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Study information

Research Design in Physical Geography

Module titleResearch Design in Physical Geography
Module codeGEO2334
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Sally Rangecroft (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module provides you with an advanced understanding of the requirementsfor undertaking a robust, independent research project. In doing so, we will explore the ways in which physical geographers design and undertake research projects, and examine the key attributes of high quality and rigorous research.Accordingly, it is designed to prepare you for undertaking independent research within the university, specifically your undergraduate dissertation research. Additionally,itseeks to equip you with key employability attributes for professional careers beyond the universityThe module teaching includes directed as well as independent study time, and is one of the compulsory modules you study as part of a BSc Geography degree, as well as being compulsory for FCH students wishing to undertake a physical geography dissertation.  

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to provide you with an advanced and critically engaged understanding of how physical geographers design and undertake research projects. The module has the following objectives:

  • To provide you with an understanding of the ontological and epistemological basis of research design;
  • To outline key research design approaches, drawing on different traditions in the physical sciences;
  • To explore the practical components of undertaking research projects, including field-based and lab-based research;
  • To evaluate different forms of research design and develop your own independent research project.

The module develops a range of skills of value in employment, particularly around understanding and taking part in the process of planning, creating, developing and communicating research design which includes developing understanding of skills and methods required as well as logistical management, health and safety and ethical awareness. The module encourages the development of creative and imaginative problem-solving skills and specific parts of the module focus on employability in relation to research skills and the dissertation.

The module is informed by research expertise both in and beyond Geography at the University of Exeter and literature on designing effective research in Physical Geography.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Discuss the diversity of approaches employed in research design within physical geography, in a range of contexts;
  • 2. Explain the relevance and significance of different forms of geographic knowledge to research design and implementation.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Evaluate the issues involved in research design and its application in the context of physical geography;
  • 4. Describe a number of specialised techniques and approaches involved in collecting, analysing and presenting geographical information;
  • 5. Identify/formulate and evaluate research questions and appropriate methodologies;
  • 6. Synthesise information and recognise scientific relevance of potential independent research.
  • 8. Apply ideas to new situations.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Evaluate different forms of research design and practice, underpinned by scientific rigour;
  • 8. Use of ICT skills to communicate ideas and geographical information and knowledge;
  • 9. Develop interpersonal skills including oral, listening, written, planning, preparation.
  • 13. Draw upon material to lead and contribute to discussions.

Syllabus plan

Term 1 is designed a) to develop your understanding of scientific reasoning, and exciting and contemporary research in physical geography, and b) to increase your knowledge of potential research areas and research methods that you may decide to pursue for your undergraduate dissertation. You will learn about a broad range of research undertaken by physical geography staff, the field, lab and desk-based methodologies they employ and how these contribute to scientific debate and research problems. Small group tutorials will allow you to discuss research topics and techniques across a range of physical geography specialisms to improve your analytical skills and to develop your own research project interests. You will also gain experience of physical geography methodologies practiced in the field and the laboratory by attending a field trip and lab-based practical.

Term 2 lecture and tutorial teaching builds on term 1 by supporting you in refining your initial ideas for your undergraduate dissertation and developing your research design. Through presentation and discussion of your research ideas, you will learn about justification for research, critical evaluation of literature and identification of feasible and appropriate methods for your own research. Assessments through the year will provide you with an opportunity to gain valuable feedback on your dissertation design to maximise the potential for your chosen research project.

Independent study time throughout the module will give you the opportunity to deepen your understanding of the research process and research design, as well as prepare for assessments.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Lecture-based classroom sessions
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Tutorials with personal tutor or dissertation advisor
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Poster fair
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Lab tours
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities2Lab practical
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activities8Field Work
Guided Independent Study267Background reading, tutorial preparation and coursework preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research proposal evaluation 5 minute group presentation and discussion1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research topic presentation 155 minutes1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9Oral and written
Dissertation proposal poster (A3)25A3 poster of dissertation ideas1-9Written
Dissertation proposal602000 words1-9Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research topic presentation Research topic presentation (pre-recorded) 1, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9Referral/deferral period
Dissertation proposal poster (A3)Dissertation proposal poster (A3)1-9Referral/deferral period
Dissertation proposalDissertation proposal1-9Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Key words search

Geography, physical geography, research design

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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