviewing to take you through the research process and especially issues in the analysis of qualitative data. Section four deals with the key dimensions of ethics and politics in qualitative settings and critically assesses the feminist contribution to qualitative methodology. The course will also include a workshop on NVivo.

    • Introduction to Quantitative Methods

      15 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

    • Research Design and Ethics

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This research design course is taught by a multi-disciplinary team representing education, law and social work. Examples and perspectives relevant to these disciplines are drawn on. The course also provides a general introduction to methods and methodologies in the design of social research projects. The aim is to provide you with a grounding in the major research traditions and the requirements of research design within a range of paradigms associated with both quantitative and qualitative methods.

      In particular the course will focus on distinguishing methodologies and methods; finding a research focus and generating research questions; using quantitative methods in research design; using qualitative methods in research design; combining qualitative and quantitative data in research design; ethical issues in social research with special reference to professional settings and post modernity and social research.

    • Advanced Methods in Social Research

      15 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

      You will take three specialist topics during the Advanced Methods in Social Research module. Most of these topics take the form of a single day workshop, which you must attend and complete the relevant assessment. Occasionally topics take the form of two half-day workshops.

      Topics may include:

      • Evaluation of policy and professional practice 
      • Systematic review
      • Multisited and mobile ethnography
      • Researching hidden and hard-to-reach populations
      • Qualitative comparative analysis
      • Social research in conflict-affected zones
      • Using mass observation
      • Social research in court settings
      • Data management when using large data sets
      • Q-methodology 
      • Advanced methods in legal documentation
      • Social inclusion in education and social care
    • Dissertation (MSc Social Research Methods)

      45 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

      You undertake supervised work on a 10,000-word dissertation focused on research methods. This dissertation can be the full research outline for doctoral study.


    Alongside your core modules, you can choose options to broaden your horizons and tailor your course to your interests.

    • Critical Debates in Development Theory

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      On this course you will examine the theories associated with modernisation, dependency, participatory approaches, post-modernism and all-encompassing trope 'globalisation'. You will explore how our thinking about development has changed over time and why it has changed. While theoretical in orientation, you will consider through seminar discussions that the division between 'theory' and 'practice' is to some extent misleading.

    • Gender Politics and Social Research

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This module approaches feminist theory and methodology at advanced levels, critically exploring feminist research on a number of different issues and engaging with the politics of the research process itself. As a core module on the MA in Gender Studies, it is intended to prepare you to conduct independent research and to produce your dissertation.

      The first half of the module introduces different methodologies and methods, encouraging you to reflect critically on their strengths and weaknesses, and how feminists have used them in the service of political projects. In the second half of the module, you will design research projects on two case-study issues and attempt to operationalise key feminist theories.

    • International Relations Theory

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This module introduces you to the major theories of international relations. We will investigate the historical context in which these theories emerged, which aspects of international affairs they focus on and how they explain international politics. We will tease out the strengths and weaknesses of these theories and identify their respective conceptions of international relations in theory and practice. The module provides a 'map' of international thought which enables you to identify your own and others positions and to reflect on your theoretical and political implications.

    • Migrants and Society: Global Transformations

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This introductory core module examines a wide range of theoretical and conceptual frameworks for studying migration and ethnic relations. Starting from the perspective that migration is one of the key drivers of globalisation and the transformation of contemporary societies, it examines the consequences of migration for people in both sending and receiving societies. Topics covered include:

      • general theories of migration
      • migration and development
      • transnationalism
      • return migration
      • sending and receiving state policies for migration
      • international migration governance
      • citizenship and integration
      • political mobilisation by migrants
      • migrants' social capital and networks
      • culture, identification and migrants' group rights. 
    • Philosophy of Science and Social Science Research Practice

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      The aim of this course is to introduce you to some of the standard methodological and philosophical problems posed by social inquiry. These mostly branch out from one central question: are the methods of the social sciences essentially the same or essentially different from those of the natural sciences? An additional aim of the course is to show how theoretical and philosophical traditions in social science influence the methodological approaches and theoretical models that guide social research practice.

      Each week we take one or, in some cases, two examples of major philosophical or theoretical approaches. These will be outlined with an emphasis on the theoretical model of society that they advocate. Secondly, it will be demonstrated what methodological implications for social research follow from these philosophical and theoretical ideas. In this way it will be shown that broad theoretical frameworks and concepts, often based in philosophical traditions, lead to particular methodological approaches around theoretical models. Overall the objective of the course is to show how theory can be instrumentalized in shaping research methodology.

      The topics that will be addressed include: developments in the philosophy of science from positivism to post-positivism and their relevance to social inquiry, explanation versus interpretation and the interpretive critique of social science; problems of validity and values; realism and constructivism; the advantages and disadvantages of taking a critical stance; and feminist and postcolonial critiques of social science. Although the problems will be illustrated in specific texts, you are also encouraged to pursue parallel arguments in different sources.

    • Understanding Processes of Social Change

      30 credits
      Autumn Teaching, Year 1

      This module introduces you to classical sociological theories informing mainstream anthropological analyses of social change. You will focus on theorisations of wider processes of modernisation and change from structural, political and economic perspectives. You will consider debates concerning the effects and consequences of modernisation processes on social, political and economic realms, such as the formation of nation states, state bureaucracy and civil society; the development of markets and commoditisation of economic, social and cultural relationships. You will also reflect on recent critical approaches to the study of modernity and change as represented by theoretical trends associated to feminist theory, postmodernism, postcolonial studies and contemporary social theory. Particular attention will be paid to issues of globalisation and transnationalism; colonial and postcolonial relationships; and discursive constitution of practices and representations of modernity.

    • Action Research

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      As well as to potential action researchers this course appeals to those for whom AR is not a possibility but who are interested in reflexive and participatory approaches. The course starts with definitions of action research and an introduction some of the theoretical perspectives to be picked up later in the course. The practicalities of planning and structuring a project using both cyclical and linear approaches are considered.

      You will explore the tension between the participant and researcher and how this impacts on the micro politics of the research setting. A review of the methodological implications of different theoretical stances will focus especially on critical theory and post-modernism. Reviews of frameworks for evaluating action research will lead to discussion of the extent to which claims made by AR enthusiasts can be justified.

      The course will encourage you to participate and will offer opportunities for you to give your own presentations. Readings may also be differentiated according to your background and interests. As action research is not a method as such it will adopt a reflective approach rather than provide tips for new researchers. Throughout the course, you will be asked to keep a reflective journal, which will form the basis for assessment and will feed into discussion.

      During the course you will: develop understanding of practical and political issues posed by action-orientated research in a variety of settings; develop a theoretical stance towards action-oriented and participatory research and gain competence in planning and evaluating action research projects.

    • Comparative Method

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      During this course you will cover the rationale of comparative method, its variety, development and problems. More specifically you will consider the logic of comparative inquiry, the number of cases involved, the issues of measurement and bias, and QCA methods, before completing exercises in which you are required to design comparative research proposals and to critique published research.

      By the end of the course you will have developed a critical understanding of and competence in the purpose and value of comparison; the range and variety of comparison; the logic of comparitive inquiry; case selection and truth tables and designing comparative research projects.

    • Discourse Analysis

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This course provides you with an introduction to and hands-on experience of carrying out discourse analysis. Whereas most methodological approaches treat linguistic and other textual material as an unproblematic representation (of social relations, cognitions etc.), discourse analysis suggests that texts may have performative or rhetorical functions: mitigating blame, justifying power relations, creating consensus, and so on. The task of discourse analysis is to unravel the form and functions of particular discursive constructions in themselves, and to indicate how they arise from particular social contexts.

      Discourse analysis is essentially a way of thinking about (and being sensitive to) textual material. However, researchers have developed a number of techniques for carrying out analysis, which you will be introduced to during the course. Discourse analysis is not a unitary approach. Varieties of discourse analysis have their roots in ethnomethodology, speech act theory, post-structuralism and critical linguistics. Versions of discourse analysis have been applied in a range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, including literary theory, cultural and media studies, sociology, linguistics and education studies. Social (and, to a lesser extent, health) psychology provide the disciplinary framework for this course. However, you will find the principles and techniques presented in the course relevant to other disciplines. The course will cover three types of discourse analysis: discursive psychology, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis. The readings provided will act as pointers to, and references for, other forms of discourse analysis not covered in the course.

    • Ethnographic Methods of Data Collection

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This course develops your understanding of, and competence in, ethnographic research methods. You will address various questions of data collection within familiar and unfamiliar societies and social settings, exploring what kinds of information ethnographers can look for and find. You will uncover the romantic and the practical aspects of conducting ethnography.

      You will acquire knowledge of ethnographic research through both reading secondary accounts and, most importantly, by designing and conducting a research project in collaboration with others. As part of a small team made up of two-five people, you will conceptualise a research problem, identify appropriate ethnographic methods to investigate it, design a research strategy, carry out the research, reflect critically on the research process and collectively develop and undertake a group presentation for the tutor and larger seminar group. The course focuses on access to ethnographic settings, comportment in the field, and the interpretation of observations. It concentrates on the process of recording ethnographic data through field notes, and encourages you to reflect on the process of turning fieldwork into a narrative account. You will also be asked to reflect on the possibilities and limitations of ethnographic methods within the wider framework of research methods.

    • Evidence for Policy and Practice: A Critical Stance

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      Evidence has become a major part of governments' approaches to policy making, practice intervention and part of the machinery of evaluation, 'what works' and best value. There are undoubtedly many competing ideas about evidence led policy and practice, and many models from which we can learn a great deal. The competing ideas are complex and involve not only highly technical problems of logic and scientific fact but also larger philosophical considerations about the nature of meaning and knowledge, as well as questions about the relation between research, policy and practice.

      This course will take a critical stance in analysing the relationship between research, knowledge production and policy, practice dissemination and professional decision making. You will explore research from the perspective of researchers, policy makers, practitioners and professional decision makers, and explore methods of evidence informed practice. You will draw on the extensive emerging literature of a theoretical nature, research synthesis and systematic reviews to provide a critical understanding, and practical models based on real examples.

    • Participatory Research in Cross-Cultural Contexts

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      There is a common perception that there are many opportunities for those based in an academic environment to get involved in research relating to different aspects of organisational and community development, but in practice many communities are dissatisfied with 'research as usual', often because of raised and unmet expectations, and complexities emanating from widely different cultural contexts. The course responds to this situation, and motivates researchers to come up with something different: research that is purposeful and empowering of the communities they work with within a specific context. The realisation of the limitations of traditional research in community development has resulted in increasing interest in participatory research (PR). But many researchers enter the practice of PR with little or no training, even if they are guided by a personal belief and set of values in participation for development and social change. This course will explore the basic principles that underpin PR, and examines the pitfalls that researchers may come across when using PR approaches, particularly in terms of their relationships and accountabilities to the communities they work with in a wide range of cultural contexts.

      The course will explore the different responsibilities and expectations that arise amongst different stakeholders in the research process and outcomes, and also the range of strategies, approaches and methods which may be appropriate in different contexts. It will include some hands-on practice of specific participatory research methods, and highlight some possibilities for synergies between PR approaches and other forms of research.

    • Policy and Programme Evaluation Research

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      Since the 1990s evaluation research has become a key tool in assuring and heightening quality, reliability and accountability in services within a number of areas including social services, education and health care. In this context there is a growing discourse on the importance of grounding interventions on 'what works' in policy or practice, based on empirically informed knowledge.

      This short postgraduate module is offered as an introduction to research in the field of policy and programme evaluation. The primary orientation of the teaching and learning is the role and nature of evaluation in public sector interventions in the UK. A particular emphasis is on the evaluation of interventions by the social professions directed at social care, health and well-being and on research utilisation in programme, policy and practice development. Set in a political and organisational context, this module will provide you with an understanding of what evaluation researchers may have done when they claim to have evaluated a policy, intervention or programme.

      The module will identify the main approaches taken to evaluation and the key design and measuring problems that evaluation researchers must resolve in various areas of intervention and policy. It will also critically examine what values, assumptions and perspectives underlie evaluative discourse and its methods. By examining evaluation as a 'transdiscipline' analytical tool it therefore identifies 'spearhead issues' of evaluative research from a critical and applied perspective.

    • Research, Professions and Power

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The focus of this module is on research in professional contexts and addresses issues faced by both insider and outsider researchers. It enables you to interrogate published literature critically, to understand the assumptions on which research is based and to examine critically the claims to knowledge being made. It also introduces you to current debates concerning the purposes and practices of social science research, in the context of challenging questions about the ontological and philosophical foundations of scientific and social scientific knowledge, and about the neutrality of knowledge produced by academics in various fields. There is a particular focus on the power and on the relationship between research and professional practice with a theoretical understanding of both. The use of research is critically interrogated in both substantive and methodological terms. Discussion covers power in organisations, research knowledge and professional knowledge, insider methodologies, the construction of professional activity as research data and integrating research and professional perspectives.

    • Researching Childhood and Youth

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      Social research with children and young people raises a range of unique challenges and opportunities with ethical, practical and methodological dimensions. This module provides an overview of this specialist area of research methods, giving participants the opportunity to explore how traditional research methods can be adapted in order to work with younger participants as well as understanding how new methodological approaches have grown from the specificity of working with children and young people. Methods covered will include interviews and focus groups, participant observation, draw techniques, photo-voice and participatory video. The module will also outline the ethical dimensions of research governance and practice for research with children and young people, including a critical exploration of power relations within the research process and the potential for research to contribute to personal and social change.

    • Self, Voice and Creativity in Research Writing

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      This module will provide an opportunity for you to reflect on your writing process and on yourselves as writers, through reading and seminar discussion, as well as through the practice of writing techniques and creative writing exercises specially designed for this purpose. We will focus on academic writing as a genre, or 'authoritative discourse' in Mikhail Bakhtin's terms, and explore ways in which writers can develop their own voice and self-presence within it. We will consider the effect of the imagined reader in the writing process, such as the examiner or the institution, on the development of voice and writing identity in this context and how it impacts on the way we tell the story of our research. You will be expected to keep a learning journal during the module and to write a reflective paper on your learning at the end of the module. 

    • Socio-legal Research Methods

      15 credits
      Spring Teaching, Year 1

      The focus of this module is on research methods in socio-legal studies. The module will explore what is meant by socio-legal research and its differentiation from doctrinal research in law through its empirical study of legal phenomena in a broader context in order to identify their social effects and policy implications. The module will enable you to engage with the empirical reality of the operation of law and legal structures ('law in action' as opposed to 'law in the books') and will promote a contextual understanding of legal studies through an interdisciplinary approach using social science research methods as a mode to conduct legal inquiry. Thus the module will interrogate law through the use of other disciplines such as sociology, social theory, political theory, feminist theory, critical race theory, philosophy and eoconomics. Examples of socio-legal research in the areas of social, political and economic regulation and governance together with the fields of gender, sexuality and race will be examined.

    • Effective Research Data Management - Ed Summer Sch

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Elite Interviewing

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Evaluation of Policy and Professional Practice

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • In-depth Qualitative Survey: Mass Observation

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Multi-sited and Mobile Ethnography

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Qualitative Comparative Analysis

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Researching Hidden and Hard-to-reach Populations

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Social Inclusion in Education and Social Care

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

    • Systematic Review

      0 credits
      Summer Teaching, Year 1

Entry requirements

An upper second-class (2.1) undergraduate honours degree or above in a relevant social sciences subject, but applicants with other backgrounds will be considered.

All applicants must supply a research proposal of at least three pages. The research proposal should indicate the areas of research you are interested in, summarise what you intend to do, give an indication of the research methodology you propose to use and a brief literature review. Please state at the top of your research proposal the School and Department to which you wish to be affiliated. Please note that this requirement applies to all applicants irrespective of whether they intend to progress to the PhD afterwards.

The MSc in Social Research Methods is recognised by the ESRC as providing research training suitable for 1+3 study in the fields of anthropology, contemporary European studies, development studies, education, gender studies, human geography, international relations, politics, law, migration studies, social work and social care, and sociology.

English language requirements

Standard level (IELTS 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in each section)

Find out about other English language qualifications we accept.

English language support

Don’t have the English language level for your course? Find out more about our pre-sessional courses.

Additional information for international students

We welcome applications from all over the world. Find out about international qualifications suitable for our Masters courses.

Visas and immigration

Find out how to apply for a student visa

Fees and scholarships

How much does it cost?


Home: £7,700 per year

EU: £7,700 per year

Channel Islands and Isle of Man: £7,700 per year

Overseas: £15,100 per year

Note that your fees may be subject to an increase on an annual basis.

How can I fund my course?

Postgraduate Masters loans

Borrow up to £10,280 to contribute to your postgraduate study.

Find out more about Postgraduate Masters Loans


Our aim is to ensure that every student who wants to study with us is able to despite financial barriers, so that we continue to attract talented and unique individuals.

Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship (2017)

Open to students with a 1st class from a UK university or excellent grades from an EU university and offered a F/T place on a Sussex Masters in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Chancellor’s Masters Scholarship

Sussex Graduate Scholarship (2017)

Open to Sussex students who graduate with a first or upper second-class degree and offered a full-time place on a Sussex Masters course in 2017

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Graduate Scholarship

Sussex India Scholarships (2017)

Sussex India Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from India commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex India Scholarships

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Malaysia Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Malaysia commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Malaysia Scholarships

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Nigeria Scholarships are worth £3,500 or £5,000 and are for overseas fee paying students from Nigeria commencing a Masters in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Nigeria Scholarships

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships (2017)

Sussex Pakistan Scholarships are worth £3,500 and are for overseas fee paying students from Pakistan commencing Masters study in September 2017.

Application deadline:

1 August 2017

Find out more about the Sussex Pakistan Scholarships

How Masters scholarships make studying more affordable

Living costs

Find out typical living costs for studying at Sussex.


This MSc gives you a broad-based knowledge of research methods and methodologies – basic training for those who wish to use social science research in their career. 

Our graduates have gone on to work in social research, international development non-governmental organisations, international aid agencies and socially responsible businesses.

Graduate destinations

Recent graduates have gone on to roles including:

  • research assistant, BBC
  • sociologist of research and evaluation, Fondo de Solidaridad e Inversión Social (FOSIS)
  • Director of Professional Affairs, Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union.

(Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey 2015 for postgraduates)

Working while you study

Our Careers and Employability Centre can help you find part-time work while you study. Find out more about career development and part-time work

Contact us