University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Collaborative Paper in Geography

Susy Ziegler, Geography 365

During our field trip on Thursday, September 21, we will locate six different places on or near the UW campus. Each group of three students will study one of these places throughout the semester from as many geographic perspectives as possible. You will first identify the various geographic realms at your site; consider the natural as well as the cultural attributes. To do so, you will find it helpful to look at your study site from the viewpoints of as many different types of geographies as possible (e.g., biogeography, cartography, climatology, economic geography, geomorphology, historical geography, population geography, geography of recreation, tourism and sport, regional development and planning, remote sensing, transportation geography, urban geography, etc.).

As you are working on your projects, think about what you have learned from the readings for this course: What do geographers do? What kinds of questions do they ask? What techniques do they use to answer questions? You will then use these approaches to find out more about your study area.

I expect these projects to represent substantial effort on each of your parts, and I will be reading your work for both content and technical aspects. I have not set a minimum or maximum number of pages for your final document, but I offer possible page lengths below. A general guideline is to be as thorough yet concise as possible. Bring questions and comments about the project to me as they arise. You will work toward your final group project in stages:

Step 1, due 5 October: a description of what geographic realms you will study (1‑2 pages). In the description you submit as a group, highlight the perspectives that you will take and why you have chosen them. Indicate what geographical questions you wish to answer and how you plan to do so (your methods). Also describe who in your group will research each perspective and when you will meet as a group to consult, compile, and complete each part of the assignment (your timetable).

Step 2, due 19 October: an annotated bibliography of the references that you are using to answer your geographical questions (five sources per student, 3‑4 pages total). An annotated bibliography is a list of sources—using the notation I will describe in class—with a few summary sentences about each source. We will discuss an example during class. Each student is responsible for at least five sources, and you will put your references together into a bibliography for the group.

Step 3, due 16 November: draft of group project, including introduction written by group (1‑2 pages) and individually written sections (10 pages each). Although I expect that much of the work that you turn in as your draft will be text, I encourage you to be creative in the types of material that you incorporate and the ways in which you present your findings (e.g., maps, photos, graphs, etc.). In your group introduction, clearly define the focus of your group project and map out for the reader the individually written parts. Make sure that each of your individual sections contains a brief introduction that outlines the topics you will discuss and a more extensive conclusion section that discusses how your part relates to the project as a whole and to the larger themes in geography that we have read about and discussed this semester. I am looking for specific links to the readings, i.e., properly cited quotations and paraphrases that support your conclusions. Make sure that you end your sections with your own bibliography. I will return these drafts after Thanksgiving for you to revise with your group.

Step 4, due either 7 or 14 December: a detailed presentation of your particular area (10 minutes per group member). Think carefully about what is important to say to the class about your project. Most of you will not have time to share all of your research findings, so pick out the essential facts pertaining to your site. Visual aids such as overheads, blackboard outlines, and videos will be especially effective. The first person to present in a group should outline the various sections to follow, and each member should introduce and outline his/her section. Practice your presentation beforehand to ensure that you can establish eye contact and stay within your 10 minutes with time for audience questions. In hearing from each group, we will develop a mental picture of a larger area . . . a transect across campus. We will try to understand the spatial patterns of similarities and differences in the campus environment.

Step 5, due 14 December: final draft of entire group project (approximately 30 pages). Please submit your final draft with the November draft and my comments.


Group Project Assignment Handout


Debriefing on the process of writing collaboratively:

Very few of you raised your hand when asked by Kirsten Jamsen of the Writing Center whether you had worked on group writing assignments before. I’d like for you to take a few minutes to evaluate for yourself and for me the process of completing a collaborative writing assignment. The main question to answer is, “How does writing with others differ from writing alone?” After you have answered the following questions (which you will turn in to me), we will discuss as a group your various perspectives on this type of learning experience. Please continue your answers on the back of this page if you need more space.

Explain how the group paper took shape over time:

What was the hardest part of writing this paper?

From what phase of writing the paper did you learn the most? What did you learn?

What are the advantages of collaborative thinking and writing? What are the disadvantages of collaborative thinking and writing?

What are you still dissatisfied with in the draft of the group paper you turned in today? (Hint: Think critically about your project and about what you wish to revise for the final draft.)

What would you do differently if you could do the project and written paper again?

Students’ Responses

“What are the advantages of collaborative writing and thinking?”

  • It’s nice to get different perspectives on how to solve a problem—when I get stuck, I can talk to one of my partners for assistance.
  • You are given many different angles on the subject from viewpoints you yourself did not previously consider.
  • You get many diverse perspectives on what is being researched, and more information is collected.
  • Brainstorming is intensely enhanced …
  • As we move into careers, we will see this idea of “group” be more relevant and it is important to know how to interact with each other on the same topic.
  • Having help proofreading and discussing options.
  • It has also helped tremendously to get an outsider to help with ideas [using the Writing Center for group conferences].
  • Each person brings in strengths and knowledge about the topic that the other group members may not have.
  • Spread the work load.
  • Less individual time involved.
  • You have other people to bounce ideas off of and you get different perspectives on what you wrote. It makes for a better paper because there are “editors.”
  • Gives one an opportunity to hear different styles or ideas for writing and researching.