High School‎ > ‎Science‎ > ‎Engineering‎ > ‎Class Notes‎ > ‎Unit #2: Research Methods‎ > ‎

Guide to conducting your study part 1

Guide to conducting your own study- Part 1



How to pick your question:

-First, you should pick a topic that you are interested in.  This will make it easier for you to do your research and stay focused on your topic.

-For this project, you will need to be comparing two things that are quantifiable, that is, can be expressed in numbers.   There are ways you can make things that aren’t numerical into something quantifiable.  For instance, rather than asking “do you like coffee?”, to which the only answers are “yes” or “no”, you could ask “how often each week do you drink coffee?” or “on a scale from 1-10, how much do you enjoy coffee?”

-The two things you will be comparing will be your variables.  Your experiment/study should be set up such that one variable is the independent variable (x) and one is the dependent variable (y).  Basically, your hypothesis will be that one variable depends on another.  A very basic example would be comparing the amount of food you feed your guinea pig and the animal’s weight.  The independent variable, the one you directly control, is the amount of food you feed the guinea pig (x).  The dependent variable, the one your hypothesis says will be affected by the dependent variable, is how much the guinea pig weighs (y). For more info on independent and dependent variables, check out this link:   http://www.cool-science-projects.com/independent-and-dependent-variables.html. 

In the real world, variables are generally seen to interact in systems.  That is, there are rarely clear, linear relationships between variables.  The interactions are much more complex.  However, for the purposes of our type of study, we must isolate and operationalize our variables and treat them as if they interact in a manner insulated from the effects of other variables. 


How to conduct your research:

-As we have discussed in class, science and engineering are collective endeavors for mankind.  No scientist or engineer works in a bubble or creates entirely new products or ideas.  Instead, we build upon the work of those who came before us.  It can be argued that many of the great scientific discoveries or new inventions were not radical new ideas, but rather the logical conclusions of the work of people that came before.  That being said, exhaustive research is absolutely essential for good science.  In order to be able to study a topic, we must have a strong grasp of the work that has been done on a topic by our predecessors.

-As you move forward in you scientific careers, the expectations for research will continually increase.  When graduate students conduct research, they often submit papers that cite fifty or a hundred different sources.  They are generally studying something that has not been researched before, or studying something in a new way.  As a result, they must find all previous work that is relevant to their study so as to best hypothesize about the relationships that exist between the variables they are studying.  This research generally takes form as a literature review.  This is a document that identifies research (usually peer-reviewed) that is relevant to a study and summarizes the findings of that study, as they are relevant to the current work. 

-For your project, you are only required to do a very short literature review.  You must find two sources (not necessarily peer-reviewed, but must have an author) that are relevant to your study.  You must then summarize the results of that research in a paragraph. 

-For your final product, you should create a works cited page in MLA format to reference your sources.  For help on this, check out easybib.com, it pretty much does the formatting for you.


Operationalizing your variables:

-In order to study the relationships between two things in a meaningful, systematic way, we must clearly define those variables.   We must determine exactly what we are going to measure, how it relates to our question and how we will measure it. 

-In my guinea pig example, it is not enough  to just ask “Do guinea pigs who eat more get fat?”  I must define each of my variables and determine how I can consistently measure them.  How will I measure “eating more”?  How will I measure “getting fat”?  These are relatively straightforward variables to operationalize.  I could research the “normal” diet for a guinea pig and plan to feed some guinea pigs half of the amount they would eat in a  “normal” diet, others exactly the “normal” diet, and a third group twice the “normal” diet.  Then, I could weigh the guinea pigs at consistent intervals and record their weights.  In this way, I would have two well defined variables: X-the amount of food a guinea pig eats each day in grams; Y- the weight of each guinea pig at the end of each week.