The scientific method is a process that helps answer questions based on observations, carefully planned experiments and deductive reasoning. All scientific inquiry begins with the identification of a problem or question to be answered based on observation. The five basic steps of the scientific method provide an organized way to design and conduct experiments and analyze and interpret the results. The last implicit step involves reflection and the sharing of results to others in the field.
1. Identifying the Problem
Scientific observations must be objective and capable of being repeated and verified by others. Typically, initial observations are based on a previous experiment or observation made by others. Scientific knowledge is cumulative in that previous research, and results set the foundation for future ideas and experiments. Many scientific problems are identified by reviewing the work of others and determining what questions or topics can be investigated further.
2. Asking a Question
2a. Researching the Question
Research includes gathering background information and resources about your observations and question. Evaluating information that is already available can lead to better research questions and a well-planned experiment. Determining what materials are available to you is another important part of your initial research; you may need to revise your question to accommodate the available resources.
3. Creating a Hypothesis
3a. Making a Prediction
A prediction about the experimental outcome is made through the process of deductive reasoning, where a specific result is expected if the broad hypothesis is supported.
4. Conducting Experiments
4a. Collecting and Analyzing Data
All experimental data must be reviewed and analyzed to determine if the hypothesis is supported or refuted. Statistical analyses may need to be performed to determine whether or not the data is statistically significant, showing that the result can be attributed to a specific cause and not random chance. Analyzing data will lead a scientist to support or refute her hypothesis. If a hypothesis is disproved, then the original hypothesis can be revised, and the steps of scientific inquiry can begin again.
5. Drawing Conclusions
When drawing a conclusion about the outcome of an experiment, it is critical to determine whether or not the experimental or data collection methods may be responsible for any results that appear to be very different in the same series of experiments. The conclusions that are drawn should answer the original research question, but often more questions arise when interpreting data, leading to new questions, hypotheses and experiments.
6. Sharing Results
Scientific research moves forward when data and information are shared with the scientific community and the general public. Scientific information is disseminated through journal articles and conferences, allowing other scientists to verify the outcomes and use the new information to generate their own questions and hypotheses.
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