What Are the Eight Steps of the Scientific Method?
If you’ve ever had a great idea for something new, then you know some testing is necessary to work out the kinks and make sure you get the desired result. When it comes to developing and testing hypotheses in the scientific world, researchers use an eight-step process known as the scientific method to prove or disprove ideas that could ultimately lead to more concrete scientific theories.
Aristotle was the first known person to suggest using observation and experimentation to prove various hypotheses proposed by scientists, philosophers and mathematicians. Over time, his initial ideas were tweaked and improved until they evolved into what we know today as the scientific method. Before you tackle your next science experiment, let’s take a look at the steps you need to include to validate your findings.
Observation (Steps One Through Four)
The steps that make up the scientific method generally fall into three phases: observation, experimentation and conclusion. The first four steps in scientific research all fall into the observation phase and include initial observations, asking questions, gathering information and forming hypotheses. The concept is simple: Before you can conduct any experiments, you must first observe something in nature that raises questions and prompts you to consider new ideas or solutions to a problem. In many cases, step one takes place without any conscious effort on the part of the observer.
After observing something that catches your eye, you may decide you want to know more about it, which requires you to ask a question. Example questions could relate to why something happens or what makes it occur. Asking a relevant question is the second step in the scientific method.
Next, you want to do some research to find the answer to the question. For instance, if you are wondering why plants respond to sunlight, you would want to thoroughly research the topic of photosynthesis and perform your own experiments to increase your understanding. The research you conduct is the backbone of step three. In some cases, you may discover evidence already exists to answer the question without any further effort on your part, but your own research could lead you in a new direction and expand on what you already know.
Once you have made an observation, asked a relevant question and carried out your own research, you can complete step four by developing a hypothesis based on everything you learned. Think of a hypothesis as an educated guess. It’s based on what seems to be true based on preliminary evidence, but it hasn’t been conclusively proven to be true.
More About a Hypothesis
The hypothesis is one of the cornerstones of the entire scientific method. It doesn’t offer proof when first presented, but it does require researchers to analyze the limited evidence available and use sound logic and reasoning to draw potential conclusions. The actual statements are typically written in an if/then format, with scientists predicting the outcomes of future experiments or the causes of particular events. They usually make these predictions based on the results of their own initial research.
Despite a common misconception, a hypothesis is not the same thing as a theory. If a hypothesis is tested, and the outcome is favorable — in other words, the scientist’s initial educated guess was proven correct — then it could eventually become a much more concrete theory. Typically, a hypothesis is tested several times and by different scientists before it can be classified as a theory. It’s also common for scientists to combine several different hypotheses to develop a single working theory.
Experimentation (Step Five)
Once the observation phase is complete, things typically get a little more hands-on in the experimentation phase. As the name would imply, this phase involves conducting tests designed to (hopefully) prove a hypothesis. At this point, scientists and researchers gather their research, their hypotheses and maybe even their imaginations and use it all to conduct experiments.
The types of experiments conducted could take many different forms. Some include simple observation of a subject, such as a human or an animal, in their natural surroundings, while others are completely conducted in laboratories. In most cases, researchers will conduct the same experiments several times using different variables to try to prove their ideas are valid.
Conclusion (Steps Six Through Eight)
Once all the official data has been collected and recorded, it’s time to initiate the conclusion phase by first analyzing all the information and then forming a conclusion in step six. If the analysis indicates the results are inconclusive, researchers may choose to repeat certain experiments or conduct new ones.
If the results indicate a definite conclusion, then that conclusion is reported in step seven to the scientific community and possibly the public. Depending on the type of experiment and the results, researchers may even publish the results and the information in a peer-reviewed medical journal to ensure other researchers in the field are aware of the information.
Finally, the results of associated experiments and the conclusion drawn will continue to be evaluated (step eight) for potential modifications as new experiments are conducted and new evidence emerges over time. This phase only stops if the conclusion is proven to be a scientific law (doesn’t change over time), such as Newton’s laws of motion.