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Module SXU-4005:
Research Process and Meaning

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Robin Mann

Overall aims and purpose

The aim of the module is to provide postgraduate level training in the main varieties of qualitative and mixed methods research in the social sciences, including basic literacy in qualitative data analysis. The module begins by locating the research process in debates about situated knowledge, reflexivity and subjectivity, to show how research design is unavoidably grounded in assumptions about the nature of the phenomena to be investigated. An appreciation of how researchers are implicated in the things they describe 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 qualitative research design (b) practices of data collection and (c) data analysis. Topics covered include: sources of data using observation, participation, interviews, texts and visuals; the varieties of research strategy in ethnomethodology and conversation analysis; the relationships between empirical research and theory generation; and methods for research in online environments. Students are taught how to generate qualitative data, apply a variety of analysis techniques and how to ensure that their accounts are adequate from the point of view of the subjects being investigated. The use of ‘mixed’ methods is addressed through examples of text analysis, visual interpretation and online social research.

Training in the use of NVivo qualitative data analysis software is an integral part of the module and takes place alongside the sessions dealing with analysing conversation, interviews, observations, ethnographic accounts, texts and visuals.

Course content

Reflexivity and reflection in social research Situated knowledge and feminist research practice Observation and participant observation Ethnomethodological methods Conversation analysis Data collection through unstructured interviews and focus groups Biographical narrative interviews Analysing interviews and observations to produce ethnographic accounts Grounded theory Research methods for the online world Analysing textual and visual data The meaning of mixed methods

Assessment Criteria


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 NVivo and applying them to the analysis of existing qualitative data.


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 qualitative analysis combined with skilful use of NVivo to explore data on a social issue.


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 NVivo to analyse and interpret complex qualitative data.

Learning outcomes

  1. Show competence in recognising, evaluating and applying a range of qualitative data sources and tools of analysis.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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 qualitative research.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT Journal article review

Critical review of design and methods of qualitative research published in a peer reviewed journal. You can choose your own article (subject to approval) or choose from the list provided.

REPORT Observation study

Reflection on the conduct of a small observational study carried out by the student of interaction in a public setting.

REPORT NVIVO Data analysis report

Report on a data analysis task using NVIVO qualitative software package.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


Lecture/workshop sessions of 2hours over 11 weeks

Practical classes and workshops

Computer lab-based training in NVivo software, for 2 hours p.w. for 5 weeks

Private study

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


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • 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

  • 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
  • Appreciate the value of and apply theoretical and methodological rigour to analyses of welfare issues;
  • 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
  • Appreciate philosophical, ethical and methodological issues in criminological and sociological 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.
  • 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).


Resource implications for students

No additional resource implications.

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