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Gathering and Using Data

A good geographer is able to handle data in a variety of situations and a variety of ways. Geographical data handling includes the collection, interpretation, analysis, presentation, application and evaluation of both primary and secondary data. That sounds like a lot of complicated stuff to do, but if you take it step by step, it becomes a lot easier.

Primary data is original data that you collect for yourself during fieldwork, it is likely that no-one else has collected the exact same data before. Secondary data is data that has already been collected by someone else, usually for a different reason, and is gathered from GIS material and other digital sources, graphs, maps, charts, diagrams etc. Data can take many different forms - numerical, statistical, the results of questions you have asked and so on.

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The projects that you carry out as part of your GCSE will involve several types of data, but the secret to a successful project is to plan how you will collect and use it before you start.

When planning your geography investigation, if you begin with a question, it can help you to stay focussed on what data needs to be collected and how you will collect it. The question should be very specific and the outcome needs to be measurable. So investigating something like 'What do people think about the proposed nuclear power station' would not be as straightforward or successful as something like 'what percentage of local people are in favour of the building of a nuclear power station near their homes' because you can ask simple questions with yes/no answers that can be used to calculate percentages. A good question immediately directs your thoughts towards what data needs to be collected and how it could be analysed.

Once you have gathered your data, it then needs to be processed. This involves organising your data and spotting patterns in it, working out the best way to present your data and drawing your conclusions. Data can be either discrete or continuous. Discrete data can only have certain values within the range of your study, the simplest example would be yes/no answers to questions or numbers of windows in buildings. Continuous data can have any value in the range of your study, for example distance, temperature or time measurements.

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  1. Which of the following would be an appropriate method of processing data to discover if there is a relationship between GNP and life expectancy?
    Scatter graphs are used to test if there is a connection between two data sets
  2. Which of the following is not involved in handling data during your geography fieldwork?
    These are just a few of the things that you will do during fieldwork, others include taking measurements, sketching buildings, noting land use, carrying out sampling using transects or quadrats ... it's a very long list!
  3. A student collects weather data for an environment. One of the data sets is the temperature taken over a period of time using a datalogger. Which of the following would be the most appropriate way of presenting this data?
    Line graphs can be used with continuous data to spot trends or show changes over time
  4. Which of the following sources would you use to obtain data about changes to transport links of a small town?
    Maps of different ages are a good store of information from the past
  5. Which of the following techniques could be used to collect population data?
    GIS contain a lot of useful information and you should always consider it when planning your fieldwork. It may not be appropriate in every case but should never be overlooked as a data source
  6. Which of the following is NOT a data processing technique?
    Recording answers is classed as gathering data, processing is what you do with the results once you have them
  7. Primary data is:
    Collecting useful primary data needs careful planning of your fieldwork
  8. Which of the following is NOT an example of a student collecting secondary data?
    Observing and recording provides primary data
  9. A student carries out a survey of whether people want a bypass road building to take traffic away from the town centre. The results of their survey of 100 local people is analysed and produces a percentage of people for, against and not bothered. Which of the following would NOT be an appropriate way to present their findings?
    There is only one data set, scatter graphs require two
  10. A student wants to collect primary data about a river in their locality. Which of the following would NOT supply primary data?
    Unless the old photographs had been taken by the student specifically for the purposes of this fieldwork, they would be classed as secondary data

Author: Kev Woodward

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