Module SXU-4004:
Research Strategy and Design

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Prof Howard Davis

Overall aims and purpose

The aim of the module is to provide postgraduate level training in the main varieties of quantitative and mixed methods research in the social sciences, including basic statistical literacy. The module begins by locating the research process in the context of epistemology in order to show how research design is unavoidably grounded in assumptions about the nature of the phenomena to be investigated. An appreciation of this connection will enable students to evaluate research and make informed choices about the selection of an appropriate research methodology for their own research.

The module is then organized in terms of (a) principles of research design (b) issues of data collection and (c) data analysis. Topics covered include the definition and formulation of research problems and hypotheses, the relationships between and the rationale for using particular research methods, the relationships between empirical research and theory generation and theory testing, different forms of sampling, sampling error and potential bias in the interpretation of research findings, and the concepts of generalisability, validity, reliability and replicability. Students are taught how to access and use secondary data, construct and critique questionnaires and interviews, how to interpret measurement error and missing data, and how to record data from experimental and quasi-experimental research.

Training in the use of SPSS is an integral part of the module and takes place alongside the sessions dealing with surveys, questionnaire design, structured interviews and data analysis.

Course content

History of research methods in the social sciences. The significance of alternative epistemological positions. Research questions and hypotheses. Experimental research design: logic, validity and reliability. Alternatives to experimental design. Sources of data: official surveys, panel data, administrative data. Populations, measurement and survey sampling. Structured interviews and standardization. Questionnaire testing. Basic quantitative data analysis: frequencies, means, distributions. Simple statistical models: association, testing research questions, significance

Assessment Criteria

threshold

50-59% A satisfactory grasp of how to formulate research problems and questions, free of major errors in understanding the relationship between epistemology, theory generation and empirical research methods. Competence in using key features of SPSS and applying them to the analysis of existing quantitative data.

good

60-69% A good understanding of the connection between research problems and questions based on an accurate appreciation of the significance of alternative epistemological positions for research design and strategy. A sound knowledge of methods of simple quantitative analysis combined with skilful use of SPSS to explore data on a social issue.

excellent

70%+ A developed and critical understanding of the philosophy of social research which supports a detailed appreciation of the relationship between epistemology, theory generation and empirical research methods. Strong evidence of practical skill in using SPSS to analyse and interpret complex numerical data

Learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate the capacity to manage the research process, including managing numerical data, and conducting and presenting research in a way that is consistent with professional practice and research ethics.

  2. Display critical understanding of the significance of epistemological positions that provide the context for theory construction, research design, and the selection of appropriate analytical techniques in quantitative research.

  3. Show competence in recognising, evaluating and applying a wide range of quantitative data sources and tools of analysis.

  4. Manifest the ability to apply the essential principles of research design and strategy, based on a clear grasp of how to formulate researchable problems and critical discernment of alternative approaches to social research.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Assignment 2: Critique and design a questionnaire

Critique and design a questionnaire.

35
COURSEWORK Assignment 3: Practical exercise in statistical analysis

Practical exercise using secondary data, SPSS, and conducting basic statistical analyses.

30
ESSAY Assignment 1: Evaluate a research study

Critically discuss the research design and method(s) in one example of quantitative or mixed method social research, focusing on the relationship between epistemology, theory and empirical procedures.

35

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Hours
Practical classes and workshops

Computer lab based practical sessions (2 hours p.w. over 5 weeks) for instruction in SPSS software and its uses for social research.

10
Lecture

Lecture/workshops- 22 hours (2 per week over 11 weeks)

22
Private study

Private study, including directed reading in research design and methods, reviewing lecture content, practice with software, and preparations for assignments.

168

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • how to use empirical evidence - both quantitative and qualitative in criminology and sociology
  • the ability to formulate and investigate sociologically informed questions
  • the capacity to analyse, assess and communicate empirical sociological information
  • the ability to identify a range of qualitative and quantitative research strategies and methods
  • the ability to conduct sociological / criminolgical research
  • the ability to formulate and investigate sociologically informed questions
  • the capacity to analyse, assess and communicate empirical sociological information
  • the ability to identify a range of qualitative and quantitative research strategies and methods
  • the ability to conduct sociological research
  • the ability to understand the ethical implications of sociological enquiry
  • Appreciate the value of and apply theoretical and methodological rigour to analyses of welfare issues;
  • Be aware of the ethical, social and political contexts within which social policy practice and research is conducted and delivered
  • Develop a knowledge and expertise with respect to a range of evidence-based policy making and practice.
  • seek out, use and evaluate qualitative and quantitative data derived from social surveys and other research publications
  • undertake either on their own, or in collaboration with others, investigations on social questions, issues and problems. This will involve skills in problem identification; the collection, storage management and manipulation of data, including secondary data, and other information; the use of archival sources; the construction of coherent and reasoned arguments; and the presentation of clear conclusions and recommendations distinguish among and critically evaluate different theoretical, technical, normative, moral and political approaches to social problems and issues.
  • Understand the relationship between theory, research design, and the selection of research methods and be able to identify and critically evaluate the epistemological positions upon which they are predicated.
  • Understand the basic principles of research design and strategy (including how to formulate researchable questions and the considerations affecting inference and proof, reliability and validity in different styles of research), sufficient to enable them to make appropriate choices in their own research.
  • Appreciate and apply a broad range of research methods and tools (underpinned by a strong conceptual awareness of the research processes and their underlying philosophies).
  • Appreciate philosophical, ethical and methodological issues in criminological and sociological research.
  • Understand the basic principles of research design and strategy (including how to formulate researchable questions and the considerations affecting inference and proof, reliability and validity in different styles of research), sufficient to enable them to make appropriate choices in their own research.
  • Appreciate and apply a broad range of research methods and tools (underpinned by a strong conceptual awareness of the research processes and their underlying philosophies).
  • Appreciate philosophical, ethical and methodological issues in criminological and criminal justice research.
  • Understand the relationship between theory, research design, and the selection of research methods and be able to identify and critically evaluate the epistemological positions upon which they are predicated.

Resources

Resource implications for students

Students can access all essential and recommended readings and SPSS software without additional financial outlay.

Reading list

There is no single textbook for this module. A reading list is provided that encompasses key texts and journal readings for each specific topic or aspect of the research process.

A suitable stock of texts and journals is accessible through the library.

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module