An EE in geography gives the student an opportunity to apply a range of geographic skills to complete an independent and in-depth research investigation using geographic concepts, methodologies, theories and sources with a clear spatial emphasis.

Choice of topic

The essay topic may relate to an area of the Diploma Programme geography course, but this is not a requirement. Students can also explore other areas of the wider subject, such as how global issues can be examined through the lens of geography.

Examples of research topics

These examples are for guidance only. Students must ensure their choice of topic is focused (left-hand column) rather than broad (right-hand column).

Focus Topic Broad Topic
The extent that soil characteristics affect land use on a farm in ABC, XYZ Soil characteristics have an effect on farming
Challenges in ensuring a sustainable tourism industry on the island of ABC, XYZ Managing tourism is a priority in sensitive environments
Factors that account for the changing pattern of refugee migration into country X Different patterns of refugee migration
Positive impacts in XYZ as a result of the redevelopment of ABC shopping centre Retail area redevelopment and its effect

Treatment of the topic

It is the task of the supervisor to ensure that the research question:
  • is relevant to the subject
  • allows the student to make use of appropriate geographic sources
  • encourages the application of relevant subject concepts, theories or ideas.

Students should establish the geographic and theoretical context for their research question early in the essay.

Students should outline clearly the geographic context in which they are conducting their research using:
  • one or more annotated maps
  • where relevant, photographs and/or satellite images.

Research methods
Students are not required to undertake primary research, but it is rare for an essay that is based entirely on the reading of published texts to score highly.

Many successful research topics are based on published data such as census or weather records.

Investigations carried out at a local scale also usually achieve highly:
  • they demonstrate connections between the subject and local manifestations and instances
  • their narrow focus discourages an over-reliance on published materials and encourages original research
  • students become more involved when investigating in a familiar, accessible location.

Students should focus on individual research and avoid approaches involving group fieldwork data collection. They must not view the EE as simply an extended piece of fieldwork.

Information on the methodology of the investigation is essential. If students collect their own data, it must be of high quality. It is vital that the investigation is tailored closely to the research question and shows evidence of careful planning.

Students will be assessed for their skills of analysis rather than techniques of data collection and processing. For the EE, the emphasis should be on:
  • written analysis
  • interpretation
  • discussion
  • critical evaluation
  • the development of a coherent, reasoned argument.


Appropriate resources for an EE in geography could include:
  • primary and secondary data
  • quantitative and qualitative information
  • books, newspapers and magazines
  • interviews and/or questionnaires
  • the internet
  • maps
  • aerial photographs and satellite images
  • digital landscape simulations
  • videos
  • GIS
  • diagrams and models.

Students should analyse their data using appropriate quantitative, statistical, graphical or qualitative techniques and the findings should be critically evaluated.

Examples of topics, research questions and suggested approaches

Once students have identified their topic and written their research question, they can decide how to research their answer. They may find it helpful to write a statement outlining their broad approach. These examples are for guidance only.

Topic Factors that account for differing fertility rates in two states in India
Reaseach Question How can differences in the total fertility rates of Uttar Pradesh and Kerala be accounted for?
Approach The essay contrasts two states of India, one in the north (Uttar Pradesh) and one in the south (Kerala) in terms of their different total fertility rates (TFR). Historic changes in the TFR for each state were examined. Differences in the percentage of rural and urban population, sex ratios, infant mortality rates, female literacy, religion, income levels and local customs were examined in order to explain contrasting levels of the TFR and differences in its rate of change in each state.
Topic The sustainability of Singapore’s transport system: the Circle Line
Reaseach Question How far can it be argued that Singapore’s Circle Line is a sustainable transport system?
Approach Using published models of sutainability, a transport sustainability model was devised similar to the Egan Wheel. Eight measures of transport sustainability (accessibility, efficiency, infrastructure quality, comfort and security, affordability, policy response, environmental and health impacts) were applied to eleven selected stations on the Circle Line. Information was collected via passenger questionnaires, an environmental quality survey, qualitative observation and a topological analysis of the transport system to evaluate the sustainability of the system.
Topic Globalization in the Suseong district of South Korea
Reaseach Question Can Suseong be considered to be a socially globalised community?
Approach The approach uses the KOF Index definition of social globalization. A questionnaire was used to gather information regarding levels of social globalization in each of the 13 subdistricts of Suseong, including dress, music, food, language, technology, access to foreign TV stations, newspapers and services. A land use survey was carried out to examine the range of foreign restaurants, fast food, shops and services. Levels of personal contact, information flows and cultural proximity (KOF indicators), were then evaluated for the sample population in the study area.

Illustrations and maps

It is essential that a geography EE be supported by appropriate illustrative graphical material, such as diagrams, maps, tables, images and graphs. Students must acknowledge the sources for each.

  • Good essays usually have maps in the introduction to place the investigation in a clear spatial context.
  • All maps should give an indication of orientation and scale, and include a legend or key.
  • Students should clearly reference all maps used and give the source of any base maps they have not constructed themselves.

The use of scanned maps or satellite images, or those that are downloaded in unaltered form, is rarely effective and provides little evidence of students’ map skills. However, students are encouraged to modify or adapt such images.

Students are encouraged to include:
  • sketch maps
  • labelled or annotated diagrams
  • maps they have constructed.
  • If students draw maps using computer software, they should state the proprietary program used. Hand-drawn maps should be neat and clear, and employ standard map conventions.

Images or photographs
  • Images or photographs should only be used if they are essential illustrative components of the essay, ie not just decoration.
  • Students should explain the feature(s) an image or photograph is intended to illustrate. Each should be:
  • oriented
  • sourced
  • labelled, annotated or captioned.
  • Colour is frequently used in geographic illustrative materials, so it is important that an original colour version of the essay is submitted.

An important note on “double-dipping”

Students must ensure that their EE does not duplicate any other work they are submitting for the Diploma Programme. The geography EE and IA

In particular, an EE in geography is not an extension of the internal assessment (IA) task. Students must ensure that they understand the differences between the two.

Supervisors play an important role in guiding students on these distinctions. Students risk their diploma if academic misconduct is detected.