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Steps of the Scientific Method

Abhay Burande Feb 6, 2019
The scientific method is a step-by-step approach towards solving a problem. It involves certain principles of reasoning to help organize thoughts and procedures for finding a possible explanation. Here are the steps of the scientific method that will help you to form a hypothesis.
The scientific method is believed to have been introduced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, but the one that we know today is a result of the contribution of many great philosophers, scientists, and psychologists.
This method involves a set of techniques to investigate a phenomenon, acquire new information, and also verify, correct, or integrate previous information based on the facts and figures or evidences available.
The scientific method comprises asking and finding answers to a problem by way of logical thinking, carefully weighing all the possibilities and arriving at the best possible solution.
This is made possible by making observations and conducting experiments. This method can be applied to all branches of science from natural sciences to social sciences like sociology, psychology, political science, theology, etc.

Scientific Method Steps

Step 1. Observe and Ask a Question

Curious observation and asking a question "Why or When, How or Where" regarding a phenomenon that has been observed forms the first step and the very basis of scientific method. To understand the problem clearly and come up with the 'specific' question, you may need to contemplate, observe keenly, and use your reasoning skills.
For this you may have to research, gathering observable, empirical and measurable data as per your principles of reasoning, and document them as well. The way you look at a problem or a phenomenon, understand, and approach it by asking the right question has a high probability of leading you to the correct solution.
Let's take a simple example of removing stains from your clothes using the scientific method.

Phenomenon observed:
You notice turmeric stains on your clothing.
Question: How to remove the stain?

Though this question seems very simple and may not require one to observe keenly or use their reasoning skills, but it does serve a practical purpose. Carrying out experiments with household products offers a clear understanding about the effectiveness of such products.

Step 2. Perform Background Research

After you have made your observation and formulated a question, conduct your research to gather information about the subject. It is not a good idea to begin from scratch to answer the question. Rather the library and Internet must be used to collect information. Also, explore and focus on the previous research work that has been carried out.
This may help you get some valuable insights and crucial clues, and also confirm that the past errors are not repeated. The process of researching must be impartial for a fair interpretation of the results.
All the data and methodology must be documented, archived, and shared properly. This enables the data to be carefully studied by other scientists and verified by trying to reproduce them.
Research and gather the materials that you can use to remove the stain, which will support your question in the previous step, and lead to a fair interpretation of results.

Here the materials could be - lemon juice, vinegar, water (hot and cold), dishwashing liquid, and detergent.

Step 3. Formulate a Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a possible theory or a speculation that is formed after observing and analyzing a certain phenomenon that can provide a probable answer to the problem. Every scientific experiment is based on a hypothesis which gives you an idea to approach the problem and conduct the related experiment.
Researchers adhering to the scientific method propose hypotheses to explain various phenomena and also design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. It can be supported or disproven through scientific observations. The hypothesis stated must answer the original question.
The hypothesis must be worded as follows: "If __ this is done __ , then __ this __ will take place".

Based on the research conduced previously, the hypothesis that we can deduce would be -

"If I apply the above materials, then the turmeric stain will disappear".

Step 4. Conduct Experiments

As stated earlier, a hypothesis is a theory that is not yet verified, and to prove it experiments must be conducted. The experiment proves the authenticity of the hypothesis as per the information and evidences gathered while doing research on the subject.
Care must be taken that the experiment is a fair test, and it must be repeated for the same and different set of values to ensure that the initial results were not a chance event. The experiment will either confirm or rule out your theory. However, if it fails to support the hypothesis, it must be rejected or modified.
An experiment can have a control group and an experimental group.

The control group in our experiment:
  • The same type of fabric
  • Same stain (turmeric)
  • Same degree of stain
The experimental group:

The type of stain remover. We will group the substances as follows:-
  • Apply some dishwashing liquid on the stain and leave it for 2-3 minutes. Then wash it off with water.
  • If the stain remains, apply some white vinegar and leave it for sometime. Then wash your cloth with regular detergent.
  • Apply lemon juice on the stain and let it dry in the sun for sometime. Then wash the cloth with regular detergent and water.
  • Take another cloth with the same degree of stain and immerse it in hot water.

Step 5. Analyze Data and Draw Conclusions

Once your experiment is complete you need to analyze the data to check whether your hypothesis is true or false. This will determine whether the experiment supports or refutes your hypothesis. More often than not the hypothesis will not be in accordance with the facts.
In that case you will have to formulate a new hypothesis and begin the steps of the scientific method all over again. Do keep a record of your previous data so that it helps you in formulating a new approach for the experiments. If the hypothesis turns out to be true, then it becomes necessary to check it again by using a new approach.
The conclusion is the summary of the results drawn from the experiment and how they relate to the hypothesis. It should also consist the methodology used and any problems or queries that arose during the testing of the hypothesis.
If these materials help in removing the turmeric stain out of your clothing, then the hypothesis is true, else you need to formulate a new approach.

Problem that arose during the testing of the hypothesis:- Immersing the cloth in hot water intensifies the stain and sets it.

Step 6. Communicate the Results

The results of the experiment and the hypothesis must be conveyed to others through a display board or by publishing a final report. When others perform the same experiment and get the same results, the hypothesis becomes rock solid. Communicating your findings enables others to construct on them.
You also need to conduct further research to ascertain that the results are consistent and not just a one time coincidence. This is often confirmed by other scientists.

Communicate your findings and the results to others:

The finding is - the effective method for turmeric stain removal is by using lemon juice, vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and detergent.
The scientific method is described as a series of steps. However, new thoughts or information may also necessitate going backwards and repeating the steps. As the method comprises backing up and repetition, it is called an "iterative process". In fact by following the iterative process you may eventually draw in a hypothesis which is close to the truth.