The scientific method is a way in which scientists have been carrying out research for centuries, regardless of the field of study. It is a systematic form of inquiry involving observation, questioning, formulation of a hypothesis to answer the question, research and data collection, and finally reporting findings. The goal is to discover truth by collecting hard empirical evidence. The process provides an objective standardized approach to experimentation. Read this article to learn the fundamental steps in the scientific method.
The scientific method begins with observation. Here we observe the world around us to notice something that is interesting and therefore sparks curiosity. For example you may observe that when you eat lots of bean you get bloated, your stomach hurts, and you belch a lot.
Ask a Question
Once you make an observation the next step is to question what you observe. For example, you may ask what is the relationship between a gassy stomach and eating beans? Is there one, or is it just an allergic reaction that I have? Do other people have the same experience?
Develop a Hypothesis
A hypothesis is an intelligent guess. It is your attempt to answer the question before doing the test. Let’s say we want to find out if other people experience the same bloating and belching phenomena when they eat beans. We could start with a hypothesis that “high bean consumption causes gastrointestinal discomfort”.
Conduct a Literature Search
Before you dive into the research, it is wise to find out if the research question has already been answered. Research takes time and money. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Seek instead to built on the shoulders of others. That is, find out what has already been done and add to it. You can do preliminary research quickly, using library databases of academic journals in just about any field. Just type in the relevant search terms and in less that a second all the peer-reviewed articles written over the last 50 years or more can be delivered to you. Comb them through carefully to see if the question has been satisfactorily answered or if there is an angle that has not yet been fully explored.
Conduct the Research
Assuming there is not enough information on the subject addressing the question or there is opportunity to take a new look with a unique angle, then you can conduct the research. To test the hypothesis that bean consumption causes gastrointestinal discomfort, you could investigate two groups of people. You could feed one group a meal containing mainly beans as the protein source and another group with meat as the main protein source. You could then provide them with questionnaires for them to report their feelings of discomfort after a set time after the meal. Typically in experimental research you will always be measuring something and changing something. Whatever you are measuring, e.g. discomfort, is called the dependent variable, and whatever you are changing, e.g. protein source, is the independent variable.
Collect and Analyze the Data
The purpose of research is to collect hard data which will form the basis of your conclusions. Therefore, collecting accurate data is essential. If the right question was asked and the right procedures and tools were used, the data collected should be both accurate and precise. What’s the difference? Accurate obviously means you are getting the right information. Precise means that the data is repeatable. That is, every time you run the experiment you are getting about the same results. Another way of putting it is that accuracy is hitting the bulls eye. Precision is hitting the same spot all the time, accurate or not. In research you want to hit the bulls eye and hit it all the time. Once collected, the data must be analyzed. A good understanding of statistics here is not only handy, but essential. Statistical tools will determine real differences between groups that you are studying. For example, if 10% of the group that ate beans experienced bloating and only 7% of the group that did not eat beans had the same issue, is there a difference between the groups? Well yes, there is a 3% difference, but is there a statistical, or meaningful difference? The answer could be yes or no. You will need to apply the appropriate statistical tools to find out.
Organize and Report the Data
Once you have your data analyzed, it is now time to get it organized in a way that is easy to present and report. You can put it in a table form or one of many types of graphs to make it easy to interpret. Being familiar with basic tools such as excel is important in helping you to present the data. Once you have done that, you can now report your findings so that others will be able to use your research to build on and make new discoveries. Don’t be afraid of reporting your data when it did not satisfy your hypothesis. You will save others the trouble of making the same mistake. You can report your findings by publishing it in a peer-reviewed journal, on a website, in a magazine, newspaper, or presenting it at a research talk.
Change the Hypothesis and Repeat the Experiment if Necessary
If your hypothesis did not work out, no problem. Change the hypothesis and run the experiment again. Do this until your question has been answered. For example, in your study you may discover that the beans did not cause discomfort in the group that you studied. This may lead to new questions such as, did you you put enough beans in the meal? Is there a certain amount that we need to eat in order to experience the discomfort? How much? Is it the type of beans that I served? Maybe some types of beans cause bloating and others do not. Was it the way that the beans were prepared? Maybe the cook time affects feelings of discomfort? Perhaps it’s the group that I selected to study. The population I looked at were less prone to digestive problems due to age and health. Use one or more of these questions to revisit the study using a different hypothesis. However, know that even when your hypothesis has been proven, your research will generate more new and interesting questions.
The scientific method is the standard that is used by scientists to discover new knowledge. Follow the steps in this article to discover how they think and how you can use it to make new amazing discoveries.