Social Research Methods MSc

The Department of Sociology offers a stimulating and supportive environment for our Social research methods students. Offered as part of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme.

Why Surrey?

Social researchers use a constantly developing range of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore attitudes and experiences, and to understand patterns of social behaviour. As a highly regarded research department specialising in cutting-edge research methods, the Department of Sociology offers a stimulating and supportive environment for our Masters students. This is enhanced by our research activities in fields such as the environment, health and ageing, new technologies, identities, childhood and criminal justice.

Our students remain highly sought after owing to their ability to think logically about social problems, together with their skills in conducting effective research to address them. Taught modules cover key topics in research design and evaluation. Skills are put into operation through a group research project and an individual dissertation.

Programme overview

The aim of this degree is not just to train you in the application of specific research techniques. It also aims to illuminate the connections between sociological theory and empirical research, and to relate research to the development of public policy and the analysis of substantive social issues.

Wider issues of the social research process are also covered. These include the planning and management of research projects, research ethics and the presentation and publication of research findings.

The programme aims to:

  • Provide training across a range of technical and practical social research skills
  • Equip you with a good understanding of the contribution that quantitative and qualitative approaches make to the collection, interpretation and analysis of data
  • Encourage you to reflect critically on methodological, theoretical, philosophical and ethical aspects of social research practice
  • Develop an understanding of the contribution that social research makes to social policy formation and the evaluation of planned social interventions
  • Provide you with the opportunity to complete a piece of research, in the form of a dissertation, on a topic in which you have a professional interest

Module overview

For students undertaking full-time study, the programme runs for two semesters (12 months). Students on the part-time mode of study will undertake modules over four semesters (24 months, attending one day per week -  Fridays in Year 1 and on Tuesdays in Year 2).

Compulsory modules

Data Analysis

The aim of this module is to provide you with a grounding in the basic principles of data analysis and statistical methods and to familiarise you with the use and capabilities of the statistical package SPSS for Windows.

Field Methods

This module aims to provide you with a firm methodological basis for conducting various forms of qualitative analysis. Principal data sources are observational fieldnotes, interview transcripts and video.

Theory and Methodology

This module aims to provide you with an understanding of the importance of conceptual and theoretical issues in social research and some of the philosophical concepts and assumptions that underpin the practice of research.

Statistical Modelling

This module provides an introduction to the core ideas and principles of statistical modelling and multivariate data, with particular reference to factor analysis, logistic regression and log-linear modelling.

Principles of Survey Design

This module will provide you with an outline of the main issues in contemporary social research methodology, with a particular focus on the design and conduct of large-scale surveys.

Documentary Analysis and Online Research

This module provides an overview of the techniques used to analyse written, visual and oral documents, and examines methodological innovations in relation to the internet.

Research: From Design to Dissemination

This module aims to develop students’ research skills through the design and conduct of a small-scale collaborative research project. The practical experience on the project is supported through specific training in research-based skills and professional development. Through taking this module, students will come to understand the practices and procedures involved in initiating, managing and disseminating a research project.

Evaluation Research

This module covers the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of evaluative research. Emphasis is placed upon the major research methods employed by evaluators to determine the impact of social programmes and evaluate the effectiveness of planned change.

Workshops in Advanced Methods

This unassessed series of workshops and lectures introduces students to a range of innovative and advanced research methods. These provide an opportunity to gain an appreciation of developments in methods for collecting and analysing data, to reflect on the pragmatics of their use and to gain some hands-on experience of the techniques involved. Topics may include: data management using qualitative software; focus groups; geographic information systems; random control trials in social research; latent variables/structural equation models; multilevel modelling; event history modelling; and longitudinal data analysis.


You will complete a report of not more than 15,000 words based on your own original empirical research.

Teaching and assessment

A variety of teaching methods is used. In addition to formal lectures, you will participate in workshops and undertake individual practical assignments. You will have full access to University and departmental facilities and resources, including a well-equipped computer laboratory with a wide range of statistical packages and qualitative data analysis software.

The total contact time for core assessed modules is 194 hours. Students may opt to spend time undertaking additional, non-assessed modules. We do not estimate self-study time in our module totals.

Work experience

On the MSc Social Research Methods, we offer the opportunity to take four weeks of work experience during the Easter vacation. This will provide you with first-hand experience of large-scale and real-life research in action. In the past, we have placed students with organisations such as the National Centre for Social Research, the ESRC Data Archive, the Policy Studies Institute, the Home Office, the Institute for Employment Studies, MORI, the British Market Research Bureau, the National Children’s Bureau, the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, the National Foundation for Educational Research, ONS, Surrey Police and so on.

Where the full period is not practical, as may be the case for part-time students, it is also possible to take up the opportunity of a shorter period of two to four weeks, usually during the summer. Work experience is arranged with the help of the Department’s placement tutor. Please note that while we try to meet all requests for work experience, in some cases it may not be possible.


Scholarships for 2014/15 Entry

Two scholarships of up to £3,000 each will be available to students across the Department of Sociology's two MSc programmes, to be awarded on a competitive basis to self-funding students accepting an offer of an MSc place for the academic year 2014/15. Please visit the Department of Sociology webpages for application details and deadlines.

The Department of Sociology has a strong track record of attracting ESRC funding for PhD students. We manage the ESRC-funded South East Doctoral Training Consortium (DTC), which offers doctoral training in association with the Universities of Kent, Reading and Royal Holloway. The MSc Social Research Methods can comprise the training component of a 1+3 PhD studentship in Sociology within the Doctoral Training Consortium. Opportunities to apply for ESRC doctoral funding via the South East Doctoral Training Consortium will be advertised annually on the DTC website.

Department of Sociology

The Department is a leading centre of applied social research and methodological innovation, with an international reputation for excellence in both research and teaching. In the 2008 RAE we were ranked joint sixth out of all the sociology departments in the UK. This reflects our excellence in research and publications, and the high quality of our research environment. The Department of Sociology was ranked  second out of all  sociology departments in the UK by The Times Good University Guide 2013, reflecting our commitment to high-quality teaching and research.

Residential conference and day conference

The MSc Social Research Methods includes a residential conference in Bournemouth, usually in November. The conference provides an opportunity for discussion in an informal atmosphere, around current research issues and debates, technologies and methods at the forefront of social research; it includes lectures from eminent guest speakers and members of staff, seminars and small group discussions.

The Department also organises a day conference for MSc students at the University, with student presentations and guest speakers.

Sociology research

The Department of Sociology is internationally recognised as a centre of research excellence. A particular area of strength is research methodology and research training. Our research is organised into six groupings which reflect contemporary concerns:

  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Developments in Methodology
  • Identities, Generation and Everyday Life
  • Media, Culture and Communication
  • Science, Environment and Technologies
  • Work, Organisations and Inequalities

In addition to the research groups, members of staff undertake a wide variety of internationally renowned individual scholarship including work on gender, employment, organisations, cross-national survey, culture, ethnicity, language and communication, sociological theory, childhood, youth and identities, sociology of sleep and the sociology of social policy.

Three leading journals are edited in the Department:

  • Ethnic and Racial Studies
  • Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS)
  • Popular Communication: International Journal of Media and Culture

The Department’s commitment to developing technical competence in research methods, and encouraging the use of appropriate information and communication technologies in social research, is reflected in the fact that it houses the UK national centre for software for qualitative data analysis (CAQDAS). The Centre for Research on Simulation in the Social Sciences (CRESS) applies computer simulation to the understanding of social phenomena.

The Department’s Institute of Social Research runs a successful international fellowship scheme which enables international researchers to visit Surrey each year. These strengths in research, and in innovative research methods in particular, feed into our master’s-level teaching and inform the continued updating of content within modules. A further departmental research centre, the Centre for Research on Ageing and Gender (CRAG), brings together social scientific expertise to conduct policy-relevant research on gender and ageing. There are also strong research links between members of the Sociology Department and the Digital World Research Centre.


Recent graduates of the MSc Social Research Methods have been appointed to the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Office for National Statistics, the National Centre for Social Research, Institute for Employment Studies, the Department of International Development and market research companies such as BMRB. Many others have completed a PhD and gone on to an academic career. Part-time students often already work in a research context, and take the MSc for continuing professional development.

Professional recognition

The programme has Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) recognition for providing an appropriate foundation to undertake a part-time or full-time PhD.

Related programmes

Postgraduate (Taught)

Related departments/schools

Related research areas

Programme director

Jane Fielding

Find out more

General Enquiries:

+44 (0)1483 681 681

Admissions Enquiries:


Programme facts

Type of programme:


Programme length:

  • Full-time: 12 months
  • Part-time: 24 months

Start date:

Sep 2014

Entry Requirements

Usually a UK first or 2.1 honours degree or equivalent in a social science or related subject. Entry is also open to professionally trained non-graduates with relevant experience and qualifications. We also require evidence of basic numeracy (a GCSE pass at grade C or above in maths).

English language requirements

IELTS minimum overall: 7.0

IELTS minimum by component: 6.0

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time Sep 2014 £5,410 £13,490
Part-time Sep 2014 £2,705 £6,745

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2014/15 only. All fees are subject to annual review.

A complete list of all fees for our Masters Programmes


Surrey and Santander Scholarships

The University of Surrey are pleased to offer four scholarship schemes aimed at further enhancing our cultural diversity:

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Tullow Oil Scholarship Scheme

The University of Surrey is delighted to announce it has recently been selected to participate in the Tullow Oil Scholarship Scheme.

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Indonesia-UK DIKTI Scholarship Scheme

Open to lecturers and administrative staff at Indonesian universities.

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Discounts for Surrey graduates

Thinking of continuing your education at Surrey? As an alumni of Surrey you could be eligible for a 10% discount on our Taught Masters programme fees.

For more details

International students

Experienced staff in our International Student Office are available to help from the moment you consider studying at the University. We offer professional advice on immigration, visa issues, entry qualifications, pre-departure information, employment regulations and international student welfare.

Admissions Information

Our Admissions Policy provides the basis for admissions practice across the University and gives a framework for how we encourage, consider applications and admit students.

Further information for applicants

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Surrey provides the knowledge, skills and support to help you get the career you want.

Dr Victoria Staples

Senior Research Officer (Beyond 2011 Programme), Office for National Statistics

What attracted you to choose Surrey and to study your course here?

Surrey had a great reputation for high quality research and had successful, active research groups in my substantive field of interest – sleep research. I became interested in this through one of my final year undergraduate modules. In 2004, a new ESRC-MRC Interdisciplinary studentship scheme was launched, and with support from my supervisors I was awarded a 1+3 studentship, enabling me to undertake research in both sociology and chronobiology on sleep-wake timing in older people, focusing on morning-eveningness or whether people are ‘larks’ or ‘owls’.

The MSc in Social Research Methods is well established as providing an excellent grounding in research methods and would provide the skills I needed to undertake the social research element of my doctoral studies. The opportunity to gain real world research experience through undertaking a placement also appealed to me after my experience as an undergraduate at Surrey.

What is your strongest memory of your time at Surrey – what do you picture first when you think of being here?

The sense of achievement on seeing my first paper published, from a chapter of my PhD thesis. This was the culmination of a journey started during my MSc year in learning about survey methods, through developing my own questionnaire to ask about usual sleep patterns in older people, collecting and analysing data, then situating my findings in the context of existing research.  I published the paper with my supervisors, who provided excellent support and guidance throughout my time at Surrey.

What is the one thing you would say about Surrey, or the course you studied, to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

I came to the MSc in Social Research Methods with a background in Biochemistry. My undergraduate and MSc studies both developed my analytical skills, particularly in how to develop research questions and objectives, and provided knowledge of methodological principles and practices to enable me to decide which methods to use.

It is this practical knowledge and expertise in social research that helped me begin my career in social research after graduating. Surrey provides the knowledge, skills and support to help you get the career you want.

How did you change as a person during your time as a Surrey student, and how has your time here influenced your life and career since then?

My time at Surrey gave me confidence as a researcher and a person, through meeting people taking part in my research, tutoring undergraduate students and developing a network of research contacts.  I also met my husband (who graduated in 2004 with an undergraduate Masters in Electronic Engineering) while studying at Surrey.

During my time at Surrey I valued the support I received from more experienced students and researchers, and since graduating I was happy to be invited back to speak to MSc and undergraduate students about my experience working as a Government Social Researcher. I’ve also been able to work with an undergraduate Surrey placement student this year, talking through career experiences and going back to final year studies after a year working.

The Careers Service were really helpful in identifying jobs that I hadn’t initially considered could lead to a career in social research and helped me prepare for the assessment process using my experience from my MSc and doctoral studies. I applied to national Government Social Researcher recruitment schemes, but the Office for National Statistics also offers opportunities as part of the Civil Service for social researchers as well as statisticians, economists and operational researchers.  

I joined ONS as a social researcher in a role investigating how we could use administrative data sources to improve migration and population statistics.

During my career at ONS I have drawn on the methods and skills I learnt and developed through my MSc and continue to do so.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I am currently a Senior Researcher in the Beyond 2011 Programme in ONS, which is reviewing the future needs for information about population and housing in England and Wales, and how these needs may be met.

Every 10 years, for over 200 years, every household in England and Wales has been required to respond to the census. The 2011 Census successfully provided population statistics that will be used for the next decade by planners, policy makers and researchers across the public and private sectors. However, the population is changing rapidly and there is a need to understand how these changes will continue, and to understand the opportunities to either modernise the existing census process or develop alternative census method that reuse existing data already held within government.

In my role I have been involved in understanding the challenges of using administrative data to produce population statistics, and how a population coverage survey design may be different in a method using existing administrative data.  I was also involved in questionnaire design for a survey field test as part of developing alternative census methods, and in analysis of data that was collected. In this work I’ve written reports and papers, presented to users and academics at our research conference, as well as managing a small research team.

Working in Beyond 2011 has been the highlight of my career to date as it has been a great experience working in a programme looking at new and innovative alternatives to a census for producing population statistics. I have been able to get involved with other teams, in operational delivery and survey operations and get different perspectives on research.

What do you find most enjoyable about your line of work and why?

The opportunity to get involved in a wide variety of research in my different roles means that I have a better understanding of work across ONS and the Civil Service, and means that no two days are ever the same!

What are your top tips for students aspiring to work in your profession?

  • Work experience and placements can help you get valuable research experience
  • I have found my knowledge of quantitative methods has been particularly useful so far
  • My experience of being a Government Social Researcher is that its not just about your technical skills – you need to think about how you manage and plan your research, and how you communicate your findings and ideas through presentations and written communications as well. Your hobbies or voluntary work are also great ways to get experience working in a team and develop other transferable skills
  • Check out the Civil Service Jobs website – individual departments offer researcher posts, and there are also Civil Service Fast Stream recruitment schemes.