“Human beings are naturally curious.” Metaphysics – Aristotle
At its essence, science is rooted in human curiosity: asking questions, challenging assumptions, and discovering truth in spite of our preconceived ideas. In the words of the acclaimed author and scientist Carl Sagan:
“Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best fit the facts. It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom.”
For scientists in academia, industry, and research institutions, the steps of the scientific process outlined below provide a structure for exploring research interests. If you have a basic understanding of these steps, the layout and structure of published research will make a lot more sense.
If you already understand the scientific method, skip ahead to Finding Scientific Reports Online.
The steps that make up the scientific process or method are as follows:
- Ask a Question: Beginning with curiosity and observation, the researcher frames a question.
- Do Basic Research: Based on the question, the researcher reviews existing literature and performs initial experiments. The researcher must determine if the question has already been tested and if so, what the results were. Were there areas that were suggested for further explanation? The question to be explored MUST be put in context of the existing body of knowledge, and if the question still seems novel, the researcher moves to the next step.
- Form Hypothesis: Based on the preliminary conclusions drawn from existing research and experiments, a hypothesis or an explanation is proposed. NOTE: A critical element of a hypothesis is that it is possible for an experiment or evidence to prove that it is incorrect. It does not rely on faith.
- Experiment: Conduct research and test against the hypothesis.
- Analyze Results: Evaluate the findings from the experiments and refine the hypothesis in light of the findings. The process may be repeated a number of times and may require the researcher to go back and modify the original hypothesis.
- Publish Findings: Assuming that the hypothesis isn’t proven incorrect, the researcher typically creates a report that documents the findings in such a way that others are able to replicate and validate the results.