Choosing a Taught or Research Masters Course

Learn the difference between taught and research masters

There are two main types of postgraduate masters courses and many people ask about choosing a taught or research masters course. If you are not sure how to choose we've set out some of the differences below.

Postgraduate Taught masters courses

A taught masters course usually means, as the word suggests, that the majority of the course content is 'taught' - through lectures, seminars or discussions led by a course tutor or leader or visiting lecturer. There will still be lots of additional work to do, including essays or group work or other assignments, but the main delivery of the course is through the teaching of the individual elements.

Many, but not all, taught masters courses are modular, with topics taught for a set amount of time, usually with an examination or some other form of assessment at the end of the module. Others spread the teaching in a topic or theme throughout the duration of the masters course. Often a modular course will include some 'core', usually compulsory courses which all students on the course must take, and then there will be a choice of modules from a given list of courses, either from within the same department, or sometimes from other departments within the same University.

Research methods

Some taught masters courses will include course elements, sometimes compulsory, which include the words Research Methods in the title. This is usually to ensure that you gain the correct level academic research skills to ensure you can follow the rest of the course successfully, as well as giving you a taste of how research can be conducted in that subject area. If you find one or two of these listed in a course description, it does not mean that the course is a research masters. A taught masters course is likely to include a project (or sometimes a placement) relating to the course content, on which you will be expected to write a report. It will usually include some research, but again this does not make the course itself a research masters.

How to Recognise a Taught or Research Masters Course

A taught masters course can usually be recognised by qualifications such as MSc, MA, LLM, MBA etc - these do not include reference to research in the award itself. A research masters, on the other hand, can usually be identified either by the qualification MRes (Masters by Research) or MSc or MA by Research OR in the title of the course such as Research Methods in Social Sciences.

Research Masters Courses

Research masters usually include a few taught elements, mostly focusing on teaching specific research skills within the particular discipline. The rest of the course will consist of one or more substantial research projects.

Choosing a taught or research masters masters course

You would normally follow a taught masters course if you want to gain specific knowledge in the subject area. For a wide ranging course, or a specific course in a particular focused area. Most professionally oriented courses (unless particularly related to a research based career) are likely to be taught masters courses. This is also usually true of professionally accredited masters courses.

You might find it helpful to consider a research masters course if you are considering a PhD. If you are wondering if a PhD would be right, a research project as part of an MRes may help.

A research masters can also be useful if you are considering a career. A research role may be an option, for example in a science or engineering.

How you want to study

Choosing either a taught or research masters course is a reflection of the way you prefer to study. If you want to focus in depth in a particular area, then a research masters may be something to consider. If you are thinking about a PhD in social science you will require a masters with a research element.

Sometimes, a University will offer a separate MPhil, which is usually a masters course with a substantial research element. An MPhil is sometimes part of a PhD and will not be offered as a separate qualification. You can see two courses with similar titles within the same department. An MA/ MSc, and the other as MA/MRes, so check the course content to see the differences.

We'd also recommend you check the kind of jobs and careers students have gone on to do.

Next Steps

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