Professor tips

Tips Straight from Professors!

Note: These tips can be used as general guidelines for writing in Geography, as most professors agree on what constitutes good writing, but be sure to follow individual professors’ instructions and rubrics for more detailed expectations and requirements. As well, writing in Human Geography and Physical Geography can vary greatly in method and style.

Tips from Professor Beverly Wemple:

What is one thing that students must never forget about writing in Geography?

  • Writing is a lifelong skill that you’ll need. We’re trying to teach students the kinds of writing strategies and methods that you can employ throughout life, and that are flexible enough to be relevant to different kinds of employment trajectories (whether academic or professional).

What makes you go “Wow” when reading papers? – In a good way?

  • A really interesting topic and an interesting way of framing the topic. The first paragraph of a paper is often where I get “grabbed” or get bored. But also, clearly organized thinking; make sure I can understand the first sentences of your paragraphs. If someone can do that really well, I’ll say, “Wow! Good job.”

What makes you go “Wow” when reading papers? – In a bad way?

  • When you can’t really get the point, after reading the first page of a paper, of what the person’s going to be doing. When there’s no clear overarching organization. When it looks like the person has never really learned how to cite things, even though it’s been taught in class. If I’ve taught it, and then it seems like it hasn’t stuck, that will make me say, “Wow,” in not a good way.

What can turn a good paper into a great paper?

  • Editing. I think many students think, “Well I wrote it, and then I read through it and corrected my spelling and errors,” but the editing process needs to be a bit critical and reflective. And sometimes you need another eye on it to do that. In academics we do that: we write and then we do some editing ourselves, but then we send it off for review. We get those reviews back and it makes us rethink and go back through to do another stage of editing. Students can do that themselves through their peers or through a tutor. I think this process can really strengthen a paper.

What is your favorite database for online research?

  • I tend to use Google Scholar. Often I’ll follow a train of citations through an initial paper that looks good to me. I’ll read the paper, then go through the bibliography, and will follow a chain of papers that way.

Do you have any tips that cover writing in both Human and Physical Geography?

  • Regardless of whether we’re human or physical geographers, we all would think that it’s good writing if the paper is well-framed at the start, has some clear organization so the reader can figure out what’s going on, and then supports that with some evidence. These are overarching ideas about good writing that we would all agree upon, but the actual implementation of it looks a little bit different, depending on whether you’re coming out of the Social or Natural Sciences (i.e. Human or Physical Geography).

How do you think bias comes into play in writing in Geography?

  • I try and teach students to understand what the boundaries are of what can be inferred from studies that include statistical analyses, and then use that teaching to hopefully make them a little more critical of what they’re reading, and also so that they will be aware, when they’re doing their own research, of the limits of how broadly they should interpret what they’re doing. It’s not exactly bias, but it’s about broader things that you can infer from what you study.

Any last advice for writing in Geography, whether for the intro courses or upper levels, or for Physical Geography as a subfield specifically?

  • When scientists are reading writing, they’re still looking for that good, strong, well-organized narrative, but in the sciences, there’s almost always supporting information that comes in the form of graphs and tables. Learning how to build those and format them correctly, and then talk about them in a narrative so the reader can understand what they’re going to see, is important.