The Scientific Method includes a process for experimentation that proves to be useful for exploring observations and answer questions. You may think does this method applies to all scientists conducting an experiment or process. No. There are areas of science that can be easily tested as compared to others. Consider this example of scientists doing research on the process stars change as they age or how dinosaurs used to digest their food. So, they cannot fast-forward a star’s life by thousands of years or take medical examinations on feeding dinosaurs to test their hypothesis, right?
When direct experimentation doesn’t look possible, they transform the scientific method. To your surprise, there are as many scientific method versions as there are scientists. However, after indefinite transformations also, the goal remains the same – to discover the cause and effect relationships by asking questions, collecting information and analyzing the evidence. Finally, it is analyzed that if all the gathered information can be combined to get a logical answer to the situation.
Scientific method steps are the pattern researchers follow to reach their goal of finding the cause and effect relationship. In this blog, we are going to learn everything about the scientific method – its principles, steps, examples and more.
Scientific Method Steps
Even if we explain to you the scientific method in different steps, remember that any new information or way of thinking can make a scientist repeat steps and backup at any point during the process. A procedure like the scientific method involving such backing up and repetitions is known as an iterative process. No matter what job you are having in hand, a science project, independent research or simply a classroom science activity, getting familiar with the scientific method steps can help you focus on the main scientific question and work on your observations and data to get answers to that question.
Principles of the Scientific method
Two main concepts in this method are theory and hypothesis. Now, what is the theory? It is used to make predictions about future observations, Now talking about the hypothesis, it is a testable prediction that is made logically based on the theory.
- A scientific method includes several types of studies, such as experiments, case studies, descriptive studies, case studies, non-descriptive studies and surveys. Let us look into each one of these one-by-one.
- An experiment is a process where the researcher/scientist manipulates some specific variables and observe their effect on other variables amid a controlled surrounding.
- Descriptive studies focus on the nature of the relationship between the intended variables, regardless of considering the cause and effect.
- A case study is a type of study that covers one specific example in which something unexpected and unusual has occurred. A scientist works on a case study in rare and extreme cases, generally having a single subject.
- Surveys is a study that is carried out with a large group of people who are asked questions about particular subjects.
- Non-descriptive studies bring into use the correlational methods to predict the relationship between two or more intended variables.
Some of the other important principles of scientific method include:
Verifiability: It means that when doing an experiment, you must ensure that it is replicable by another scientist or researcher. To achieve verifiability, you must remember to document your procedure and clearly explain how your experiment is framed and why it gives certain results.
Predictability: In a scientific theory, predictability states that the theory in consideration should allow us to make predictions about future events. The precision of such predictions is an analysis or observation of the strength of the theory.
Falsifiability: It refers to the condition if a hypothesis can be disproved. To show that a hypothesis is falsifiable, you must ensure that it is logically possible to have an observation or conduct a physical experiment that would prove that there is nothing to support the hypothesis.
Now, to find out if a hypothesis is supported or not supported, psychological researchers should conduct hypothesis testing with the help of statistics. What is hypothesis testing? It is a type of statistics that identifies the probability of a hypothesis as ‘true’ or ‘false’. If this testing reveals that the results were ‘statistically significant’, it suggests that the hypothesis was supported and the researchers can be reasonably confident about their result not being just a random chance. However, if it reveals that the results were not ‘statistically significant’, it suggests that the hypothesis was not supported.
Fairness: This is a principle that suggests that all data should be strictly considered when evaluating a hypothesis. You cannot just pick and choose what data you wish to keep and what to discard. Or say, you cannot focus particularly on data that supports or does not support a specific hypothesis. All data you have should be accounted for, even when they don’t support the hypothesis.
So, if you are a researcher planning to take up the scientific method steps, you know what are the things to keep in mind as you read the above principles.
Know the Scientific Method Steps
As aforesaid, the exact steps of a scientific method vary from source to source. However, the basic procedure remains the same, which is to acquire knowledge through observation and testing.
Make an observation
In the scientific method process, the first step is to make an observation about your surrounding. Before getting to a hypothesis or doing the experiments, it is essential to notice and think about some sort of procedure occurring around. The use of the scientific method is when you are not able to know how/why something is happening/occurring and you want to get a logical answer to the situation. But, before you can question the occurrence, it is important to notice something suspicious or puzzling.
Ask a question
The next step is when you need to ask a question depending on your observation. It is mostly – why/how this is occurring? Or, Why/how does it happen like this? On many occasions, this step is listed as the first one and ‘make an observation’ as the second. But, the truth is that both asking a question and making an observation happens at the same time. You question a phenomenon as soon as you come across it, right?
When you make an observation and ask questions, it is essential to have quick research if you have already answered the question or revealed some information that could help you get a logical answer to your question or at least shape it in a proper way. Suppose, if you find an answer to why a particular thing is happening, you may just want to take a leap and figure out how it is happening.
Form a hypothesis
As you know, a hypothesis is a smart and intelligent guess to explain the phenomena happening, depending on your observations. It helps you get an answer to the question framed in the last step. Your hypothesis can be specific or general based on the question in consideration. However, all the hypotheses must be testable by collecting enough evidence that can be evaluated. In case your hypothesis is not testable, it won’t be possible to carry out an experiment to know whether the hypothesis made is supported by evidence.
Perform an experiment
Once a suitable hypothesis is formed, you need to set up an experiment and perform it to test your hypothesis. Your experiment must have involved an independent variable (we have talked about variables later in the blog). For now, know that an independent variable is something that you can manipulate. You also need to have a dependent variable, which will be your thing to be measured.
Remember, all other variables in the experiment must be controlled to ensure they don’t affect the result. When the experiment is in progress, you need to collect data. Data is nothing but a set of values that may be qualitative or quantitative.
Example: If you plan to test the effect of sun’s rays on plant growth, the amount of the height of the plant will be your dependent variable and the amount of light would be your independent variable in the experiment. Other parameters such as the plant species, amount of water in the soil and air temperature should be kept the same for all the plants included in the experiment. This will allow you to gather proper data on if the sun’s rays affect plant growth. The data you gather would be quantitative as the height of the plant is measured in numbers.
Analyze the data
After the experiment and gathering the data, you need to analyze it. Usually, research experiments are analyzed with statistical software to know the relationships among the data. If it is a simpler experiment, you would look at the data and find out how they correlate with the alteration in the independent variable.
Draw a conclusion
Drawing a conclusion is the last step of the scientific method. If you find out that the data supports your hypothesis, you get the proper explanation for the observation/phenomena with the help of your hypothesis.
However, it is advised that you do multiple trials before drawing a conclusion form the experiment. It is also crucial to ensure that the sample size, the number of observations made is large enough. This confirms that the data is not simply skewed from a few observations.
In case when the data don’t support your hypothesis, it is essential to make more observations and form a new hypothesis and go through the scientific method all over again.
On drawing a conclusion, you can then present the research to others explaining to them about your findings and take their input on the validity of your conclusion.
On planning an experiment, you are measuring and controlling variables. These are of three types as follows:
Independent variable: It is the variable you have complete control over during the experiment.
Dependent variable: This one is a variable that you measure. It is known as a dependent variable as it depends on the independent variable.
Controlled variables: In your experiment, you can as many controlled variables as you want. Controlled variables are parts of the experiment that you want to keep constant during the process so that they are not an interference in your test. It is a good idea to write down the number of control variables you have to have a reproducible experiment, which is indeed important in the field of science. If you find yourself in a soup while duplicating results from one experiment to another, you have probably missed a controlled variable.
Example of Scientific Method – Failure to toast
Here’s an example to show you how the above-mentioned scientific method steps work. We have got a practical problem to check, making it more realistic and relatable.
Make an observation
Suppose, you have two bread slices and you want to toast them. You put then in the toaster and switch the button on. But, you fail to toast.
Observation: the toaster won’t toast.
Ask a question
Ask yourself a question. As per the situation in hand, the most instant question to come to your mind would be, “Why didn’t the bread get toasted?” or also “Why won’t my toaster toast?”.
Question: Why won’t my toaster toast?
Frame a hypothesis
As you know, a hypothesis is nothing but a potential answer to the question. Basically, a statement that can be tested. In this case, your hypothesis could be that maybe the electrical outlet/socket is broken, so the toaster won’t toast. Yes, this could be the most possible hypothesis.
Hypothesis: Maybe the electrical socket is broken.
It is not mandatory that this hypothesis is the right explanation. But, it is definitely a possible explanation that is testable to find out if it is correct or there’s a need to frame a new hypothesis.
Make a prediction
In the given situation, the experiment you would likely perform is to try plugging the toaster into some other electrical outlet. If your hypothesis is correct, this quick experiment would solve the problem.
You can make predictions from the experiment that would probably fix the problem.
Prediction: By plugging the toaster into a different electrical outlet, I could toast my bread.
Test the hypothesis
To test your hypothesis, you need to again make an observation or perform an experiment (as mentioned in the previous step).
So, plug the toaster into another electrical outlet and switch it on. If the toaster toasts, your hypothesis is correct and supported. In case it doesn’t toast, your hypothesis is incorrect and not supported.
The test results would wither support the hypothesis or oppose it. On all occasions, the results supporting a hypothesis doesn’t completely conclude that it is correct. However, they suggest that it is likely to be correct.
And, when your result contradicts or opposes the hypothesis, it is probably wrong. Unless you had a flaw in the test/experiment (a situation you should always consider), an opposing or contradictory result suggests that we can cancel the hypothesis and make a new one.
This is the step where you would reflect on your results and use them as guidance when you iterate the scientific method again. In this situation, the most possible hypothesis is based on the result of the previous test. Keep reading, you will know what we are trying to say here.
Situation 1: If the hypothesis is supported, i.e, the toaster works on plugging into another outlet, it is clear that your hypothesis is right and you do not need to frame a new hypothesis. Maybe, you can make another observation regarding the electrical outlet and ask a question – “What is wrong with the outlet?”.
Situation 2: If the hypothesis is not supported, i.e, the toaster still doesn’t toast the bread in plugging into another electrical outlet, you will have to make another hypothesis.
It could be an observation that something is wrong with the toaster and you can ask a question, “what is wrong with the toaster?”
Asking this question would lead you to your next hypothesis – “Maybe the wire inside the toaster is broken. ”
In most situations, the scientific method turns into an iterative process. You can say, it is a cycle rather than a simple straight line. The outcome of one round supports as feedback to improve the next round.
We hope you are now clear about how the scientific method steps can be applied to real-life situations to solve a problem.
Let’s move on and talk about the importance of the Scientific method in terms of psychology. We know it’s interesting!
Reason the scientific method is significant for Psychology
The use of scientific methods is among the key features that separate earlier psychology from modern psychological theories. On comparing to Physics, Chemistry and other natural sciences, psychology is one of the social sciences as it studies the subjective nature of things. If you have ever noticed, most concepts that psychologists are interested in, are aspects of the human mind, emotions and behavior are subjective. And, we know that subjective things can’t be measured.
In most cases, psychologists rely on self-reported data and behavioral observations that are considered as illegitimate by some or lacking the methodological rigor.
By applying the scientific method to the subject (psychology), it helps in standardizing the approach to understand its various types of information.
Helps in a stronger understanding
The scientific method helps psychological data to be duplicated and confirmed in several instances and under different circumstances and by different researchers. By duplicating the experiments, the modern psychologists get to minimize errors and widen the applicability of their theories. It also helps to test certain theories and validate them, instead of just being conjectures that could hardly get verified or falsified ever. So, you can say the method allows psychologists to gain a stronger understanding of the ways in which the human mind functions.
Talking about the psychology papers written in the American Psychological Association style, also called APA style and the scientific articles in the journal, these are structured around the scientific method. The papers consist of an introduction, that talks about the background information and outlines the hypothesis, a method section that outlines the particular points in support of the process of the experiment for testing the hypothesis, a Results section that includes all the statistics that was used to test the hypothesis and identify if it was supported or not supported. And lastly, it a discussion and conclusion stating the implications of finding no support for or support for the hypothesis.
These papers and articles written in support of the scientific method make it easier for other researchers to repeat the study and try replicating the results.
Scientific method steps are a sequence you need to follow to get to the desired result. In case you do not get your hypothesis supported by the result in the first attempt, you need to get into the iterative process. It is mostly the case. The scientific method is a great way to get solutions to daily life practical problems and even as complex circumstances as the theories of psychology.