Scientific Method

The scientific method is a procedure that will lead you through the research experience. It has been used since the 17th century and consists of formulation and testing of hypotheses.

1. Ask a Question

The first step in the scientific method is to ask a question. All good questions come from basic observations that you make about the world around you. Researchers have found life-changing discoveries based on simple questions that came from concepts they observed in their everyday life. It is important to pick a question that appeals to your interests but is narrow in scope. Once you have found an area and question of interest ask; How much time this project will take? What resources will be needed to complete it? And have I narrowed my question down enough?

2. Background Research

Before conducting an experiment it is important to do background research on the topic you are interested in. This will help you to design your experiment in a way that does not repeat past mistakes. This will also help you to see why your research is valuable and what it can add to the current field in which you are studying.

Often researchers will conduct literature reviews for their background research. A literature review is a collection of scholarly writings on a given topic. It includes peer-reviewed articles, books, conference proceedings, and dissertations. It reflects your understanding of how all the relevant published material on a given topic answers a specific research question.

A literature review should:

  • Give you and the readers a clear sense of the research that exists
  • Layout, in narrative form, how the literature relates to each other
  • Show how research compares to and contrasts with other research
  • Identify gaps in the current research
  • Use literature to critique other literature

3. Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation of how things work. It is an attempt to answer your research question with an explanation that can be tested. A common format to create a hypothesis is using “If ________, then ________ will happen.” Looking at past and current research will help you to construct your hypothesis.

Hypotheses should include both independent variables and dependent variables. Independent variables are factors that you can change in an experiment while dependent variables are factors that you observe or measure in an experiment. Understanding and labeling these variables or factors will help you to set up an experiment.

A good hypothesis:

  • Is based on information from background research about the topic
  • Has a clear predicted outcome from the experiment
  • Is testable and measurable
  • Has independent and dependent variables

4. Experiment

Researchers use experiments in order to test hypotheses. Hypotheses can be rejected (found not true) or be failed to be rejected. When you fail to reject a hypothesis it does not mean that a hypothesis is true, but that the evidence supports the hypothesis. It requires many repeated experiments to consider a hypothesis true. However, when a researcher does fail to reject a hypothesis it can be the starting point of new discoveries and further understanding.

Experiments should be set up using independent and dependent variables. It should also include detailed procedures of how the hypothesis is being tested. This is important so that you or other researchers can repeat the same experiment to validate your findings.

It is extremely important that your experiment is set up in a way that will actually answer the question you are asking. It is strongly recommended that students visit the Office of Academic Research Support (OARS) in CB 401P where research assistants and faculty can help to design, set up, and analyze your experiment and findings.

Before beginning your experiment it is important that you gain the proper approval. If you are doing work on human subjects that includes identifiable information, then approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is required. If your research involves animal subjects then approval from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is required. If you have questions about whether your research needs IRB or IACUC approval to talk to your mentor. For more information on doing research at UVU, read over UVU's research compliance information.

A good experiment:

  • Includes a description
  • Includes a step-by-step list of all procedures
  • Describes how to change the independent variable and how to measure that change
  • Explains how to measure the resulting change in the dependent variable
  • Explains how the controlled variables will be maintained at a constant value
  • Is repeatable

5. Analyze

Once you have completed your experiment it is time to review and analyze your data. This will help you to assess whether your findings support (fail to reject) or reject your hypothesis. If you find that your hypothesis is not supported, that is okay! Many great findings have come from rejected hypotheses.

Once your data has been reviewed and analyzed you can present your findings in tables, graphs, and published work.


6. Report

After you have analyzed your data it is time to report your findings. There are many ways to publish your work. Common examples are publishing in scholarly journals or presenting at scholarly venues. It is important to note that you cannot publish or present your findings unless you have the proper approval (IRB or IACUC). Working with your mentor will be a vital aspect of publishing or presenting.

Reporting, publishing, and presenting the findings of your work is important in order to:

  • Add to the body of knowledge in your research field
  • Become recognized
  • Develop and improve existing products, policies, and processes
  • Advance your academic and professional career