It is important to understand the steps of the scientific method and how to apply them correctly. Why? Because the scientific method is the tool that will guide you in your pursuit of knowledge, as you set about your scientific investigation.
Applying this method of inquiry can be quite challenging and confusing at first though. I mean, with all the different scientific method definitions and descriptions of the steps that are involved, how do you know which one to choose..?
Fortunately, even in all it's various forms, and varying levels of complexity, the scientific method is really just based on a few core principles. If you take some time out to understand these basic fundamentals, you will be off to a great start.
So just what are these "core" principles that make up the steps of the scientific method? Well, if you happen to take a closer look at a few descriptions of scientific method, what you will most likley notice is that that they are for the most part, based on making observations, asking testable questions and finding answers through well structured experiments.
Now before we take a closer look at each of these different steps of the scientific method, it is worth examining a few common mistakes that are made when applying them. These pitfalls are ones you want to avoid so that the data you collect and conclusions you draw are indeed accurate and reliable.
When testing a theory or hypothesis, the individual carrying out the investigation may knowingly or unknowingly have a preference for one outcome over another.
Another common mistake made by experimenters is to change their hypothesis throughout the course of their experiment, or worse yet, completely rule out and ignore observations and data that does not support the hypothesis!
This is a more blatant disregard of the core principles on which science is based and you should avoid the temptation to tamper with or alter the results that your experiment yields. Remember, at the end of the day, the "truth" still remains the truth so you won't be fooling anyone. Your credibility as an experimenter rests of the validity of your findings.
The main purpose of your investigation is to design an experiment that will simply test your hypothesis. The conclusions you draw and the things you learn throughout each of the steps of the scientific method are a bonus.
So how do you avoid these pitfalls? It's quite simple really; just approach your experiments with an open mind and with the view of learning something new. Also remember that when you form your hypothesis, it's not a matter of it being "right" or "wrong." You just want to see how it "stacks" up in light of experimental evidence.
remain as objective and impartial as you can when applying the steps of the scientific method, especially when collecting and interpreting experimental results
The 5-step scientific method is a common version of the scientific method and it is the one covered here. If you'd like an additional explanation of the scientific inquiry process, here is a great example of the steps of the scientific method in action. Alternatively, you might also find this version of the scientific method for kids useful. So how do you apply the scientific method? Well, you will need to:
When setting out to conduct a scientific investigation, it is not an absolute must for you to begin with a highly structured or systematic plan. In fact you may not even have it in mind to conduct an experiment but might be led to it through an observation of something that happens to have aroused your curiosity.
One of the first steps of the scientific method usually involves making casual observations. As you observe the world around you, you will find that something will catch your attention. It could some natural phenomenon, a peculiar behavior, some event or thing; the variety of observations are endless.
At this point you might naturally start drawing broad conclusions based on what you have just observed or experienced. This process of putting "two-and-two" together and making general conclusions after only a few specific observations is something that humans tend to do subconsciously. You've heard that saying "don't jump to conclusions" before right..?
You might for example taste a lemon and realize that it is sour. Another lemon you taste also turns out to be sour and so does the third. You soon form the opinion that all lemons are sour.
After making initial observations, the following step of the scientific method will usually involve you doing some background research. During the course of your research you might find that some work has already been done in the particular area you want to find out more about.
You might also uncover some information that will confirm the generalizations you formed when making your observations. In many cases however, you will probably still have unanswered questions and may decide to do some further investigation. This leads naturally to perhaps the most important steps in the scientific method.
Armed with the background knowledge you have acquired from your research, your task now, is to form a hypothesis. This is an explanation of the observation you have made that you will test to see just how accurate it is.
On the other hand, you might find that the data you collect from your experiment totally disproves your hypothesis. So what does this mean? Was your experiment just a big fat waste of time? By no means!
Throughout the process, you would have gained some valuable insight into the area that you are investigating. You can then use this new-found knowledge to carry out more experiments so that you can find the answers to your questions. This in essence, is what science is really about; trying to form an accurate and reliable understanding of the world around us.
Of all the steps of the scientific method, the formation of your hypothesis is one of the most important. It will dictate the direction of your experiment from here on in, so make sure to form and structure it well. And remember to make it testable.
You might for example, have noticed that when you left
a slice of bread on the kitchen counter, it went stale very quickly. From your intuition, you might have formed the opinion that the open air must have had something to do
the slice of bread becoming stale.
Now you might have some basic knowledge of chemistry and might as a possible hypothesis, suggest that that it is the exposure to oxygen in the air that causes the bread to turn stale.
Now comes one of the most fun steps of the scientific method! It's time to carry out an experiment to test your hypothesis and see what the data you collect reveals. But before you dive head first into your experiment, it's important to first identify the variables of your experiment.
Very-uhh-what? Did you mean very able..? No I meant variable. What is it? It is
a factor or something that can change in your experiment. There are three types of variables that as experimenters, we are especially interested in; independent variables, dependent variables and controlled variables.
The way it works is that you will change the independent variable and measure the effect this change has on the dependent variable. You do this several times over with different values so that you have enough data to draw meaningful conclusions.
What about the controlled variables? Right the controlled variables, I almost forgot about those... These are factors that you will keep constant during each run of the experiment. The reason you do this is to make sure that each instance of the experiment is carried out, as much as possible, under identical conditions.
It ensures that the data you collect is consistent and reliable. If you don't keep your control variable/s constant, the conclusions you draw from the observations and data you collect from your experiment will have very little meaning. Think of your control variable as being a reference point.
For example, we know that the radius of the earth is around 6378 kilometers or about 3961 miles. We have defined the kilometer and the mile as units that we use to measure distance. Without having done this first, it is easy to see that the statement above would have very little meaning.
So go ahead and carry out your experiment. Make sure to repeat it several times over and remember to record as much as you can; even if it seems insignificant. You never know what information it will reveal later. Don't know where to begin? Here is great guide on how to design science experiments.
You have collected a wealth of data through your experiment and it is begging your interpretation. These final steps of the scientific method will involve you analyzing the this data and the observations you have made to draw conclusions as to whether your hypothesis is supported by the experimental evidence.
So go ahead and perform your calculations. Keep an open mind when when you compare your experimental observations and data to your hypothesis. Honestly consider whether your observations seem to agree with your hypothesis.
If indeed the data with seems to agree with your hypothesis; to what extent does this happen? If your observations and predictions seem not to agree at all, then it is likely that your original hypothesis is "off base."
Is this a bad thing? Not at all! What you can do in this case is conduct your experiment a few times over and collect a fresh set of data. Then you compare these observations against your hypothesis.
Another thing you can do is work through the steps of the scientific method again, forming a new hypothesis and carrying out new experiments to test this hypothesis. In fact by following iterations like this from hypothesis to experiment to new observations you will eventually close in on a hypothesis that is close to being "true."
Wow! We have come a long way exploring the steps of the scientific method. If you've enjoyed this article on the steps involved in the scientific process, below are a few more scientific method articles you will also find interesting and useful. While you are at it why not take a look at the science projects as well? You will find plenty of experiments you can use to test your newly acquired knowledge of the scientific process.
You know that the scientific method is a very important tool in scientific inquiry, but what actually is it? Here are some great scientific method definitions that explain the scientific process and what it involves.
What springs to mind when you think of the word "science"? A classroom full of rote-memorizing students? A mad scientist sporting a white lab coat? Gobbledygook? FUN? Find out what the "experts" think science is.
Unfortunately, there is no single way to define science and today you will find a myriad of definitions with wide varying opinions. Here are some of the more interesting definitions I came across.