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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Survey Methods and Data (PGSP11157)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course aims to provide students with a) the skills and knowledge to design and conduct social scientific surveys; b) the capacity to evaluate critically the survey designs of other researchers and the findings and claims that are made on the basis of survey data; c) knowledge of how to access, search and utilise secondary survey data from a range of sources. Many students will already be familiar with techniques for analysing survey data: this course is primarily concerned with the production and characteristics of these data, rather than how they might be analysed.
Course description Questionnaire-based surveys are a major source of data in the social sciences and beyond. They are widely used in academic and government research, and in research conducted by private organisations. Evidence from surveys is widely reported in academia, politics and the media. Although this course focuses mainly on social and political surveys, much of the content is more generally applicable to surveys in other areas. It provides an introduction to the survey method and its key principles. While this will provide valuable training and practice for those who intend to design their own surveys (or might do so in the future), the course is not only aimed at such people for at least two reasons. First, the comparative ubiquity of survey-based evidence means that a capacity to evaluate such evidence critically is a valuable asset regardless of the nature of one¿s own research. Second, contemporary information technology means that vast amounts of survey data are now archived and made readily available for other researchers to use. This means that much valuable research based on survey data can be done without the need to design and implement a survey, and some funding bodies now explicitly encourage this kind of (secondary) analysis. So as well as providing students with knowledge and skills in the design and critique of surveys, the course also provides knowledge and practical experience in finding and using secondary survey data.

Outline Content

1. What are the main approaches that may be taken in the administration of surveys, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

2. How can we use surveys to research broader social scientific themes and concepts?

3. What are the key issues that need to be addressed when designing survey questions and questionnaires?

4. Most surveys are based on samples of a population, rather than entire populations. How do we go about deriving such samples and what are the strengths and weaknesses of different sampling approaches?

5. What are the major sources of bias and error in survey research and how can these be mitigated?

6. What steps should we take in order to conduct survey research ethically?

7. What specific issues, problems and advantages are raised when conducting surveys online?

8. What are the problems and advantages of using secondary survey data rather than designing our own surveys and how can we access and explore such data?

9. What issues, problems and advantages are related to surveys that are longitudinal or cross-national, and what are the major sources of such data from such surveys?

10. What issues, problems and advantages are related to population censuses in comparison to sample surveys and how can we access and explore census data?

The course places a strong emphasis on doing as well as learning. The first part of the course is classroom-based. Alongside lectures about the key elements of survey design and practice, students work together in small groups to design their own surveys on a series of topics. The second part of the course is in the computer lab. Shorter talks and demonstrations are integrated with practical exercises related to the coding of survey data; the design of on-line surveys; accessing and searching key sources of secondary data and survey questions; and accessing, understanding and exploring cross-national and longitudinal survey data and data from population censuses.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Understand the research design issues implicated in the use of survey methods and the strengths and weaknesses of the types of data generally produced by surveys
  2. Use skills and knowledge to design and conduct social scientific surveys
  3. Evaluate critically the survey designs of other researchers and the findings and claims that are made on the basis of survey data
  4. Have an awareness of the potential sources of bias and error related to the selection of survey participants and the responses they give to questions
  5. Access, search and utilise secondary survey data from a range of sources
Reading List
Fowler, F. J. (2009) Survey Research Methods (4th edition), London: Sage.
Czaja, R. and J. Blair (2005) Designing Surveys (2nd edition), London: Sage.
de Vaus, D. (2002) Surveys in Social Research (5th edition), London: Routledge.
Sapsford, R. (2006) Survey Research (2nd edition), London: Sage.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserMr Ross Bond
Tel: (0131 6)50 3919
Course secretaryMs Nicole Develing-Bogdan
Tel: (0131 6)50 4697
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