Scientific Methods of Research Inquiry

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Scientific research is guided by a standard set of steps called the scientific method. The steps can be remembered by the acronym HEAR: hypothesis, experiment, analysis, results. Within the experiment and analysis parts of research, there are numerous methods and procedures that can be used to carry out the scientific inquiry.

1 Hypothesis

The hypothesis stage of research consists of three main parts: asking the question, doing background research in order to educate yourself on the basics of the research subject and formulating a hypothesis. Every experiment is designed to answer a question, and that is why the formulation of the research question is the first part of the scientific method. Background research usually involves reading relevant journal articles so that you are aware of the research that has been done on the subject. After doing your background research, you should be able to formulate a logical hypothesis, which is your educated guess as to either the results of the experiment or the cause-and-effect relationship between the dependent and independent variables in the experiment.

2 Experiment

Once you have formulated your hypothesis, it is time to design an experiment that will test the hypothesis. It is important to include appropriate controls. A negative control is a version of the experiment expected to yield negative results. Similarly, the positive control is a version of the experiment that should yield a positive result. If either control does not behave as expected, the experimental procedures or assumptions were flawed, and the results you obtained will be invalid. In addition to including appropriate controls, you should decide on a basic method of data acquisition. If the experiment can be viewed directly, this acquisition can be as simple as visual observation. If you are dealing with microscopic specimens, you may need to use an indirect method of visualization, such as fluorescence microscopy or antibody-linked immunosorbent assays.

3 Analysis

In the analysis stage of scientific inquiry, you look at your data and evaluate it in the context of your hypothesis. Common methods of analysis include graphing the dependent versus independent variables, identifying the trend between them and comparing experimental data to known data in order to identify an unknown specimen.

4 Results

If the data disprove your hypothesis, reject your hypothesis and come up with a new one. If the data support your hypothesis, you can keep your hypothesis because it has not been disproven. However, it is important to remember that the hypothesis has not been proven either since there could always be another cause-and-effect relationship that gives the results you were expecting but for different reasons than the ones stated in your hypothesis. Communicate your results in a paper. If you are attending a research conference, construct a poster that highlights the important parts of your research and paper.

Sly Tutor has been a writer since 2005 and has had work appear in the "Altoona Mirror" newspaper. She holds a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from Pennsylvania State University.