Writing reports or essays for Geography 360


Students should consider following a five-section structure for their short research report. The target audience may vary from project to project, but it’s best to assume a reader doesn’t know much about cartography and or GIS. The purpose of your essay is to convince the reader you made informed decisions in the process of developing the map. Tell the reader what kinds of methods you used and why they make sense. Make sure you title the essay based on what you have written. For example, please don’t title the essay: “Project 3 Essay”. Use a title like “World Population by Country”. The papers must be free of grammatical and spelling errors and follow a cohesive, logical order in order to receive full credit.


1) Introduction:   Explicitly state the research question


Introduce the project by stating its purpose or posing the geographic question you plan to answer. For example, where should Sound Transit locate a new park and ride in the Thornton Creek Watershed area? State what it is you intended to do.  For example… “The purpose of our project is to represent a geographical perspective concerning adult literacy in Africa. We created a series of choropleth maps using the literacy variable (ADULT_LITE) from the Human Development Index (HDI) provided by the UN development program.” In order to convince the reader that you understand the variable you are mapping, you will need to explain the literacy variable. For example, how is adult literacy measured?  In the case at hand literacy was measured as a ratio: adult literacy by country.


2) What you did and why you did it


Tell the reader how you used maps to answer the research question posed in the introduction and how you used or manipulated the data to create your maps. Show that you understand the data ‘behind’ the map.  What is the scale of measurement? What do you intend to ‘say’ with the map? What kinds of classification decisions did you make? Tell the reader why you made the decisions explicitly. If you aren’t sure ask the TA or consult your peers.


Keep in mind the project questions are designed to get you to think about key learning objectives. Think of the questions as a rough draft of your essay. You are required to answer these questions and turn them in with the projects.  You are also expected to incorporate these answers into the body of your paper. Don’t worry about repeating what you have already written while answering the questions, you are expected to do this.  Answering the questions make it easier to fill in the body of your essay in a logical and organized way. Think of answers to the questions as “draft material”.


3) Some answers to the questions raised in the introduction


What were your findings after creating the maps?  What is the explicit message communicated in your maps? What ‘information’ (not data, information) do we have regarding the topic that we didn’t have before constructing the maps?  The answer will be geographical; you will always have something to say about Time, Space and Attribute.


4) What were the limitations of the project?


There are always limitations to every project. In cartography there are always limitations regarding data.  Sometimes the enumeration unit used to measure a geographic attribute is only useful at specific scales. For example, data displayed at the state or county scale may not make sense displayed at the scale of the nation or the world.  Sometimes we may have to make classification decisions that result in the loss of information. Perhaps the data is outdated or not granular enough. For example, it might not be possible for you to look at the spatial distribution of the SARS virus in the United States by county if state level data is all that is available. In sum, think about the limitations of your project, and comment on them.  Again, there are limitations to every project, if you are unclear what they are, ask the TA.


5) Summary and Conclusion


Remind the reader of the research questions you posed in the introduction. Summarize the methods of analysis and your findings. Then briefly make a generalization about the outcomes and limitations as your conclusion. What might you recommend to future researchers? Feel free to express your reflections on the project outcomes as part of your conclusion.