Even before the advent of the Internet and the unlimited amount ofknowledge and information we have available in a matter of seconds, research has generally been misunderstood as a simple process of going to the library (Googling, for most of us today) and getting the data one needs to make a report or “thesis”. Unfortunately, this is nothing but a single step in the whole process of scientific research. Academics will call this data-gathering or collating observations.
The purpose of scientific research is to observe physical phenomena and to describe them in their operation or functions. The essential question is WHY. Why do things behave as they do? We can predict some things because it is how things are supposed to behave; but we want to know the causes of such phenomena. Discovering the causes through our research, we can then explain these things and use the knowledge to our advantage in many practical ways. That is, we can then build ships that can carry as many people as we can or explain that the moon, like the apple, is falling into the Earth because it is subject to the force of gravitation. Why it never crashes into the Earth is another question which Newton, fortunately, had to settle for us.
Science research or what others would call the Scientific Method requires several steps to be considered one. Let us look at them with simple examples for the beginner:
Basic or general questions about a phenomenon
Sometimes, it all starts with a casual observation followed by a curious question. Why do apples fall? Why do boats float? It takes a child-like mind to be curious about ordinary but intriguing things.
Setting a Hypothesis
A hypothesis is a statement of supposition. For instance, we can say that the Earth is flat and proceed to prove it. A hypothesis is, in reality, a result of general questions we have about real-life problems or phenomena. Whereas the ancient people believed that the world was flat and had an edge where you could fall from, today, we simply assume (without even knowing the basic evidences) that it is an orb. On the other hand, showing a photograph of the Earth taken from outer space may be a shortcut method of disproving the hypothesis. But it is only an indirect or circumstantial evidence and is not, technically speaking, a viable scientific proof. One must follow the entire method to its completion.
Based on our initial observations related to the questions we have posed for ourselves, we come up with possible outcomes. An orange, a ball or a rock will always fall no matter how far or how high you throw it. Why does a bird not fall? We can come up with other questions that may make the initial question irrelevant. Hence, we can either incorporate others observations or limit ourselves to the first simple question and deal with others separately.
The main key in predicting in research is basing our assumed outcomes on solid reason or logic. Unlike Aristotle who assumed that iron fell faster than an apple and that an apple fell faster than a feather, we now know and can predict that they all fall at the same speed due to gravity in a vacuum. Our awareness of wind resistance and friction allows us to predict more accurately than other people before.
Testing the hypothesis
We then set up a method of investigation or a series of experimentation to check whether the hypothesis works for all instances or conditions. Tossing an apple or a rock into the air ten times or a hundred times will not change the outcome. From that observation, we can somehow accept the fact that a certain law applies for the apple as for a rock. What that is is something we can hypothesize as well. For now, we know that it applies for all objects, including a bird that is shot dead in mid-flight.
Deriving conclusions or explaining the hypothesis
Having observed the hypothesis being tested and reinforced so many times and seeing how the outcome displays a certain pattern, we can then derive general conclusions of fact. Any object, no matter how heavy or big it is will always fall to the ground. We know this for a fact because we have seen it happen so many times and have proven it ourselves by the many times we have played basketball or baseball.
In its crudest form, we can say that the scientific method is nothing but highly-systematized common-sense knowledge derived at through a strict process. By ourselves, we also all went through several conscious steps of determining a fact or a truth within the physical realm we live in. Yes, we came up with the same conclusion on our own without having to know or apply this precise method; but other more stringent phenomena cannot be handled simply using simple observations. We need precise tools, instruments and other research results to prove more sophisticated problems.
For example, we might need to send a probe to outer space to prove what a comet is made of, how it behaves in outer space and how it came into existence. For that, you need vast range of technology to discover the facts you need: a rocket, computers, high-tech cameras, advanced communication facilities and other precise, delicate instruments to measure physical phenomena in outer space. At this very moment, a space probe named Rosetta is poised to land on a comet to perform such an unprecedented scientific research.
We can say this latest research rides upon hundreds and thousands of other research studies in the past, proving how knowledge ostensibly expands without limits. What Galileo and Newton learned several centuries ago have helped us discover other things we now take for granted. And yet, we all seem to be asking the same basic question: Where do all things come from? In that sense, scientific research essentially deals with who we are, what we are and where we came from.
All knowledge centers on what makes us humans. And the question will continue to challenge as well as baffle us.