Steps of the scientific method

Most research projects in the field of education are based on experimental research. They follow the steps of the scientific method, although not rigidly since each discipline adapts the steps to its own situation. The most common steps are outlined below:

1.- Observe

We look at the world and focus on what we want to understand. This is what observation is about. It is our natural curiosity that leads us to observe.

2.- Ask a research question

After the observation process, the next step is to ask a question to guide the research process. Many questions are derived from scientific curiosity, but only a few of these are amenable to investigation. The research question must be clear, concise, feasible, novel and ethical.

3.- Formulate a hypothesis

The hypothesis is the compass that guides the research; it reflects what we are looking for or testing. It is also the potential answer to the research question, which explains as clearly and as concisely as possible the relationship between the dependent and independent variables. The hypothesis must be supported or refuted through testing, observation and experimentation. For example,  to answer the research question how does compost influence the growth of lettuce?”, we might formulate a hypothesis such as: the more compost applied, the greater the growth of the lettuce. (In addition, we could predict that by adding more compost the lettuce would grow twice as much).

4.- Design a plan to test the hypothesis

This involves defining what will be done and in what time frame, evaluating resources and assigning tasks to the work team. The following questions, among others, will be discussed: – Can the independent variable be manipulated?

– Are we sure that the dependent variable will not be affected by another factor?

– How will the data be collected?

– How will the process be documented?

– How will the results be presented?

– How much time will be spent on each stage?

– How will the work be distributed among the team?

– What human, material and financial resources will be needed? – How much do these resources cost?

Once the research team has answered these questions, they must write a project or proposal that systematises the research design. The teacher should review this document in order to improve the design and to anticipate any problems that might arise.

5.- Experimentation and fieldwork

Experimentation involves performing actions to discover, verify or demonstrate a scientific phenomenon or principle. The variables should be modified individually, keeping the other variables constant. In other words, if we are studying the effect of varying quantities of compost on the growth of lettuce, we must “modify” the quantity of compost and keep the pot,

lettuce, soil and amount of light and water

constant to ensure that we measure the effect of the compost only.

Fieldwork requires taking detailed notes of every experiment, measurement

and observation. Good field notes give an account of the process and help substantiate the analysis of the work. The soundness of the research will depend to a large extent on the fieldwork.

The notes should include any observations regarding expected and unexpected events: additional questions, concerns, changes in procedure, new ideas, etc.

6.- Analyse and discuss the results

Once the research is complete, we analyse the results. First, we check whether there is sufficient evidence to support or refute our hypothesis. For the discussion, the results obtained using the

theoretical values must be compared with

data from other research and with the expected results.

7.- Conclusions

Now we have to summarise the main findings of our work. This should be specific, avoid generalisations, and never include anything that we have not actually done in our project.

Experimental research does not always

confirm the hypothesis; in some cases,

it disproves it. However, this does not invalidate the process. The desired conclusion may not have been achieved but it has led us to another important discovery.

8.- Communicate

Science and technology have been able to understand and transform our reality, through numerous small and major research studies, which have then been fed back. This is why communication of the project carried out is so important.

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