The Scientific Process

Scientists use a dynamic, open-ended process to investigate questions. Here are the five steps.

1. Define a Question to Investigate

As scientists conduct their research, they make observations and collect data. The observations and data often lead them to ask why something is the way it is. Scientists pursue answers to these questions in order to continue with their research. Once scientists have a good question to investigate, they begin to think of ways to answer it.

2. Make Predictions

Based on their research and observations, scientists will often come up with a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a possible answer to a question. It is based on: their own observations, existing theories, and information they gather from other sources. Scientists use their hypothesis to make a prediction, a testable statement that describes what they think the outcome of an investigation will be.

3. Gather Data

Evidence is needed to test the prediction. There are several strategies for collecting evidence, or data. Scientists can gather their data by observing the natural world, performing an experiment in a laboratory, or by running a model. Scientists decide what strategy to use, often combining strategies. Then they plan a procedure and gather their data. They make sure the procedure can be repeated, so that other scientists can evaluate their findings.

4. Analyze the Data

Scientists organize their data in tables, graphs, or diagrams. If possible, they include relevant data from other sources. They look for patterns that show connections between important variables in the hypothesis they are testing.

5. Draw Conclusions

Based on whether or not their prediction came true, scientists can then decide whether the evidence clearly supports or does not support the hypothesis. If the results are not clear, they must rethink their procedure. If the results are clear, scientists write up their fi ndings and results to share with others. The conclusions they draw usually lead to new questions to pursue.