Qualitative Methods in Social Research

Module titleQualitative Methods in Social Research
Module codePOLM063
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Eva Thomann (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description


This module will provide you with an overview of the different disciplinary traditions and theoretical underpinnings of qualitative research, as well as a comparative perspective on qualitative research across disciplines and in relation to quantitative methods. It will train you in a range of core methods relevant to the social science sub-disciplines, including an appraisal of their respective strengths and weaknesses, with a focus on the challenges of data collection and analysis.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to

  1. equip you with the theoretical understanding and practical skills to apply core qualitative methods used across the different disciplines of the social sciences;
  2. familiarise you with key critical perspectives on the application of qualitative methods; and
  3. teach you how to take field notes, write up and present results and satisfy research ethics requirements.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate in writing a detailed awareness and comprehension of the diversity of evidence utilized in social research using qualitative research strategies;
  • 2. recognize in writing and orally the relevance and significance of different forms of knowledge;
  • 3. recognize and evaluate in writing the diversity of specialised qualitative techniques and approaches involved in collecting research information;
  • 4. critically evaluate in writing and orally the issues involved in the application of qualitative research designs in the context of the social sciences (both in theoretical and practical terms);
  • 5. demonstrate skills in the general principles of research design, data collection and management;
  • 6. show awareness of the specificities of data and data collection strategies when using qualitative research methods;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. recognize and be able to critically discuss orally and in writing the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding;
  • 8. identify and evaluate orally and in writing comprehensive approaches to problem-solving;
  • 9. systematically synthesize information in writing and orally;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. apply complex ideas and concepts to new situations in writing;
  • 11. demonstrate a systematic; and rigorous approach in writing to accuracy, precision and uncertainty;
  • 12. use ICT effectively and appropriately to locate and extract data from a variety of online sources;
  • 13. undertake independent/self-directed learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment;
  • 14. critically reflect on the process of learning and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses;
  • 15. develop the ability to study independently and work in groups;
  • 16. develop the ability to deliver presentations to peers, communicate effectively in speech and writing; and
  • 17. write professional reports and to disseminate research findings accordingly

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:



Case selection and the comparative method

Process tracing

Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA)

Historicism and Interpretivism

Discourse and content analysis


Focus groups

Participatory research


Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity2211x 2 hour seminars (lectures and student presentations)
Guided independent study40Directed readings
Guided independent study20Preparation of presentation
Guided independent study68Coursework completion - conducting research, analysing data, writing the finished product


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan 500 words1-11Either orally or in writing – as preferred by student

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay603000 words1-17Written feedback
In-class group presentation (groups of 2 or 3) 2015 minutes1-17Written feedback
Written critical appraisal of empirical example study 201000 words1-17Written feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (3000 words)Essay (3000 words)1-17August/September reassessment period
In-class group presentation (groups of 2 or 3)Individual oral presentation to module convenor (15 minutes)1-17May/ June
Written critical appraisal of empirical example studyWritten critical appraisal of empirical example study (1000 words)1-17May/ June


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Key readings


Lijphart, A. (1971) 'Comparative politics and the comparative method', American Political Science Review 65(3): 682-693.

Blatter, J. and Blume, T. (2008) 'In Search of Co-variance, Causal Mechanisms or Congruence? Towards a Plural Understanding of Case Studies', Swiss Political Science Review 14(2): 315-356.

Berg-Schlosser, D., De Meur, G., Rihoux, B. und C. C. Ragin (2009). „Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) as an Approach“. In: Rihoux, B. und C.C. Ragin (Hrsg.). Configurational Comparative Methods.

Bevir, M. (1999) The Logic of the History of Ideas. Cambridge University Press, pp. 127-142.

Van Dijk T. (1993) Principles of Critical Discourse Analysis. Discourse & Society 4(2): 249-283.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources






Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources


You can find lots of advice relating to essay writing at:


You can also find other useful advice related to general study skills at: http://www.services.ex.ac.uk/edu/student-learning-skills/resources.shtml

Key words search

Methodology; qualitative methods; research design

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date