Research Methods for Social Policy

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Amanda Sheely OLD.2.52


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Social Policy, BSc in Social Policy and Economics, BSc in Social Policy and Sociology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The course aims to give students a comprehensive introduction to methods of social research in social policy.

The design and analysis of social policy research. The nature of social measurement. The concept of statistical inference. Data collection by means of social survey, depth interviews, participant observation and documentary methods. Descriptive and inferential statistics, including bivariate and multivariate techniques. Analysis of data particularly from surveys. The use of computers in data analysis. Ethics and politics of Social Policy Research. Strengths and weaknesses of commonly used research methods. Methods of analysing qualitative data. 


The course combines two elements:

SA201.2 Research Methods for Social Policy: Dr A. Sheely

MT Lectures: 10 x 1hr SA201.2. Classes: 10 x 1.5 hr SA201.2.

SA201.1 Data Analysis for Social Policy: Dr A. Sheely

Lectures: 9 x 1hr SA201.1. 1x 2hr SA201.1 Classes: 10 x 1.5 hr SA201.1.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

For SA201.2, students will submit a critique of an assigned research article.

For SA201.1, students will create and present a poster that outlines the design of their research study, including an overview of the literature, their research question, qualitative and quantitative sampling and data collection strategies, and ethical considerations.

Indicative reading

Alan Bryman (2012) Social Research Methods, 4th edition Oxford University Press; Alan Acock (2016) A Gentle Introduction to Stata, 5th edition Stata Press; Charles Wheelan (2014) Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data W&W Norton & Company, Inc.


Essay (30%, 2000 words) in the MT.
Essay (70%, 5000 words) in the LT.

The first assignment asks students to apply their learning from the Michaelmas Term to critique three research articles. This critique will include identifying the methods used, their appropriateness to the particular questions being addressed, the sample and measurements used and the validity of the conclusions reached. Students will also be expected to synthesise findings across articles in order to justify the qualitative and quantitative research questions that they will explore in LT. The coursework will be due at the end of Michaelmas Term.

For the second assignment, students will design and carry out a small mixed-methods research study related to a given topic. In the essay, students will describe and justify the their choice of research methods for both the qualitative and quantitative components of the project (research question, sampling, data collection, data analysis, and ethical considerations). The assignment also includes the presentation and discussion of results from the research study.

Student performance results

(2015/16 - 2017/18 combined)

Classification % of students
First 13
2:1 52.2
2:2 27
Third 5.2
Fail 2.6

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2017/18: 37

Average class size 2017/18: 13

Capped 2017/18: Yes (45)

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (LT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication

Course survey results

(2015/16 - 2017/18 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 33%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


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