Stage 2- Developing a plan or strategy for conducting the investigation

Geographical Skills paper, Stage 2 information


Developing a plan

Work out location- where is the investigation going to take place? show clearly on map

Identify the data needed

  • sources of primary and secondary data
  • how much data needed
  • access to data sources
  • primary- data collected first hand
  • secondary- data from published sources
  • specify sources and check reliability

work out strategy for collecting data- intended method, sampling strategy, location, timing, division of labour, equipment

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Developing a plan continued

Choosing sampling type

  • Units- linear, area or point
  • Random- statistically most useful
  • Stratified- use when data occurs in clear subsections
  • Systematic- quick and easy
  • Pragmatic- sample where you can
  • can combine

Recognise limitations- in terms of time, location, converage, equipment, resourcesm labour force available and access

Identify risks- potential risks and their seriousness and likelihood of occuring and possible ways of reducing or managing these risks. Also risk that data may be unreliable or inaccurate

Arrange a pilot- need to carry out a pilot or reconnaissance to check viability of data collection strategy in the time and location chosen

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Making a plan

Plans are useful guides to the expected time needed and may identify bottlenecks in the sharing of equipment, access, etc

2 types of plan

  • 1. an overall plan that looks at the stages of the investigation, probably identifying stages 4 and 5 as time consuming. Useful in setting out the logistics, sequence of activities and how the various stages fit into the time allocated
  • 2. there is also the plan drawn up to organise the practicalwork in the field which is useful as it provides a learning tool for the future as well as timings for investigation
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Data needed to examine hypothesis

  • Data must fit three criteria:
    • available at an appropriate scale
    • available in sufficient quantity
    • easy to collect
  • once identified, the nature of the data will determine whether collection is by desk research, fieldwork involving measurement, observation or interview
  • Two types of data:
    • Primary= new data, not previously been collected or processed e.g. fieldwork data. Also includes documents such as census of population, rainfall records and electoral registers.
    • Secondary- must come from documentary sources that have already been processed, ordered and analysed before publication e.g. textbooks, articles, mas, charts and diagrams
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Primary or Secondary data?



  • real- on that day
  • located in your area
  • you know how it has been collected
  • you 'own' it


  • may not be accurate (in collection or recording)
  • once-off data
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Primary or secondary data?



  • Accurate (as often larger sample or repeated)
  • May give the average or norm


  • Findings sources
  • May be biased
  • May be out of date
  • Don't know how it has been collected
  • May not be exactly the same units or areas as yours
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Documentary data sources: Topographic maps

  • Basis for most investigative studies in geography
  • used in at least 3 different ways:
    • sources of information such as relief and drainage
    • for recording and storing data gathered in the field
    • for providing spatial frameworks for studies which involve spatial sampling
  • Four types of large scale Ordnance Survey maps
    • 1:50 000 (Landranger)- useful for investigations at a regional scale
    • 1: 25 000 (Pathfinder)- most useful for urban area/sub-regional studies because of the detail
    • 1:10 000- investigations at a local scale
    • 1:2500- investigations at the smallest scale
  • The map chosen for study will depend on the scale of the investigation and on the level of detail required
  • The earliest large-scale Ordnance Survey maps date from the mid-nineteenth century
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Geology Maps

  • 1:50 000 and 1-inch geology maps, published by the British Geological Society are available for most of the UK
  • There are two types:
    • solid geology which show surface rocks without surface deposits such as clay, sand, pear and alluvium
    • drift geology show surface deposits as well as outcrops of solid rock and areas mass movement
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Goad Plans and Land-Use maps

Goad plans

  • Goad maps are large-scale plans of shopping centres in the UK and parts of Europe
  • provide information on retailers, their activity, floorspace and address details
  • An invaluable source of data on retail change and the spatial distribution of retail types

Land-use maps

  • The Land Utilisation Survey in the early 1960s produced 1:25 000- scale maps of land use in England and Wales that covered about 10% of the country
  • These maps are valuable historical documents because they allow analysis of changes such as urbanisation, land reclamation and the conversion of pastureland to arable land over the past 50 years
  • Land-use patterns in relation to soils, geology, slopes, altitude, flooding and distance from urban areas can also be investigated
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Weather charts and Satellite images

Weather charts

  • Synoptic weather charts are produced by the Meteorological Office- issued at noon and midnight are the most detailed
  • They show isobaric patterns and frontal systems
  • Synoptic charts are useful in local investigations that focus on extreme weather eventssuch as heavy rainfall, snowfall, heat waves and drought

Satellite images

  • Contain valuable information on weather systems, land use, the shape and internal layout of settlements, river channels, coastlines and so on
  • They are likely to be more recent that maps and more detailed however, the clutter of detail makes photographic images more difficult to interpret
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Census of population

  • UK census of population has been taken every 10 years since 1801
  • It is an essential source of information for government planning, the allocation of resources such as housing, education and health care
  • Personal information required was date of birth, gender, educational qualifications, ethnicity, religion and employment
  • Census information for 56 data sets is published for a heirarchy of geographical areas
  • Neighbourhood census statistics, available for the smallest areas can be mapped or presented as charts
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Data collection through Observation

Observation and the systematic recording of geographical features

  • Uses skills such as field sketching of landscapes, physical features, soil profiles and villages sites
  • may also require classification of shop types
  • Environment assessment surveys
  • Pedestrian flows and traffic flows are based on simple counts
  • Counts of individual pant species are also used in vegetation surveys that use quadrat and transect sampling methods
  • Requires a recording schedule
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Data collection through measurement

  • most aspects of fieldwork in physical geography involve data collection through measurement
  • This relys on standard apparatus and instruments such as, ranging poles, quadrats, metre rulers, tapes, clinometers, current meters, thermometers and anemometers
  • a common theme in physical geography investigations relates to shape or form during processes
    • e.g. Beach profiles may be measured to establish whether beach profile influences gradient
    • The width and depth of river channels in a cross-section can be measured and their shape related to discharge, sediment coarseness and channel slope
    • HIllslopes may be surveyed using ranging poles, clinometers and tapes in order to relate slope angles to mass movements such as soil creep
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2 approaches to questionnaire surveys

  • 1. Completed privately by respondents at home or in the office, students deliver and collect the surveys by hand or in the post
  • 2. Questionnaires where students are present to record the responses directly
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Postal questionnaires


  • Likely to be more objective with target population chosen randomly or systematically from a list of addresses 
  • Responses are also likely to be more measured and considered
  • Avoid personal issues and bias
  • Less time constrained
  • Can be longer


  • More challenging to devise due to absence of the researcher so need to be precise and free from ambiguity 
  • Cost of delivering and collecting questionnaires 
  • Response rates for postal questionnaires are often low- often less that 20%
  • People don't like the intrusion so often throw them away
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Street interview questionnaires


  • Students have the opportunity to explain and prompt their respondents
  • Often produces a much higher success rate than postal questionnaires
  • The age/sex of the respondent can be seen
  • Aspects can be altered if they aren't working


  • More difficult to control and often result in unrepresentative data
  • Questionnaires have to be brief, with little or no time for considered answers
  • Respondents may give that answers they think you want
  • Often biased as only certain people stop for you
  • Boredom after asking the same questions repeatedly
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Designing questionnaires

1. Initial decisions

  • Decide on information needed
  • Who the respondents/target population are
  • The method of survey

2. Content and types of questions

  • Due to limited time only essential questions should be included
  • Questions should be clear and focus on facts rather than attitudes or opinions
  • Questions that have political and religious connotations or are in any way economically, socially or ethnically offensive should be avoided
  • Should be designed to elicit standardised response so they can be later compared, tabulated and classified therefore multiple choice questions should be used where possible
  • Questions dealing with attitudes and opinions generate more information if some form of rating scale is used because purely open ended questions are likely to produce answers which are difficult to analyse and quantify
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Designing Questionnaires- Layout

  • Questions should have a clear and logical sequence
  • Questions concerning personal characteristics are generally placed towards the end of a questionnaire. 
    • This is because respondents may regard this information as condifential and decline to answer
    • However, this is less likely if they have already answered the earlier questions and even if they refuse to answer useful information will be provided from the earlier response
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Assessing the risks

Risks to the person (health and safety) but also to the reliability and accuracy of the data. They stem from:

  • The environment or area the investigation is being undertaken in e.g. slippery, traffic, water depth etc
  • The time of day/year when it is being carried out
  • Possible extreme weather e.g. sunstroke
  • The nature of the activity you are planning to undertake
  • The methodology, including the equipment being used
  • Personal issues e.g. asthma sufferer, inappropriate clothing
  • Personnel who are working together
  • Legal restrictions e.g. rights of access
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Risk assessment

1. Identify the potential hazards, 2. Assess the risk posed by each hazard. 3. Devise a strategy for dealing with the hazard

Number of general safety guidelines common to geographyical fieldwork:

  • Always work in groups- ideally groups should include 3 people incase an accident occurs
  • Carry a mobile phone
  • Wear (or carry a rucksack) suitable outdoor clothing including waterproofs and several layers of clothing
  • If in remote areas carry a torch, survival bag, whistle and emergancy rations
  • Carry a small first aid kit
  • Carry a map at the appropriate scale
  • Leave details of your itinerary with your teacher or supervisor including times 
  • Wear safety helmets when working in environments such as cliffed coastlines, scress, boulder fields and steep upland valleys
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limitations imposed by time and resources

  • Most geographical investigations strike a balance between the amount of data collected and the time and resources expended on data collection
  • This means allocating sufficient time and resources to achieve the minimum amount of data needed to answer a question or hypothesis
  • some strategic considerations connected to time and resources are essentially practical
    • e.g. how much time will be devoted to data collection?
    • how much potential fieldwork time will be lost travelling to and from the fieldwork site?
    • How many students are involved with the data collection process?
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