Social researchers collect and analyse information about developments, trends and attitudes in society. Their findings are used to help make social policy, comment on aspects of modern life, or market goods and services.
They work in local and central government, independent research organisations, market research, or higher education.
Also known as
- Researcher, Social
As a Social Researcher, you will use different research methods to find out about developments, trends and attitudes in society.
There are two main types of research. Quantitative research involves large samples (usually more than 100 people) and measurable data. Data is usually obtained by using questionnaires.
Qualitative research uses smaller numbers of people and concentrates more deeply on their opinions and experiences. This can be done using focus groups. These are made up of a small number of selected people, who are encouraged to discuss a particular topic. Researchers also interview people on a one-to-one basis.
Researchers could have responsibility for one area of a research project or you could be involved with the whole thing. This depends on the type and size of the organisation you work for.
You will use computers to analyse data and produce statistics, graphs and models.
At the end of a project, you will write a report that sets out the research aims, results, conclusions and recommendations. The findings of a completed project are often given in a presentation to people who have an interest in the issues raised.
Social Researchers help to form and monitor social policy in central government departments. Knowledge of public attitudes on diet, drugs and alcohol (for example) helps the government to set health care targets and produce public information literature. Research into crime helps the police and may lead to changes in the law.
In local government, research tends to be very specific to policy. You help local authorities by producing information on housing, education, social services and planning. For example, you find out people's opinions about the state of housing, or the impact of a new road.
The government and market research organisations are interested in consumer attitudes and behaviour. You ask people about their decisions to save or borrow money, or about buying houses and cars. This helps the government to assess confidence in the economy, and businesses to identify new products and markets.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Social Researcher, you need:
- an interest in social developments, trends and attitudes
- an investigative and analytical mind
- familiarity with a number of research methods
- a thorough approach to your work
- the ability to plan and carry out surveys
- good communication and interpersonal skills
- IT skills to produce statistics, graphs and models
- good organisational skills
- the ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
- to be able to explain your findings clearly, both verbally and in written reports
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £21,000 - £26,000
- With experience: £29,500 - £34,000
Hours of work
Social Researchers work 39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Occasional evening and weekend work may be required, depending on the nature of the project and its deadlines.
Where could I work?
The largest single employer of Social Researchers is the Office for National Statistics (ONS), with bases in London, Newport (Wales) and Titchfield (Hampshire).
A number of Social Researchers work in other government departments and agencies in a variety of subject and policy areas.
Other employers include:
- the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)
- the local government
- higher education
- market research agencies
- charities and voluntary organisations
- independent research organisations like the Policy Studies Institute
In higher education, there are a number of university research centres, such as the Social Policy Research Unit at York. Other opportunities occur for Social Researchers with employers in regional centres in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in national newspapers, on job boards, on employers' websites, at Jobcentre Plus and on the Find a Job website.
Entry Routes and Training
Entry requirements vary according to the nature of the organisation. You may be able to go into a Social Research career straight after a degree.
Relevant subjects include:
- social policy
However, further knowledge of Social Research methods is usually needed to get into this career. You could gain this knowledge from a postgraduate qualification, such as a Masters degree in social research methods (often the preferred choice) or a research degree such as a MPhil or PhD.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Some universities provide sandwich courses with a year's placement in industry. It's also useful to seek vacation work in social research while at university.
Some market research organisations recruit graduate trainees with the possibility of specialising in Social Research.
Previous experience working in an administrative or managerial position would be really useful for this career. If you have some research skills then this would really make you stand out from the crowd.
Most employers will offer Social Researchers relevant training once in a post.
With experience, it's possible to progress to a senior research post or a role with supervisory or management responsibilities.
For a degree in sociology, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels
- GCSEs at grade C/4 or above in 2/3 other subjects
- maths and English are usually preferred
Other qualifications, such as a BTEC level 3 qualification or the International Baccalaureate Diploma could also be considered. Entry requirements for degree courses vary; check prospectuses carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Entrants with relevant research skills and abilities have an advantage.
You could gain valuable experience from previous work in a managerial or administrative role, or by working for a market research organisation.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter your chosen degree or HND course, a college or university Access course (eg, Access to Social Sciences) could be the way in. No formal qualifications are usually required, but you should check individual course details.
Part-time postgraduate diplomas and degrees in social research and related fields are available at numerous higher education institutions.
The University of Ulster offers a distance learning MSc in Social Research Skills with Specialisms. The University of London's International Programme offers a postgraduate course in educational and social research, by distance learning.
- 25% of social science researchers work part-time.
- 43% have flexible hours.
- 17% work on a temporary basis.
Civil Service Jobs
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
University of London International Programme
Tel: 020 7862 8360
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1UJ
Tel: 01793 413000
Office for National Statistics (ONS)
Address: Customer Contact Centre, Room 1.101, Government Buildings, Cardiff Road, Newport, South Wales NP10 8XG
Tel: 0845 6013034
National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)
Address: 35 Northampton Square, London EC1V 0AX
Social Research Association (SRA)
Address: 24-32 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HX
Tel: 020 7388 2391
Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen)
Address: 73 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AW
Tel: 0131 2282167
Government Social Research Service (GSR)
Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU)
Address: University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD
Tel: 01904 321950
Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD)
Address: 46 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3BB
Tel: 029 2087 9338
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales