This is the second instalment of the research methods and research design work that we are putting on this post. It is based on a lecture by

Don Fleming
Associate Dean (Research)

University of Canberra…

In the first segment we looked at the question of how do we know things and how do we add to the vast store of human knowledge?

In this post we will be asking ourselves what types of questions we can ask ourselves about our subject area and how will they will help us to add to the  store of human knowledge.

But  why do I as a geographer need do research? Especially if I work in a policy making area, teach or work for an NGO, these seem to run more on process than research.

The future will require more and more of a scientific basis for our activity as geographers, if we can’t keep ahead of the game, we will loose our way. And Geography nearly did loose its way in the ’70’s and ’80’s giving rise to many offshoots that carried our purpose on for us. Research and policy are like cousins; good policy should emanate from a thesis that is supported through well organised research. The research process will refine the question or thesis until it is one that can be answered in the context of the issues. Teaching, policy writing, knowledge building and exploration or even planning need to be founded on knowledge and refined to meet the needs of our particular situation or circumstances.

Writing a research Proposal

One of the most difficult things you will face is the question of how to write and what research is all about especially if you have not done research before.

We commonly lack high order analytical skills. There are many people in any profession who can do the work that they have been trained to do but how many of them can get beyond the ability to analyse data and information in their area and move into the process of thinking about what all the data means and what the implications will be. This is surley one of the great strengths of Geography

In the academic world things are changing very quickly. Research training is about to become one of the new openings in the world of post industrialisation there are more and more openings for people who can think about information and its spatial relationships. Researching an issue is no longer limited to the contribution of the researcher adding to the sum of knowledge in the subject. The new gift is the ability to take the research and data into a process and refine the questions to a point that they relied on in applications where spatial sciences meet social and economic.

There are probably three stages in the process, the initial idea, the idea as it is refined over time in the light of information and the final question that can be addressed by the information and knowledge that has been worked through previously and adds to the sum of knowledge in some form.

The proposal

It is essential to get the research idea into a written format that can outline and explain the issues and the questions. The initial research proposal indicates that the researcher can write and has an idea of the issues. A paper is like looking into a kitchen draw of kinves, some are not so well suited to the task others are quite sharp and some will do the job admirably. The papers that  will work will demonstrate the ability to define an issue a question  and a process to address the questions as well as add to the knowledge base of the area of interest.

Before you start do you have; a clear working title for your idea,

a clear idea of what you want to work on,

Questions that will need to be addressed will include:

who has done work on this to date and who are the real and contemporary thinkers in the field right now and how did the arrive at the position that they are in at the moment?

How will you use existing theory

how will you apply new research and methods and approaches?

What are your ideas about optimal project design and how do they fit the research area that you are interested in?

If you want to work in the social sciences as opposed to the physical sciences or  subject matter like Law, you will have to have a clear framework based on the theorists and their findings as they stand at the moment. This does not mean you won’t challenge these over time, In fact if your learning has value you will, but it will be essential to show what you are challenging and why and why what you conclude adds to the learning of the past.

To achieve all of this you will need to scope the literature the topics and the knowledge that is out there and identify the gaps that will be filled through your work.


The university of Exeter website writing a PhD provides an excellent place to work through the ethics of how and when it is appropriate to acknowledge the work of others. Whatever you do you will not want to have the albatross of copying another persons work on your reputation. It is fine to have the same idea as someone else, but put it in your own words. Make quite sure that it is your idea and not someone else’s and that you can explain the idea well enough to put it out there. There are processes in most places to do this, confirmation seminars and others will give you a place to test your ideas and show that you understand the field the questions the gaps and how long it will take you to get to some form of solution.

Research can be a lonesome task and so it is important to ensure that you have some clear time lines around your work and that you can bring yourself to meet those timelines and the milestones that have been set for them.

Some of these will be simpler than others and some will be more under your control than others. Project milestones that are not under your control, especially those that involve other people, will need to have earlier start dates and more risk time allocated to the.

When you are getting toward the end of the thesis you have have enough material for more than one or ten thesis’ so cutting the information down to what you need to do will be a big part of the process.

From comments By Prof. Anne Daly University of Canberra.

Week 2  of the research methods and research design course at UC and in the faculty of Government Business and Law

Plagiarism is an issue at most universities that it is carefully monitored perhaps a little like the athletes at the worlds premier sporing events are watched sfor performance enhancing additives.


Quantitative methods will include surveys, experiments; natural and in the laboratory, and the use of large data sets that might be collected by national statistics offices.

Qualitative Methods might include methods for observing the site or pace that

ethnography is an interesting method and might be used to study market places

Ground theory inductive approaches  is done through interaction with participants

Case studies are an attempt to step back from a situation and think about other places or organisations and how they handled the same or similar situations.

Phenomenal research will look at the circumstances that cause a situation to arise and report on the lived experiences

Narrative research will apply narrative to the process of reporting the questions and issues

Mixed methods research might try to mix several of the above methods into a time frame to try to get an understanding of the situation through a balance between the two that tells a story well.this can be sequential or concurrent but the impacts of collecting data at different times will need to be considered.

Setting up the research question is about choosing the theoretical framework and the gangs and if the work has been examined how will it be different to the work that has been done. you might have a variable or place or subject that is different to the work done by others.

Beware the difference between a topic and a question. some interesting topics don’t translate into questions very easily. think about the topics of poverty in Uganda  or the implications increased global movements of people between cities in different countries and how you might make a question out of these.

Research aims

What does the researcher hope to achieve? Is it to identify the characteristics of people living in poverty in Uganda or is it to explain why people live in poverty in Uganda

Literature review.

The aim of the literature review is to discover who has written what on the topic and how it relates to what you a re doing. you don’t want to find that someone has just done what you want to do. Don’t read more than the abstract if it is mort relevant to your topic. Give yourself some boundaries and stick to them and keep it manageable.

review the literature review as you go because there will be changes to the information and views as you go.

Use your local or university library, there are all sorts of data base tricks that will give you a range of sources and the librarians will have a good understanding of how to use them. also go to the key journals in your area of interest because they will show you how the field of study you are in refers to the references and ideas that you might be interested in.

Make sure they are peer reviewed, attend relevant conferences and online working papers from universities and like institutions. Wile books are not always Peer reviewed some can be useful to begin with and text books or books from respected institutions are helpful.

Magazines and internet sites and newspapers should be used sparingly but Wikepedia can be a useful site to find information quickly like checking a date or place of an event.

But think who wrote it and why and and where was it published and who rote it and who reviewed it to get an understanding of what it is about.


endnote and Mandalay are useful ways of organising your bibliography and keeping track of the numbers and writers and so on. make sure you understand the method of referencing that your supervisor or institution will want to use. Setting up your software to do this efficiently Ask what was the authors objective what was the question and did they answer it? Writing the answers to these questions in your abstract about the article will make referencing  the article so much easier at the end.

Nvivo, what types of issues are you looking for in your question