Online Social Research

Key information


The rapid expansion of the internet has presented researchers with a range of new ways to collect data about the social world, generating important new insights into social behaviour and interaction.

This course is designed to give you an introduction to online social research, covering a range of qualitative and quantitative methods for collecting and analysing online data, and for exploring digital social phenomena. Using a combination of lectures and hands-on practical sessions, you will explore various aspects of online social research including ways to collect data, the ethics of online research and methods to analyse online data.

This course provides an overview of online research methods as deployed within contemporary social research. It will develop your critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches to social research, and offer you an opportunity to develop some initial practical skills in applying these approaches. We aim to give you the confidence to select methods appropriately and provide a foundation for developing your skills independently in future.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the range of online social research methods currently available (C and K)
  • Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these methods and their place in contemporary sociology (C and K)
  • Appreciate the ethical issues that online social research methods raise (C, K, P and T)
  • Demonstrate a practical understanding of the application of these methods (K, P and T)
  • Develop research proposals that make effective and appropriate use of these methods (K, P and T).


KSubject knowledge
PProfessional/practical skills
TTransferable skills

Course content

  • The emergence of digital sociology and online social research
  • Online interviews and focus groups
  • Administering surveys online
  • Ethnography in online settings
  • Multi-sited and online/offline fieldwork
  • Ethics of online research
  • Methods of analysing online data including a selection from:
    • Social media data and NVivo
    • Semiotic and content analysis
    • Sentiment analysis
    • Issue crawler
    • Social network analysis.

Learning and teaching methods

  • Lectures
  • Class discussions
  • Practical sessions working with data on paper and on the computer

Course leader

Christine Hine profile image

Professor Christine Hine

Professor of Sociology

Reading list

  • Caliandro, A. and Gandini, A. (2016). Qualitative research in digital environments: a research toolkit. Taylor & Francis.
  • Hine, C. (2015). Ethnography for the internet: embedded, embodied and everyday. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Marres, N. (2017). Digital sociology: The reinvention of social research. John Wiley & Sons.

Class size

Maximum of 25 people. Please note, 10 participants will be students from our MSc Social Research Methods course.


Please bring a USB memory stick if you would like to take away copies of your work.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this course.

You should have some knowledge of social research methods.

Fees and funding

Fees are to be confirmed

How to apply

Applications for this course are currently closed.

Register your interest

Terms and conditions

When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and regulations and our terms and conditions. You are also confirming you have read and understood the University's prospective student privacy notice.

Further details of our terms and conditions will follow.


This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the commencement of the course. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read the full disclaimer.

Course location and contact details

Campus location

Stag Hill

Stag Hill is the University's main campus and where the majority of our courses are taught. 


University of Surrey
Surrey GU2 7XH