Basic Understanding of Scientific Method Steps and Definitions

Basic Understanding of Scientific Method Steps and Definitions
Written by Shusree Mukherjee

The Scientific Method is an empirical tactic that has been used for ages to acquire meaningful knowledge. The Scientific Method Steps aim to provide a way to verify and substantiate ideas. Its purpose is to help draw meaningful inferences from our ideas and observations. It lends scientific validity and support to any new hypothesis that is established. It is a comprehensive system of checks and balances that will help you present credible data. The methods help you establish an idea, make you observe the phenomenon behind it, and then critically assessing it. Science accepts no assumptions until it is proven right.

There are a lot of models available that have a lot of Scientific Method Steps. However, there is a generally accepted philosophy or guidelines that these methods follow. These different methods exist for different purposes but few of the steps remain common to all. The existence of different methods augments the existing credibility of Scientific Method Steps. The field of inquiry often directs which exact procedure is to be followed. Experiments are the core of any methodology as their results yield credibility to any idea or observation. In this section, we explore the basic steps that you need to follow to come up with scientifically presentable inferences.

The existence of Scientific Method Steps

There Scientific Method Steps and definitions exist to simplify our lives. This term originated in the 19th century when the core of science itself was developing. The term ‘Scientific Method’ was popularized in the 20th century and it started being used widely. For quite a few years, this method rallied forth unchallenged till the 1960s and the 1970s. The exact definition of this method, however, was not outlined.

During the 1960s and 1970s, eminent scientists and philosophers started questioning the validity of this method. They chastised the totalitarian way in which this method was applied to all facets of science. They argued that all science is not the same. Physics is vastly different from Biology or Chemistry. In such a case, how could a universal process be applicable to all scientific work or research? It was Francis Bacon who invented the scientific method.

They questioned how this homogenous approach could be applied everywhere. Since by its own natural science was vastly heterogenous. So different methods should be applicable in different places. However, nobody could deny that this was the best middle ground. Hence, the scientific method was accepted as a general outline and a basic framework. Different methods along the same guidelines would be applied as and when needed. This conceptualized the final idea of the scientific method after years of debating and disagreement. There are a total of 7 steps of the scientific method.

Step 1: Question

To start any scientific or meaningful progress, you first need to ask yourself a question. This question should be related to the phenomenon you are trying to assess. Make sure that the question is accurate and direct to the point. Don’t start the process with a vague question as it will only hamper your overall progress. Ensure that the question assesses the very core occurrence of the phenomenon. Anything else will just lead to circumspect answers or even more questions. To find the right answer, you must ask the right questions. This is the most important of the Scientific Method Steps.

You can ask questions like How, What, Which, Who or even Where. Note that you may also ask more than one question. However, make sure that you frame the question correctly and that it’s valid. Its purpose should be clear not just to you but to any observer who later reads your report. Keep in mind what you’re trying to achieve from this experimentation while framing the question itself.

You can even pose an open-ended question. If you come up with a basic question whose answer is known, you can pose a follow-up question. This question will explore the problem in depth. As per your aim, you can set any question. But you should be sure about it since this will direct your further steps. It will also impact the conclusion that you come up with. Once you have put up a crisp and target-oriented question, your first step is done. You may now proceed to the next one.

Step 2: Perform Background Research

Performing background research is an important step in the list of Scientific Method Steps. To proceed with finding out what you don’t know, first you need to know all that is known. Your background research should be broad but thorough. Your background research will provide you with the pre-requisite knowledge for the experimentation stage. You should read up on all material available that is pertaining to the topic. Try to find out if others have tried to answer a similar question. If so, try to study the methodology they followed. Evaluate where they might have gone wrong or what they could have done differently. Based on your background research, you can even form predictions as to the outcome of your endeavours.

This will help you chart a course forward in terms of experimentation and observations. Your background research will also give you an idea as to what you should not do. This will reduce the number of trial and errors that you need to perform. It will help in reducing the time spent on the experimentation stage later. It will also keep your experiments concise and to the point.

Your background research may expose you to some information that you were previously unaware of. Hence, even if you are a subject matter expert, you should still conduct some background research. Good background research done with due diligence will help in a smoother process. You may discover new information that will alter the hypothesis or change the course of the experimentation. Without proper background research, you may end up fumbling through your experiments. This will lower the quality of your results.

Step 3: Conjure up a Hypothesis

Conjuring up a hypothesis is an important part of the Scientific Method Steps. A hypothesis is an educated guess as to why the phenomenon in question may be occurring. It can also be an educated guess as to what the phenomenon is and how it is happening. Keep in mind that it is an educated guess and it is not supposed to be accurate. It is just a conjecture to give some direction to the experimentation. All you need to do is apply your logical skills and the background research that you have done. Then try to come up with the most logical solution possible.

At the end of the procedure, the hypothesis will either be proved right or wrong. If it is right, you have the answer to your question. But if it is wrong, then the opposite of your hypothesis is true. If it is an open-ended question, then you may have to come up with a new hypothesis. For open-ended questions, you can come up with a set of hypotheses. Then you can go about proving them right or wrong systematically. Even if your hypothesis is proved wrong, it is an advantage. You’ll find out a way by which the process cannot be explained so there must be another way. You can then chart your course forward to find that new way.


Some people even come up with a ‘null hypothesis’. A null hypothesis is such a hypothesis that statistically cannot happen. The aim of this hypothesis is that it should be proven wrong at the end of the experimentation. This will show that the alternate hypothesis to the null hypothesis is true. Thus, the alternative hypothesis, in this case, provides the answer.

It is important to remember that once you come up with a hypothesis, it is not your aim to prove that it is true. Hypothesis by its very nature is falsifiable. Hence, you should try to prove them wrong as well, taking everything into account. In the end, the hypothesis will answer your query or tell you what will not answer your query. This is an important distinction between hypothesis and assumptions.

Step 4: Put your Hypothesis to test

This is one of the most important Scientific Method Steps. For this, you need to come up with an experimentation protocol. You may have to perform multiple experiments just to test the depth of your hypothesis. The experiments that you do cannot be chosen arbitrarily. They must have some sound logic and scientific basis. They must be related to your hypothesis and aimed at assessing the validity of it. You may have to perform a single experiment multiple times in case of multiple hypotheses. You may also have to choose a different set of experiments for each hypothesis. These Scientific method experiments are aimed at proving the hypothesis right or wrong.

The end result of your experiments should be definitive. At the end of your experiments, you shouldn’t be where you started. Your research should have started taking in some directions. You must have some strong data from the experimentation stage which you can assess later. Once all your experiments are thoroughly performed, you can proceed to the next stage.

Make sure that you have observed all the results carefully. Record all your results in a systematic manner as they will be needed in the upcoming stages. Always double check your data and remove any irregularities before assessing it. Keep your recordings as accurate as possible even if you intend to use approximation later. In case of an open-ended question, describe in vivid detail whatever you observe.

Step 5: Assess your data and draw inferences

You would have gotten a good dataset from your previous experimentation stage. It is now time to make use of that data. Pull up all your results and try to draw conclusions from it. Ensure that you are focusing on finding meaningful inferences. Don’t try to jump to conclusions from the data that you see. Focus on assessing each dataset individually and drawing an inference from it.

Look at the data from a logical point of view and see which way it points. Then, assess all the combined results and inferences you have. Then try to determine whether or not they support your hypothesis. If they support your hypothesis then the hypothesis was correct. If your inferences go against your hypothesis then it was incorrect. In such a case, the alternative hypothesis might be true. You may have to explore additional hypothesis based on the data that you get. These inferences that you draw are the main component of your research. These inferences are your contribution to the concerned phenomenon and to science.

Step 6: Elaborate your results and apply feedback

Once you are done drawing inferences, you need to elaborate on your findings. This is not for your own self but for the people who will be reading your work. Hence, be thorough while elaborating since others won’t know your process. In case your hypothesis is incorrect, you may have to alter the earlier hypothesis or come up with a new one. Then this altered or new hypothesis needs to go through the pipeline again. Use a feedback mechanism from the data you get to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Either way, you have to publish and record your results and inferences immaculately.

Step 7: Communicate your findings

Once you are done with recording your results and inferences, you must communicate them. Be brutally honest while publishing your work since many people will read it and scrutinize it. People may even propose their own hypothesis or perform experiments to assess your hypotheses. Later on, they may support or disprove your hypothesis. By communicating your findings, you have added to the progress of science. Someone will learn from your work how to do something or how not to do it.

Final Thoughts

The scientific method is not an absolute or a universal method. There is no guarantee that you will get a result through this procedure or that the result will be accurate. This is simply a general procedure and guidelines on how to go about with research. Using this method does make your work more accountable and trustworthy. It will help you start on the right path forward.

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