4: Writing up your River Lyn enquiry
Key Question: How do geographers go about producing high quality research investigations?
One possible structure to adopt for writing up your research investigation is:
Aim and objectives of the research investigation
In this first section it is important to make it very clear to the reader what you set out to achieve through your geographical investigation. Your aim was to investigate the value of the River Lyn drainage basin with the objective of proving or disproving the hypothesis that today the river and its catchment still remains mostly a hazard which outweigh any potential benefits. Having explained the aim and objective of the research it is important that you clearly identify the location of your research using appropriate maps, images and graphical techniques; as well as any risk assessment considerations you made in advance of your investigation if working at any time on location. This relates particularly of course to fieldwork elements e.g. carrying out sampling along the river and here you will need to identify the main risks and the control measures you put in place to mitigate them as far as what practical and reasonable. It is worthwhile when undertaking risk assessments to discriminate between hazards that have to be avoided and risks that need to be managed through mitigation.
You need to make clear in this section the approach that you have taken to find out what is required and to gather the information needed to test the hypothesis. These are not your methods e.g. a questionnaire or quadrat analysis but the concepts, theories and general approach that underpin the methods. So, you will need to make it clear whether you have pursued a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methodology or approach to your research investigation and to demonstrate that you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of all three approaches to research e.g. that some geographers feel that only ‘hard’ numerical data that is free from subjective human emotion can be used to test a hypothesis since only this kind of data can be tested for statistical significance. The same geographers will feel that any data likely to be influenced by human irrationality or error is not suitable for hypothesis testing.
In this section it is also important to describe, explain and justify the sequence of the investigation you undertook and to provide an insight into how you have planned and organised your research. Again, take time to reflect on this with regard to its limitations. For example, accessing the river may have only been possible at certain times despite your best efforts at planning because the bus service you were using only ran at certain times or you discovered that getting to the river was unsafe following heavy rain. All research is limited in these sorts of ways and it is important to demonstrate that you recognise this.
Now is the time to provide an overview of the precise tools you have used to gather the data you require to test the hypothesis and answer the research question. Take time both to justify why you have selected each of these data collection methods but also make it clear that you are aware of their strengths and limitations as well. For example using a well-designed questionnaire with a relatively small number of relevant questions with multiple choice answers can be a very effective way of easily and rapidly gathering the views of local people about the value of the River Lyn. However, the limitations of this method will certainly include not being able to get either a random sample i.e. each individual in Lynmouth has an equal likelihood of being selected to answer the questionnaire or a stratified sample e.g. if 54% of the population of Lynmouth is female then 54% of questionnaire responses should be female.
Once again it will be important to demonstrate how well you have organised and thought through your data collection e.g. locations, times, sampling methods, sample sizes used etc. to achieve as much accuracy as possible and to reduce bias to a minimum. As before it will be important to critique and evaluate your approach and demonstrate that you are aware of any glaring limitations or inaccuracies caused by assumptions that you may have made or the weaknesses of particular techniques that you have used. For example collecting data about the characteristics of the river (e.g. width, wetted perimeter, velocity etc.) at ten locations along its course is a tremendous effort and the maximum possible to complete in a day but nevertheless together these locations represent a tiny proportion of the length of the river which stretches to nearly 30 km from source to mouth.
Your precise selection of cartographic, graphical, statistical and ICT skills and their complexity to present the data generated during the research phase may be determined by examination specifications but in general terms exactly the same principles of choice, justification and evaluation hold true here as with the selection of methods of data capture. You should therefore look to explain both the strengths and potential weaknesses of each technique you have used as a means of presenting data. For example although choropleth maps give a good visual impression of change over space e.g. average income levels in each local authority of the UK, they provide a false impression of abrupt change at the boundaries of one LA with the next and considerable variations which might exist between incomes within each LA are obscured. A scatter graph is often used to demonstrate with clarity whether a linear relationship exists between two variables e.g. house prices and distance from a town centre but it is limited in value because either a positive or negative correlation does not imply causality e.g. house prices may well be found to increase with distance from town centre but the causal factor may be nothing to do with the perceived unattractiveness of the town centre (an assumption you may have made to begin with) and more to do with access to a newly established country park on the outskirts of the urban area.
Interpretation and analysis
In this section it is important to describe and analyse your results as accurately and in as much detail as possible in relation to the original research question and hypothesis. Data analysis is the process of looking at and summarising data to discover useful information which will support you in the next section to develop conclusions make judgements and reach decisions which confirm or falsify your hypothesis. Look particularly to make links between data sets e.g. between the width of the wetted perimeter and velocity. Does their appear, for example, to be an association between those sample points where river width is narrowest and sample sediment points where stones or pebbles were found to be more angular or smooth?
Conclusion and evaluation
The conclusion should summarise your main findings arrived at through the analysis of the date you have collected. This could take the form of a number of summary statements. It is important that you summarise what you have found out and how it has helped to further your understanding of the geographical problem, issue, theory or concept upon which it was based. It is also crucial that you now refer back to the original research question and hypothesis and make a judgement as to whether the hypothesis has been proved or disproved. If you have been testing a theory for example (such as the Bradshaw Model), it will be important to explain how and why your findings either support or contradict that theory. In the final section it is imperative to offer an overall evaluation of your geographical investigation. For example this might include offering ideas about how the effectiveness of the data collection and presentation methods you used could have been improved and also recognising the assumptions you made at various points which in hindsight have proved erroneous. Evaluation is about identifying problems and difficulties encountered in your research which could have distorted the results e.g. only carrying out a questionnaire on a mid-week afternoon when most people of employment age would have been at work or in education centres. Evaluation is also about reflecting on the validity of your results and conclusions. This is about discussing whether your findings and conclusions from research can be trusted as logical and true. Take time therefore to reflect on the limitations of your research and how these limitations may have resulted in a distorted or biased outcome and subsequent conclusions and decisions. Part of this will be about making suggestions regarding how your research could have been improved and what you would do differently again or extend if you had more time available. This might involve suggested improvements to methods and/or sampling but could also, for example, include ideas about how the validity of your result might be increased my carrying out a another investigation of a another river in a different drainage basin to ascertain whether results there support or refute the findings of the original study you have made of the River Lyn.
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