It’s important to understand the basics of scientific method vocabulary and how the scientific method works even if you are not a scientist.
Many academic disciplines (like sociology and psychology in the social sciences, as well as “hard science” disciplines like biology, chemistry, and physics) use this vocabulary and at least a version of the scientific method in order to identify and investigate problems and find solutions.
This page gives a few non-technical explanations of some basic vocabulary, and then a short discussion of the scientific method and how it is used.
It is also available with a few small variations as a free pdf (along with an optional review quiz instead of the vocabulary matching) on Vocabulary Worksheets.
bias- an opinion or pre-judgment that could affect one’s evaluation of his research results & prevent them from being objective
Example: He can’t give a fair opinion of her research because he is biased against women.
data- information. (Data is plural. The singular is ‘datum.’)
Ex: Scientists analyze the data they collect from observations and experiments to confirm or to change their hypotheses about how things work.
evaluate- to set a value on something after looking into it carefully
Ex: “Peer review” is when scientists evaluate the research of other scientists to make sure it is valid before publishing it.
evidence- facts or information that can help solve a crime, show that something is true or false, or prove a point.
Ex: Although the thief wore gloves, he left behind evidence he didn’t notice: a cigarette stub and shoe prints in a muddy spot behind the house.
factor- one of a number of possible influences that can affect what happens. (‘Factor’also has a special meaning in math)
Ex: Carbon emissions are a major factor affecting climate change.
issue- a problem or topic people are concerned about OR one release that is part of a series of a magazine or newsletter.
Ex 1: One of the major issues in the last U.S. election was the economy.
Ex 2: This is the second issue of English Detective.
reproduce- make a copy or produce again. (When animals and plants reproduce, they produce more of the same species. Scientists reproduce an experiment when they get the same results.)
Examples: Human reproduction results in babies. Many plants reproduce through seeds.
valid- true or legally acceptable (like a valid license). Valid experimental results need to be both relevant (related to what they are supposed to prove) and significant (be large enough to be meaningful-- not so small that they might have happened by chance.)
Ex: When someone makes an argument based on unsound reasoning, we question the validity of his conclusions. If each part of the argument makes sense and nothing important is overlooked, it may be a valid argument.
variable (noun)- something that can be changed and that might affect or change your results
Ex: For an experiment to be valid, scientists must keep all the variables except the one being tested the same.
In mathematics, a variable is a symbol in an equation that may represent various numbers.
variable (adjective)- changeable
Ex: Spring temperatures are often quite variable, sometimes changing from quite cold to hot in a matter of hours.
to vary is to be slightly (a little bit) different:
Ex: "The results of the second bean-planting experiment varied from those of the first because hotter temperatures caused the second group of beans to grow faster."
various (adjective)- several or different
Ex: The lab is working on a number of projects at once. Two are nearly finished, and the rest are going through various stages of planning and testing.
version- a different form or variety of something, like a different edition of a book
Ex: the latest version of the TOEFL exam
Scientists are interested in understanding the world-- in observing nature and explaining how and why things work the way they do.
One way scientists learn more about nature is by conducting experiments. They make a hypothesis-- an explanation of what they think will happen when they make a certain change in things.
Then they make that change-- in one variable at a time-- to see what will happen. They evaluate the results of their experiment to see if the evidence they find supports the hypothesis . As they learn more, they make new hypotheses to find clearer and better explanations of what happens.
Various versions of the scientific method list four to seven+ steps. Numbering the steps a certain way is not important. Instead, make sure the process considers all the evidence and produces results that answer the original question or solve the problem.
Here are the main steps in the process:
1. Identify a problem that you want to solve or ask a question about something that doesn’t make sense or that you want to understand better.
2. Do some research to find out what other people have already tried and learned.
3. Make a hypothesis-- a guess about how to explain what you have noticed and to answer your question.
4. Design experiments to test your hypothesis and determine if it is true. Be sure to think about all the various things that could affect your results, and change only one variable at a time. (You want to know what is causing the outcome you get, and that your results are not accidental, or caused by some condition you have not thought about.)
To make sure an experiment gives valid results (an outcome that shows clearly whether the hypothesis is true or not), you need controls-- situations similar to the test situation except for the one variable you change. You also need to control for bias: make sure your hopes or expectations do not influence or change the results.
The most valid scientific experiments are “double-blind” tests. (These are the kind governments require to prove that a new medicine is safe and effective-- that it does what it’s supposed to do.)
In double-blind drug experiments neither the researchers nor the people being tested know (during the test) which people are receiving the new drug and which people are getting a placebo-- a pill that looks the same but has no active ingredients. This is a way to prevent any researcher bias from affecting the results.
5. Make accurate (careful and exact) observations, and keep accurate records.
6. Evaluate your results (look them over carefully and decide if they are clear and valid), and change or repeat the experiment if necessary.
7. Analyze your data. Interpret your results for their implications-- what they may mean or suggest for similar situations-- and draw conclusions.
Report your experiments, results, and conclusions so others can use what you have learned (or repeat the experiments if they want to check the results.)
If they cannot reproduce your results when they repeat the experiment, then the results aren’t valid, and your interpretation is probably wrong. To show that the hypothesis has value, someone would need to figure out why the results varied and find a way to make experiment reproducible.
8. Form a new hypothesis from the new questions raised by your research, and repeat the process.
Instructions: match the meanings on the left with the science vocabulary on the right. The first one is done as an example. When you are finished, click "check" to see the answers.