What the Scientific Method Is All About
The scientific method is a stepwise process for experimentation that is used to explore observations, solve problems, and answer science questions. Does this mean that all scientists follow the same process? Of course not! The reason for this is that certain areas of science can be more easily tested than others. Sometimes, direct experimentation is not possible, and the scientific method has to be modified. For example, astronomers studying how stars change over time cannot fast-track a star's life to test their hypothesis. It is impossible. Why is the scientific method important? The scientific method is important because it minimizes the influence of bias or prejudice in the experimenter and ensures the credibility and reproducibility of experimental evidence. There are as many versions of the scientific method as there are scientists but let us look at the specific version below:
1. Make an observation and ask a question about it. Observation refers to information we gather about something by using the five senses. These five senses include the sense of sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. By making observations, we can define a useful question.
2. Do background research Instead of starting from the very beginning to create a plan to answer your science question or to solve a problem, you can do research to help you find the best way to do things and make certain that you don't repeat mistakes from the past. It is important to consider that another scientist may have answered the science question or solved the problem already. By doing research, you will gain an understanding of what has already been done to answer the specific science question or solve the problem.
3. Propose a hypothesis Now that you have a question to answer, you can make a prediction (a hypothesis) about what you think the answer will be. A hypothesis is a potential answer or explanation to the question, condition, or occurrence. This explanation can somehow be tested, and it usually sounds something like this: "If you cover a wound with a bandage, then it will heal with less scarring."
4. Define variables and controls In most cases, scientists test their hypotheses using controlled experiments. A controlled experiment refers to a scientific test done under controlled conditions. This means that only one (or a few) factors are changed at a time, whereas all the other factors are kept constant. After proposing a hypothesis, you will need to design an experiment to test your hypothesis. The first step is to establish your variables and controls in your experiment.
5. Create a procedure A procedure is a stepwise process that you need to follow when you carry out your experiment or study. This process includes particulars about the data that will be collected during your experiment and how it will be recorded. Following a specific procedure during your experiment is crucial because it enables other scientists and researchers to evaluate the process that you have used to create and gather your experimental data. During a well-designed experiment, data are collected in a reproducible manner. Any researcher can follow the same steps to obtain the same results. A badly designed experiment produces unreliable data that cannot be used or evaluated by other researchers.
6. List and get all the required materials. Think about the type of supplies and equipment you will need to carry out your experiment or study. In some experiments, participants are also needed, along with specific equipment and materials. It is important to make a list of everything you need ahead of time, to ensure that you have everything on hand when you need it.
7. Conduct the experiment or study The next step in the scientific method is to carry out the experiment or study. Follow your experimental procedure, be consistent when you take your measurements and record your results accurately.
8. Analyze the results When your experiment is complete, analyze and review all the data you have collected. You can use charts and graphs to help you analyze the data and patterns.
9. Draw conclusions
Use your results to draw a conclusion and summarize whether the results from your experiment or study support or contradict your proposed hypothesis.
Sometimes the results can be inconclusive or raise more questions about the specific topic that you are investigating. The results can also point out some errors in your experimental design or the manner in which you have performed the experiment.
As mentioned earlier, some steps in the scientific method may slightly differ. It is not always necessary to do background research, especially when the research topic is very new or unusual. Some results, in particular, can also lead to observations that can take the scientist down a completely different path!