A guide to Geography dissertation planning

As you may have read in my earlier post, a lot of my time recently has been towards planning my dissertation. The dissertation is one of the most important components of a geography degree at Leicester, since it accounts for a large percentage of your grade in the final year. I’ve mentioned the dissertation planning process a few times throughout my blog posts, however I would like to put together a comprehensive list of the steps that geographers go through in the whole dissertation process. I hope this will be useful since personally I didn’t really know the exact timings of the different stages until experiencing it these past couple of terms! So, without delay, here is a list of the different steps and the timings you can expect:

1st year

This is really the time to be getting involved in the modules taught, and figuring out what you find most interesting. For me it was anything to do with the environment, society and nature, particularly climate change and biotic processes. The summer leading up to second year is a great time to do some reading around the topics you find interesting, particularly reading recent journal articles by academics all over the world, to find out the most current research in that field. You don’t need to have a specific dissertation idea, but looking more deeply into what you find interesting may inspire an idea for your dissertation.

What interests you?

What interests you?

2nd year January-March

During this term a module runs called Geographical Research Design – the dissertation preparation module. This module has a series of lectures about dissertation planning, from how to decide your topic, to doing a literature review, to choosing a method of analysing your data.




Almeria field trip [see my earlier post]

Also part of this module is the Almeria field trip (Spain) in February, which I have blogged about in previous posts here and here. As well as being really fun, this field trip really kickstarts you into being able to design a research question, method and analysis, with a group project that forms part of the coursework for that module.
Late March – early May

These are really the key months in which you will design your research question and write a dissertation proposal. This must be around 2500 words long and basically acts as a chance for you to put forward the case for your research question, outlining the reasons it needs to be studied and your proposed methods. It’s really important to get right because it counts as coursework, and must be passed in order to be able to do your actual dissertation. Another important thing to do before submitting your proposal is to obtain permission to do fieldwork in your chosen study area, or permission to use secondary data that you would like to analyse.

I had a bit of trouble deciding my research question, however I found a field I was interested in – carbon storage, narrowed it down – carbon storage in urban areas, did my research and designed a question in need of answering. My final question asks about the optimum ways that trees can be planted in urban parks for maximising carbon storage and sequestration. It may sound dull but it actually relates to a lot of interesting debates in climate change mitigation and urban planning! A tip for anyone that is having trouble choosing an idea – don’t let yourself think of too many ideas! Choose one or two and look deeply into them until you find something that works and you are interested in, otherwise you will keep thinking of new ideas and will never settle on one. I found the proposal not that difficult to complete since I was very interested in my chosen field and it was actually quite fun researching existing literature and arguing my case.


Once your dissertation proposal has been passed, a risk assessment must be completed as well as an ethic’s review form, very important if you are using human subjects in your research. My risk assessment turned out to be quite long – who knew there could be so many potential dangers just measuring trees in a park!


Summer is the time to start collecting your fieldwork data, or making a start on your analysis, lab work, or whatever you have decided to do. This is what I will be doing in the next few weeks, and am looking forward to blogging about it!

I hope this post has been useful, thank you for reading! As always, feel free to comment with any questions below!


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About Caroline

Hey! I'm Caroline and I'm in my second year studying BSc Geography. I have a strong interest in environmental issues and enjoy music, art and volunteering outside of studying. I'll be blogging about my course and life at Leicester as well as proving that Geography isn't just colouring in maps!

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One response to “A guide to Geography dissertation planning”

  1. Beginning my dissertation fieldwork

    […] on one very important summer task – my dissertation fieldwork! As you may have read in my previous blog post, for my dissertation I am measuring the carbon content of various tree stands, which means lots of […]

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