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Research Design in Physical Geography

Module titleResearch Design in Physical Geography
Module codeGEO2334
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr Ute Schuster (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module provides you with an advanced understanding of the requirements for undertaking a 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 research within the university, specifically your undergraduate dissertation research. Additionally, it seeks to equip you with key employability attributes for professional careers beyond the university. The 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 examine the different ways in which ‘research’ is defined and applied across a range of academic and non-academic contexts;
  • To consider the role of key actors in the research process and the ethical implications of different research practices;
  • To outline key research design approaches, drawing on different traditions in the physical sciences;
  • To explore the practical components of undertaking research projects;
  • To evaluate different forms of research design and their likely impacts and outcomes.

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 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 or problems;
  • 6. Identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 7. Synthesise information and recognise relevance;
  • 8. Apply ideas to new situations.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 9. Use ICT effectively and appropriately to analyse and present geographical information;
  • 10. Effectively and appropriately interpret and evaluate different forms of research design and practice;
  • 11. Understand the role of research design in developing a coherent graduate attribute profile to enhance employability;
  • 12. Develop interpersonal skills including oral, listening, planning and preparation;
  • 13. Draw upon material to lead and contribute to discussions.

Syllabus plan

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 that you may decide to pursue for your undergraduate dissertation. You will learn about a broad range of research undertaken by physical geography staff, and how this contributes 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.

Term 2 lecture and tutorial teaching builds on term 1 by supporting you in refining your initial ideas for your undergraduate dissertation. Through presentation and discussion of your research ideas, you will learn about critical evaluation of literature and identification of feasible and appropriate methods for your own research. Assessments during terms 2 and 3 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 both terms will give you the opportunity to deepen your understanding of the research process and research design, as well as prepare for assessments.

Learning and teaching

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 Teaching9Lecture-based classroom sessions
Scheduled Learning and Teaching10Tutorials with personal tutor or dissertation advisor
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Poster fair
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Lab tours
Guided Independent study128Background reading, examination revision and coursework preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Dissertation presentation5 minute individual presentation 1-8, 10, 12, 13Oral

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
Examination301 hour1-8, 10-11Written
Dissertation proposal poster (A3)20A3 poster of dissertation ideas1-11Written
Dissertation proposal502000 words1-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-8, 10-11August Ref/Def period
Dissertation proposal poster (A3)Dissertation proposal poster (A3)1-11August Ref/Def period
Dissertation proposalDissertation proposal1-11August Ref/Def 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:

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geography, physical geography, research design

Credit value30
Module ECTS


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Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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