SODA: The Life-force of a Geographer
by Casey D. Allen, PhD
As a Geographer, especially during my undergraduate education, I was often asked questions like, “So...what does a geographer do?” or, “You’re majoring in geography, huh? What are you going to do with that? Teach?” My limited view at the time was relegated to trite responses I had heard from professors: “...Geography is what geographers do...”, “...Geography describes the earth...”, “Geographers study the earth-space environment...” Of course, those “definitions” only confuse people more (even some geographers).
For many years this troubled me, getting me so flustered at times that I retorted to the questions with a quick, “I’ll do whatever I want!” But, after realizing I should be a better Ambassador for my beloved subject, my responses were less abrasive – though I usually feigned a MacGyver quote: “I’m not trying to be mysterious about it. It’s just that what I do is tough to explain”.
Over the years, after taking stock in what I do – what Geographers do – I came up with a simpler explanation: Geographers SODA. A simple mnemonic device, SODA outlines four key elements associated with geography: Geographers often Speculate, Observe, Describe (i.e., data gathering), and Analyze. And with solid and astute training, anyone can learn to SODA like a Geographer.
Speculate. “Why is that there?” Geographers speculate about all sorts of things: location, space, time, and physical and anthropogenic phenomena. Speculation helps develop a hypothesis and/or research question. Or multiple questions and/or hypotheses.
Observe. “What do you see?” Geographers’ observations usually lead to supporting or not supporting their Speculations, and help further refine the hypotheses and/or questions. Observation is a powerful geographic technique.
Describe. “How would you communicate your observations?” Geography as a word means “to write about the Earth”. But Geographers do more than describe the Earth. They also expound upon how they describe it. They discuss what methods were used and why, how they are going to test their hypothesis, and describe what they’ve seen and experienced. They note specific and general details about their Observations and Speculations, perhaps collaborating with others, to Describe the data gathered as accurately as possible.
Analyze. “What do your findings say?” Trained Geographers are brilliant at synthesizing information. They take into account multiple phenomena when assessing one specific topic. Because of their close association with all things spatial, they often see patterns and trends others might miss. They are masters at comparing and contrasting results from their hypotheses testing and/or research questions. They can take any Speculation, and through Observation and through data gathering/explanations of their Descriptions, Analyze it to find/help proffer an answer (or support/not support hypotheses). Many times, this results in more hypotheses and questions, so the cycle begins again.
This is the power of Geography: its ability to take anything – no matter how mundane, discouraging, frustrating, bleak, exciting, fascinating, or interesting – and make sense of it.
But what happens after the Analysis? Well, depending on circumstances, you can either SODA POP or SODA CAN. If your SODA will be given as a presentation or poster, then try SODA POP. If your SODA will be a paper (e.g., journal article, thesis, book, etc.), then try SODA CAN. (Keep in mind that sometimes, there may be instances for using the entire SODA POP CAN).
Propose the next step. The Analysis generated through SODA leads to the next move. And that move must be formally Proposed.
Organize the results. The Proposed next move then needs to be Organized in a way that your audience will understand it.
Present findings. Once Organized, the results should be Presented. Hopefully, by the end of the Presentation, there is even more valuable feedback. The Presentation can be written (e.g., journal article, essay), oral (e.g., conference presentation), or some other media form (e.g., YouTube video, TikTok, blog)...
Conclusion. The Analysis can also lead to a Conclusion. Maybe you’ve discovered something entirely new. Maybe your findings coincide with others’. Maybe your Analysis means more research is warranted.
Application. A Conclusion should then lead to an Application. How can what you’ve discovered be used? Why is it important?
New Knowledge. The Application, in most cases, is – or at least leads to – New knowledge. And this can then be shared with the world (however small your world may be). Again, perhaps via written, oral, or some other media form.
**While mnemonic devices like SODA abound in the educational arena, I devised SODA as a logical pathway to enhance Geography pedagogy. It also follows the Scientific Method.