When approaching a topic such as geography, like many other subjects, it may be a bit difficult to identify a specific area to research-especially considering the vastness of some fields. Unless given prior direction from an instructor or an assignment detail, the first major issue you want to tackle is what type of geography you'd like to explore. The field of geography is made up of three main divisions; human, physical, and environmental geography.
If you have a scientific or empirical research model in mind for your project, you may be looking towards a topic in physical geography
. And if you feel somewhat influenced by fields such as psychology and sociology, then you may be more interested in the qualitative and theoretical studies conducted within human geography.
And finally, environmental geography lies between the two and can be approached from both angles, physical and human, as by definition it addresses human interactions with the environment. The field of environmental geography also may address major societal concerns such as the consumption of resources and population decrease and increase. Considering this, an environmental paper may take an empirical or theoretical approach, or a qualitative or quantitative one, depending on the characteristics of the topic and the best means of satisfying any research question connected to it.
If you find yourself leaning towards the more humanistic aspects of geography you can start your topic selection by identifying exactly which key components make up human geography. In essence, since human geography deals with various facets of human life the subcategories that comprise it have much to do with our daily lives. Some of these things include culture, economics, health, and politics. And the foremost amongst them is the cultural perspective; so much so that human geography is sometimes referred to as cultural geography (suggesting the overall impact of this subcategory on the topic of human geography).
Choosing a cultural geography topic
The cornerstone of cultural geography is how humans interact and carry out their lives from place to place (or spatially) with respect to specific cultural elements. Each of these elements can easily be used as a starting point of research (you can use them to brainstorm ideas for related topics). A partial list of these cultural elements is provided below.
- Recreational activities/sports
- Gender roles
- Principles and values
- Marriage and other pivotal relationships
Sample topics that may be crafted based on these titles
Any one of these categories can be taken to produce a suitable research topic
. For instance, if you are interested in clothing for a particular region you may choose to investigate how the clothing traditions of that area evolved over time and what particular influences attributed to the current or past clothing practices of the people.
Likewise a similar angle can be taken with food or cuisine. You may decide to analyze the impact of several cultures on American cuisine for example, as well as how the demands of certain foods may have changed from place to place within the continental United States.
Also gender roles are always special areas of interest as they deal with how a society addresses and handles its most significant roles; the role of the man and the role of the woman. A research topic covering this area may decide to address the differences in patriarchal as well as matriarchal societies with regards to space and time and how certain spatial factors may have impacted these roles in societies.
The other more scientific approach to geography is known as physical geography. This area will more than likely involve quantitative studies in which students will choose to examine specific elements of the earth's surface. Physical geography, by definition, looks at the physical structures, processes, patterns and changes that occur throughout the Earth as they relate to human beings and their ability to function. Some key issues connected to physical geography (which may spark an interest for research) are:
- Oceanography - a field related to large bodies of water; seas and oceans
- Climatology - this field studies long term weather conditions and categorizations
- Meteorology - relates to the earth's atmosphere, and short term weather forecasting
- Glaciology - examines things connected to ice such as glaciers and snow
- Hydrology - is related to small bodies of water on the Earth's surface as well as the hydrologic cycle
Without much difficulty any student should be able to take one of these categories and devise a reasonable enough research topic to be investigated. One example is with glaciology. A study in glaciology may look to examine polar ice sheets, for example, based off of satellite data as well as current information provided in geographic databases. Since most students won't be able to make it to Antarctica this type of research is great for providing empirical studies without physical samples and in-person measurements.
Up Next: Refine your topic
So now that you have a basic idea of which areas to concentrate on, what's next? The next step is to conduct preliminary research on your prospective topic to more precisely identify what to research. This involves checking a few basic sources for information;
- General and Geography-specific dictionaries
- Encyclopedias - For example you can utilize 'The Encyclopedia of Geography' to gain more information on your specific area of geography
- Conduct general internet searches or database searches through your local library - Database searches can be done using systems such as 'Academic Search Premier' or 'GeoBase'
Utilizing these basic search methods before delving further into your research (for example, before you undergo an experiment, specific study, or read several titles) will enable you to better refine your topic and thoroughly identify what needs to be studied in your particular area of interest. This step is a crucial one, as unless you are very familiar with a particular subject area there is really know what for you to nail down a research topic specific enough to be studied right away (though it can happen from time to time!). Overall the best means of narrowing your topic is to follow through with the preliminary research to find out what your topic comprises, its main objective, and some idea as to what other researchers have already accomplished in this area.