Have you ever wondered how research works? How scientists make discoveries about our health and the world around us? Whether they’re studying plants, animals, humans, or something else in our world, they follow the scientific method. But this method isn’t always—or even usually—a straight line, and often the answers are unexpected and lead to more questions. Let’s dive in to see how it all works.
Scientists start with a question about something they observe in the world. They develop a hypothesis, which is a testable prediction of what the answer to their question will be. Often their predictions turn out to be correct, but sometimes searching for the answer leads to unexpected outcomes.
To test their hypotheses, scientists conduct experiments. They use many different tools and techniques, and sometimes they need to invent a new tool to fully answer their question. They may also work with one or more scientists with different areas of expertise to approach the question from other angles and get a more complete answer to their question.
Throughout their experiments, scientists collect and analyze their data. They reach conclusions based on those analyses and determine whether their results match the predictions from their hypothesis. Often these conclusions trigger new questions and new hypotheses to test.
Researchers share their findings with one another by publishing papers in scientific journals and giving presentations at meetings. Data sharing is very important for the scientific field, and although some results may seem insignificant, each finding is often a small piece of a larger puzzle. That small piece may spark a new question and ultimately lead to new findings.
Sometimes research results seem to contradict each other, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the results are wrong. Instead, it often means that the researchers used different tools, methods, or timeframes to obtain their results. The results of a single study are usually unable to fully explain the complex systems in the world around us. We must consider how results from many research studies fit together. This perspective gives us a more complete picture of what’s really happening.
Even if the scientific process doesn’t answer the original question, the knowledge gained may help provide other answers that lead to new hypotheses and discoveries.