Research Techniques (Spatial, Social and Environmental)

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Murray Low

Additional teacher(s): Dr Felipe Carozzi, Dr Ryan Centner


This course is compulsory on the BA in Geography. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

This course is similar to GY240 and shares most teaching arrangements with that course.

This course aims to prepare second year students, who already have some grounding in social science methodology, to undertake individual research projects. It examines the methodologies used in Geographical research and evaluates their application to different kinds of research problems. It considers the choice of methodology which may be used in the student's own Independent Research Project (IRP) and how to plan research. It enables students to acquire familiarity with, and practice of, contemporary research techniques and to examine different ways of, and gain experience in, presenting research results. A further aim of the course is to enable students to evaluate critically the methodological validity of geographical literature.

The course covers a variety of different approaches to social science methodology including: (i) analysis of quantitative data using linear regression including hypothesis testing, (ii) analysis of quantitative spatial data using geographic information systems (GIS) software, (iii) techniques for qualitative data analysis including structured and unstructured interviewing, participant observation, and research ethics, including research ethics when conducting fieldwork (vi) application of qualitative research techniques in the field; and (v) techniques for designing, carrying out and presenting an Independent Research Project.


15 hours of lectures, 6 hours of classes and 6 hours of classes in the MT. 9 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the LT.

There is a week-long fieldcourse associated with this course, normally overseas, and normally in the final week of the Lent Term. Students should be aware that, although the costs of this course are subsidised by the Department, they will be expected to make a substantial financial contribution themselves. There are bursaries available from the Department for students who can document financial need.

Formative coursework

In the MT classes and during the field course, students work on elements of the summative assessment for the course with opportunities for support and feedback from staff as they do so.  In addition, there is one piece of formative assessment (no more than 1000 words) each term.

Indicative reading

Reading lists will be available for each part of the course. Basic texts include: J Bell, Doing your Research Project - Guide for first time researchers in education and social science (2nd edn), 1993; J Burt & G Barber, Elementary Statistics for Geographers, 1996; I Heywood, S Cornelius & S Carver, An Introduction to GIS, 1998; P Kennedy, A Guide to Econometrics, 1985; A MacEachren,Some truth with maps: a primer on symbolization and design, 1994; I Hay (Ed), Qualitative Research Methods in Human geography, 2010; Cloke, Paul, Ian Cook, Philip Crang, Mark Goodwin, Joe Painter, and Chris Philo, eds. 2004. Practising Human Geography. London: Sage; Esterberg, Kristin G. 2002. Qualitative Methods in Social Research. McGraw-Hill; Flowerdew, Robin, and David Martin, eds. 2005. Methods in Human Geography: a guide for students doing a research project. Second edition. London: Routledge.

Students unfamiliar with basic inferential statistics and/or those who anticipate difficulty with the linear regression analysis component of the course in Michaelmas Term weeks 1-5 should prepare in advance by studying Chapter 16: Statistical Principles in Studenmund, A H (2000) 'Using Econometrics: A Practical Guide.' Fourth edition (or later). Boston: Addison Wesley or a similar text.


Project (50%) and coursework (15%) in the LT.
Research project (35%) in the ST.

(i) Quantitative methods/Geographical Information Systems project (50%)

(ii) Fieldwork component (35%)

(iii) Proposal for 3rd Year Independent Research Project (15%)

Student performance results

(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)

Classification % of students
First 32.3
2:1 55.2
2:2 10.4
Third 0
Fail 2.1

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2015/16: 40

Average class size 2015/16: 12

Capped 2015/16: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills