Stage 1- Identifying a suitable geographical question or hypothesis for investigation

Geographical Skills paper, stage 1 information

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Choosing a topic

  • Should have a clear aim
  • Must be suitable in scale, size, area
  • Capable of research- practical issues e.g. time, area, data available
  • Clearly geographical- strong sense of location, where, pattern, etc
  • Based on geographical theory, ideas, concepts, models (clear spatial or locational focus)
  • Logical- it must make sense, especially cause-effect
  • Clearly located
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Choosing a title

Should be SMART

  • Simple
  • Measureable
  • Acheivable
  • Realistic
  • Timed 
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Justifying choice of title

  • locating it in the chosen area (say why it could be carried out in or at that location)
  • Estimating the time it will take
  • Estimating its scale- to make sure you do it with the resources (equipment, team, etc) you have
  • Showing its relevance for the chosen area (e.g. why it might vary there)
  • Linking it with the desire to test a particular model or concept in the field

The aim is to test or prove the title

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Influence of scale on the choice of title

  • The success of any geographical investigation is strongly influenced by scale
    • e.g. an investigation of downstream changes in bedload size on a river will depend on the geographical scale chosen for the study
    • a small-scale investigation is unlikely to show any significant reduction in bedload size because the processes of abrasion, attrition and solution take a long time and other factors also influence bedload for example the input of fresh sediment from tributary streams
    • ideally, a study of downstream changes in bedload size, conducted at a larger scale over of 20 or 30km is more likely to produce significant results
  • Scale also has an influence in vegetation studies
    • data on plant cover and biodiversity are normally collected by quadrat sampling
    • however, the choice of quadrat size has a major influence on outcomes, for example, a 1m by 1m quadrat may be too small and fail to record species that are sparsely distributed and geographically clustered
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Research the hypothesis

  • some hypotheses may be impossible to test due to impractical problems of measurement, inaccessibility or lack of a secondary database
    • for example, we know that land values and rentals in city centres are related to urban land use, retail location and pedestrian flows. However, there is no easily accessible database for land values and rentals which would make it impossible to test a hypothesis like: rental values influence footfall in the CBD
  • Problems also arise when using historical data
    • it should be possible to investigate changes in population denisty, ethnic origin and household size between 1971 and 2001 for a suburb in a British town or city.
    • The census of population would be the obvious data source however 2 census are not comparable owing to changes in the small areal units used to aggregate census data
    • The old enumeration districts and enumeration areas of the 1971-1991 censuses were replaced by the new super output areas in 2001, with very different boundaries, destroying any continuity 
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Defining hypothesis

  • A hypothesis is a statement which can be tested using scientific methodology to show the accuracy and it is a statement about a presumed relationship or difference between variables.
  • There are two main types of hypotheses is geographical investigation:
    • those that focus on spatial or non-spatial differences
    • and those based on relationships between variables
  • Geographical hypthesis usually have either a spatial dimension or an overt emphasis on people-environment relationships
  • Clearly defined hypotheses show the direction of differences or relationships
  • The geographical connection must be obvious in hypotheses formulated for geographical enquiry
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Linking questions/hypotheses

  • Theory is a set of statements or principles that have been tested and proved valid
  • It is possible to formulate questions and hypotheses from a coherent body of theory
    • for example, central place theory provides conceptual understanding of (a) settlement hierarchies and how settlements function as service centres and (b) how distance and travel costs influence consumers' use of these services
    • can create hypotheses such as: the are served by a central place is influenced by its accessibility
  • Sometimes a topic for geographical enquiry is supported by a detailed understanding of processes used to formulate research questions and hypotheses
    • for example, from prior knowledge, we know that the development of scree slopes is influenced by gravity, particle size and friction. Thus we are able to formulate a hypothesis such as: Rock particles on scree slopes are sorted by size
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