Applying research methods for a masters degree

Which research methods do you need for a masters degree? Knowing the differences between quantitative and qualitative is only part of the story. You may need to know how to conduct the right research as part of your modules and dissertation. If you have any doubts here are some ideas to consider.

Feedback from our users suggests that it's not always easy to know everything about a course before you sign up to take it. It's common to discover details once you start that you could have prepared better for.

One of the areas that students can sometimes get caught out on is the experience needed to conduct robust research as part of a masters degree. Masters is obviously at a higher academic level than undergraduate. Having a more thorough understanding of research methods would be a help when it comes to writing your dissertation.

Build on the knowlege from your undergraduate degree

At undergraduate level it is very common for students to touch upon research methods as part of the study modules in degree subjects. The application of these methods can be an important contributor to the award of an upper second-class honours or first.

At masters level, the importance of research methods becomes greater because students are required to invest a lot of their study time in self-directed learning. Discrete rather than intensive supervision from course tutors is the norm. Being confident in applying research methods and conducting research of sufficient quality is necessary.

Preparing yourself in advance if you need to

In many cases universities will reassure students that they will cover all that is required to be competent in research methods. This is often the case for a masters conversion course, where you may opt to study a more technical or scientific masters if you completed a more liberal arts-based subject previously.

In this example the university will include additional modules which form part of the introductory sessions in the first semester. This will enable students to get up to a sufficient level in order to complete their modules with confidence.

However, what this method does not address is the differences in learning styles that we have as individuals. At masters level the commitment needed to complete assignments is high. Preparing yourself in advance if you need to practice applying research methods will obviously help you complete your masters degree.

Teaser courses offer a great introduction

Many universities design and share introductory online courses with the wider public. These share open learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Often, highly reputable providers author and deliver MOOCs, and many have open ended enrolments starting at regular intervals. SOAS offers this course as an introductory MOOC as well.

Intensive training takes you to the next level

At the next step are intensive masters level training courses. These modules make up the building blocks required to apply research methods. The University of Birmingham offers a comprehensive programme via distance learning.

Some universities organise intensive training courses in conjunction with academic departments. They often target specific occupations, particularly psychology and health. This example from UCL links to health professions, where systematic research analysis is critically important for policy decisions.

Alternatively, learn at your own pace

A simpler approach is through self-study, and there are many excellent textbooks and study guides that can assist you with your preparedness.

Sites such as The Study Space have really useful explanations of the principal research methods. Popular textbooks such as the Study Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell explore these in greater detail.

Research skills are necessary for all types of masters study

Applying research in the process of your degree is the foundation of study for a PhD. Knowledge can only be tested, and ultimately cited as evidence, through the application of research.

At masters level, research underpins the conclusions a student draws in the completion of their dissertation. Usually the student submits a dissertation of several thousand words, or as part of a work-based assignment that the student compiles while on an internship.

However in arts masters degrees, the course is predominantly practical. The dissertation component is usually replaced by a different interpretation of the same process, such as ‘..exposition of the central ideas and concepts developed throughout the course.'

Creative degree course descriptions include sentences such as: - ‘Building on the previous project units the assessors look for evidence of advanced conceptual, theoretical and technical capability over an extended period of self-directed study.'

Put more simply, you still have to be confident to research your subject and show you have understood the concepts that have inspired you to create something physical.

Prepare for your future

Being prepared is true is all of life’s decisions. Similarly, if you don’t feel confident in a particular aspect of your course, then you should enquire more closely or consider choosing something else. Choosing any masters subject takes time.

Intending masters students can get a really good idea of the requirements of a subject by using Masters Compare. You can select and review the details of a course and see the differences between similar universities.

If you are unsure which research methods you need for masters degree, then taking time to prepare now will pay dividends in the long run.

Lockdown has also shown us that you need to be comfortable with the subject and to be in a good place emotionally, as masters study will test your ability to multi-task as well as your capacity to learn.