What Is the Scientific Method? Just like Dr. Wernher Von Braun studying and applying the laws of propulsion, or Sir Isaac Newton pondering on the apple that fell on his head, any person who is a scientist begins with a question about the universe.
The Scientific Method provides a 6 step process to answer questions with a controlled experiment.
The first step? Make an observation. For this video, let’s pretend that we have a picture we would like to print from our computer on our printer. We choose “print” from our computer, but we observe the printer doesn’t print. Our observation? It’s simple: the printer does not print.
That leads us to step two: asking a question.
For us that question is: Why won’t the printer print?
Now that we have a question to answer, we then proceed to step three: proposing a hypothesis. According to Arizona State University, the hypothesis is a clear statement of what is intended to be investigated. For our printer problem, let’s use the following hypothesis:
The printer is not printing because it is not powered on.
A hypothesis isn’t necessarily the correct explanation, but it is an explanation we can test.
Once we have a hypothesis, we then are ready for step four: make a prediction. Here we will declare what the outcome will be if the hypothesis is correct. For this step, we will make the following prediction: pressing the power button on the printer will turn it on and cause the printer to print our picture.
That leads us to step five: testing the prediction. Here we need to make an observation or perform an experiment in line with the prediction. For this instance, we need to visit the computer and see if it is indeed powered up, and if not, press the power button.
If the power button indicates the printer is indeed powered up, but our printer is not printing, then our hypothesis is not supported and is probably incorrect. However, if we find the printer is off and turning it on causes the printer to print our picture, then the hypothesis is supported and is likely correct. Unless our test was flawed, the unsupported hypothesis means that we can eliminate our hypothesis and begin with a new hypothesis.
The sixth and final step? That would be to report all of your findings from your testing. For our printer experiment, what happened when you visited the computer? Was the power off and did powering the printer on print your picture? Was the power on yet the printer wasn’t printing and now you need another hypothesis for why your printer isn’t working? This reporting step should discuss your data collection as well as any other observations you might have, including possible alternative hypothesis.
And that is it! The six steps of the scientific method. Now get out there, and start asking those questions!
Arizona State University
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration