When it comes to exploring God and His creation, simple observation goes a long way to enhancing our appreciation and understanding of the world around us. This is how ancient natural philosophers viewed their world millennia ago.
However, we as scientists and students exploring science must take a more methodical approach to learning how our world works.
This approach is known as the scientific method, a methodical process used during scientific investigation that follows certain steps. One way those steps can be described is:
These steps are:
- Ask a question.
- Begin preliminary research.
- Establish a hypothesis.
- Test the hypothesis with experiments.
- Evaluate the data from the experiments.
- Draw your conclusion.
- Present your findings.
Let’s explore these steps in more detail:
Ask a Question
The first step in learning about the world around us is observing and asking questions about what we see.
Your question is the first step in the process to discovery. Why does something happen? How does something happen? What happens during this particular set of circumstances? Your most exciting research will begin with the words “What if…?” or “I wonder…”
Ask the question you want answered and make notes of any sub-questions or related ideas that come to mind.
Begin Preliminary Research
Next, you’ll want to do a little preliminary research. The more you know about your topic, the easier it will be to conduct a relevant experiment.
Research previous studies, read through earlier experiments, and gather information on your topic through an online search or at the library. Remember, other scientists may have asked the same question before, but your approach will be unique to you.
Establish a Hypothesis
Your next step is all about what you think based on what you’ve researched. Ask your question, read through your notes, then make the most educated guess you can.
This is called forming a hypothesis. Your hypothesis should be testable and also include predictions of what you think the experiments will show. Make notes of testable variables so you can create experiments to compare and contrast different outcomes.
Test the Hypothesis With Experiments
Now comes the fun part. It’s time to gather your materials and perform your experiments. Use your predictions and your variables to create experiments to test your hypothesis.
You will take copious notes of all your experimentation, any changes in variables you made, as well as what happened during each step of the experiment. This way, you can repeat any experiment to see if you get the same results.
You can also make drawings or graphs to help describe your results. These will help when it comes time to present your findings. Remember the preliminary research you did in step 2? You can use your own notes to research ideas for future topics for experiments!
Evaluate the Data From the Experiments
Okay, now it’s time to evaluate your data. What did you determine during your experiments? Did the results prove or disprove your hypothesis? Or did your experiments present even more questions you want to answer?
You may want to change or add variables, amend your original hypothesis, and perform additional experiments. This extra data can help you finalize your conclusion.
Draw Your Conclusion
Once you have analyzed all the data you gathered from your experiments, you can draw your conclusion. This is what you’ve been working toward!
What does it mean to draw a conclusion? During this step, you will decide if what you thought would happen, happened. Your experiments should have answered your initial question, and repeated experiments should have had the same results.
With this information, you can make a solid conclusion based on the comparison of your hypothesis and your experimental data.
Present Your Findings
Whether you’re creating a project for a science fair, completing a homework assignment, or just experimenting to learn more about the world, the last step is to present your findings.
Produce a presentation (like a display, paper, or video) with your questions, hypothesis, and results. Present your notes and drawings to someone to evaluate. Or just tuck your findings into a science notebook filled with other wonders you’ve discovered.
It’s a good idea to practice presenting your findings to a group. If you pursue a scientific career, you’ll be doing just that after you follow the scientific method to learn more about your chosen field.
The scientific method is a solid procedure for discovering, evaluating, and researching the vast world around us. By implementing the steps, you improve your research skills and learn valuable information you can apply in many different ways.
The History of the Scientific Method
Have you ever wondered how scientists developed the steps needed to make discoveries? The history of the scientific method is fascinating.
Egyptian, Indian, and Babylonian scientists from thousands of years ago made notes and conducted experiments. But the scientists from ancient Greece actually developed some of the steps we recognize today as the scientific method.
Early philosophers of the time thought the way to arrive at knowledge through pure reasoning. They would observe the world around them, form conclusions, and then assume their conclusions must be correct.
Others, like Aristotle, saw the benefit of making detailed, systematic observations in order to build on known patterns and observations. This was quite different from Greek philosophers like Plato, who didn’t think observations were valuable because they thought the observable world was corrupt.
Aristotle’s method included:
- Researching information others had already written on a subject.
- Finding generally accepted ideas regarding a question on that subject.
- Studying the subject systematically to gain more information.
Aristotle’s method was incomplete, however. It wasn’t really a scientific method, but it was a start.
Centuries later, men like Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon expanded these steps by emphasizing the importance of testing conclusions to see if they’re true, then making more observations and testing again. At that point, the scientific method was born.
With enough experimentation, a hypothesis can be confirmed as true. Then it becomes a theory, the next step in the scientific method.
And this is how scientists today broaden the knowledge in their fields. They stand on the shoulders of giants to see even farther and gain more understanding of the world today.
In our books and courses, you will find explanations of the scientific method and experiments which allow you to use the steps to learn more about the world around you through science.