Skip to main content Skip to footer

Why Writing Matters

Why Writing Matters in Geography

"Writing is the primary tool geographers use to collaborate as they address global problems."

~John Grolle, Associate Professor of Geography 


Why Writing Matters in Geography

The study of Geography relies on writing to describe, analyze and present research results related to both global and local problems and issues. These include such global issues as famine, global warming, population patterns, and climate monitoring. Geography also plays a role in local issues, such as traffic patterns, law enforcement, and safety.

The Geographer studies a wide array of physical and cultural phenomena from a spatial perspective. While effectively crafted maps allow a visual interpretation of these data, effective writing is equally important in analyzing and explaining the world’s myriad physical and cultural phenomena.

Typical Writing Assignments

Writing assignments are generally of two types:

  1. Description and narration, pertaining to natural or cultural landscapes and how humans modify these landscapes 
  2. Analysis, following the scientific method used in the social sciences and physical sciences:
  • hypothesis
  • observation and research
  • analysis of data
  • conclusions

Common writing assignments include the following:

  • Research Paper - Students select a topic and prepare a thesis in which the body of the paper supports the argument advanced. These papers in introductory classes are usually between 6 and 10 pages. The student must integrate multiple sources of information into this paper. (See A Guide to Writing Research Papers in Geography, below.)
  • Physical Geography/Environmental Events Log - Students keep an account of physical/environmental events that have occurred locally and globally throughout the semester, and use information learned in class to explain the processes that led to these phenomena.
  • Short Papers on Current Events - Students select a newsworthy event in a particular region of the world and discuss the cultural and physical processes that explain this event. Essentially, the student attempts to explain how geography is interrelated with cultural, economic, political, demographic and physical events.
  • Internet Assignments - In these short writing assignments, students use a website to access information and then to interpret data presented in map, graph, or other illustrative methods.

Depending on the course, students may also write summary/response papers and answers to essay questions on exams.

See A Guide to Writing Geography Papers (202KB)

Qualities of Good Writing

1. Keep arguments as concise as possible. Do not include extraneous information in an attempt to fill space.

2. Paraphrase material to avoid excessive use of quotations.

3. Ensure that a logical progression connects the evidence that supports your argument.

4. Integrate classroom lectures and textbook readings into the written assignment. This shows the instructor you are able to apply what has been learned through class to that particular assignment.

5. Provide an objective examination of an issue when writing research papers. Personal anecdotes and reactions are not appropriate.

6. When a topic is controversial, introduce counterpoints, and explain to the reader why this argument is less scientifically sound than the argument which you are supporting.

See A Guide to Writing Geography Papers for specific information regarding research strategies, organization patterns, citation conventions, and use of charts, tables, photos and maps.

Appropriate Types of Evidence & Support

Geography uses a wide range of evidence and support, including maps, photos, charts, graphs, and satellite images. All of these are essential tools for geographers.

The two most relevant journals in Geography are Science andNature. The most often-used databases are Science Direct and GEOBASE. Using these resources (which link from the Library website) ensures that students are basing their writing on authoritative sources.

Citation Conventions

Citation styles are determined by individual instructors, based on the level of the course; consult with your instructor for any questions.

Special Comments

One of the most marketable skills taught in Geography is the use of GIS (Geographic Information Systems). Many types of jobs demand GIS training: land use planning, educational administration, law enforcement, national/state/community government.

Faculty Perspectives 
on Writing:

Sara Beth Keough

My Writing Story

Improving Your Writing Skills in Geography

Example Papers

Kayleen Schumacher
"A Geographical Analysis of Dialect Distribution in Massachusetts" (258KB)

Aaron Crossen
"Robert D. Kaplan's Anarchic Africa" (178KB)


Contact Us



Main Campus