Social Research Methods and the Internet I: Methods Core

Availability: Compulsory for OII MSc and DPhil students. DPhil students must pass this course in order to transfer from PRS to DPhil status.

Schedule: Michaelmas Term (Weeks 1-8). Mondays 09:30-11:30.

Location: Seminar Room, Oxford Internet Institute, 1 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3JS.

Reading list: Social Research Methods and the Internet I: Methods Core



The study of the Internet and related information and communication technologies (ICTs) provides new opportunities and challenges for the social sciences. Social Research Methods and the Internet provides students with the knowledge and skills to conduct and critically evaluate empirical research on the social implications of the Internet.

This course consists of five elements. All students must take Research Methods I and Statistics in Michaelmas term. In Hilary term all students must take Research Methods II and either Advanced Quantitative Analysis or Advanced Qualitative Analysis. In doing so, students by the end of the course will

  • understand the significance of alternative epistemological positions that provide the context for theory construction, research design, and the selection of appropriate analytical techniques;

  • develop an ability to conduct and manage all stages of the research process from developing research questions and hypotheses to presenting and disseminating findings;

  • understand how to devise appropriate research questions and research designs;

  • acquire analytical and interpretive skills for a range of quantitative and qualitative approaches to data collection;

  • understand how to use online tools and statistical techniques that support the research process (e.g. from statistical software to computer-assisted qualitative analyses).

A summary of the structure and assessment of Social Research Methods and the Internet is below. Full details of each element are provided in the relevant outline.

Course structure and assessment




Weighting (% of final mark)


Michaelmas Term

Research Methods I

3,000 word essay


Week 8

Michaelmas Term


3 hour exam


Week 9

Hilary Term

Research Methods II

3,000 word essay


Week 8

Hilary Term

Advanced Quantitive Analysis

3 hour exam


Week 9

Hilary Term

Advanced Qualitative Analysis

5,000 word report


Week 9


Research Methods I provides students with the opportunity to engage with the methodological, ethical and philosophical underpinnings of quantitative and qualitative social science research practices. This includes material on research designs and the development of research questions and empirical approaches across multiple methods. Students explore traditional social research methods but emphasis is placed on the use of emerging e-Research and other online methods. They are introduced to theory development, and the analysis, management and reporting of data, from both quantitative and qualitative traditions.

Themes developed throughout this course include:

  • The relationships between theoretical expectations, research questions, and empirical observations

  • The strengths and weaknesses of different methodological approaches

  • Theories and methods of sampling across methods

  • Data collection and management

  • An introduction to qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods of analysis

  • Theoretical and empirical concepts in quantitative and qualitative research

  • Ethical principles and norms across disciplines and in online e-research

  • Threats to reliability and validity of data

Course Objectives

  • Instil a balanced view of opportunities, problems and prospects in social science research methods on the Internet and related technologies;

  • Appreciate the ethical, legal and social issues related to applying social research methods to the study of ICTs and their social implications;

  • Introduce a range of methods and tools that can be applied to a wide array of social science research issues.

Teaching Arrangements

The course is team taught during Michaelmas term. There is one, two hour, session each week. The format of the sessions includes lectures, student discussions and group work. All students are expected to attend all these sessions. In addition, students have the opportunity to participate in fortnightly workshops to develop their practical research skills. More details about these workshops will be provided at the beginning of term. Specific topics for each session are outlined below.

Schedule for Social Research Methods and the Internet I: Methods Core (Michaelmas Term)



Week 1

Introduction: Multi-method, Digital Social Research, and Big Data

Week 2

Asking Questions in the Social Sciences: Interviews and Focus Groups

Week 3

Developing a Research Question

Week 4

Formulating Research Designs

Week 5

Sampling and Populations

Week 6

Ethics of Internet Research

Week 7

Survey Research: Comparing On and Offline Survey Methods

Week 8

Case Studies


Course providers assess the students on the basis of one summative assignment and one formative assignment during Michaelmas term. They are as follows:

Summative Assignment

One 2,500-3,000 word piece of written coursework, where students critically examine a methodological issue or relate methods to a substantive topic, selecting one question from a choice of four. This allows students to explore the applicability of different methods and gives them a chance to consider methods that they might apply in their thesis. This essay will be worth 25% of the final mark for Social Research Methods and the Internet. The essay is due Friday week 8 of Michaelmas term.

Formative Assignment

Students will be asked to complete one formative assignment during the course of Michaelmas term to assist them in the development of their writing and research skills. Specific details of this assignment (and the submission process) will be provided in week 1 of Michaelmas term.

(Please note that the assessment for this course is different for DPhil students. DPhil students should please refer to the Graduate Studies Handbook for guidance).

Submission of Summative Assignment

  • All coursework should be submitted in person to the Examinations School by the stated deadline. All coursework should be put in an envelope and must be addressed to The Chairman of Examiners for the MSc in Social Science of the Internet C/o The Clerk of Examination Schools, High Street. Students should also ensure they add the OII coversheet at the top of the coursework. Please note that all coursework will be marked anonymously and therefore only your candidate number is required on the coversheet.

  • Please note that work submitted after the deadline will be processed in the standard manner and, in addition, the late submission will be reported to the Proctors' Office. If a student is concerned that they will not meet the deadline they must contact their college office or examinations school for advice. For further information on submission of assessments to the examinations school please refer to Submission of Formal Assessments at the Examination Schools. For details on the regulations for late and non-submissions please refer to the Proctors website at Proctors' Office (Examinations).

  • Any student failing this assessment will need to follow the rules set out in the OII Examining Conventions regarding re-submitting failed work.

Extra Notes

Students should note that over the course of the year, small changes may be made to the content, dates or teaching arrangements set out in this reading list, at the course provider's discretion. These changes will be communicated to students directly and will be noted on the internal course information website.