HOW TO CONDUCT A SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION

1. LOGBOOK

All entries must have a logbook. The logbook is a diary of what you did during your scientific investigation. The logbook can be an exercise book especially designated for your project OR an online document. Here you make rough notes, to-do lists, draw up plans, record ideas and results. Remember to include the date for every entry you make and to include details such as phone calls made, letters and emails sent and discussions with parents or teachers.

At the end of your investigation use your logbook to decide what should go into the final entry. Logbook entries may contain drawings, illustrations, photographs and diagrams.

Logbooks are not judged for spelling or grammar. The judges use your logbook to understand what you were trying to achieve and how you went about it.

All important information needs to go in your actual report as this is what is judged.

Start your logbook by setting out your goals and drawing up your plans. Then you could record:

  • what gave you the idea for your investigation
  • how you planned and persisted with the task
  • what you were thinking about the investigation along the way
  • what you did
  • what you noticed or observed
  • whom you consulted for information and feedback
  • how you assessed the feedback you received
  • what went wrong and how you overcame the challenges

Below is a sample entry from a logbook:

16 June 2014

Collected soil samples from a number of locations around the school. Stored them in labelled containers, indicating location and surrounding vegetation.

Took photographs of each area and recorded photo number to identify particular sample area.

18 June 2014

Tested 8 different soil samples for the presence of salt. Ms Santer organised a silver nitrate solution. Requested some distilled water to dissolve any salt out of the soil. Will only use a small amount of the soil samples so that tests for other substances can be done later.

2. THINK OF A PROBLEM

Think of a problem with a science context that you would like to solve e.g. does the amount of light affect the growth of seedlings?

This can often be the most challenging part of an investigation. Choose a problem that is interesting to you or stems from personal experience. Make sure your problem can be solved by conducting a hands-on scientific investigation yourself. E.g. What is a black hole ? is probably not an appropriate question for this project.

3. EXPRESS YOUR QUESTION AS A HYPOTHESIS

You need to write your question as a hypothesis (an educated guess or prediction about what you expect to happen).

For example in an investigation with the question ‘Does the amount of light affect the growth of seedlings?’, your hypothesis could be: ‘The amount of light affects the growth of seedlings.’

Your hypothesis should be informed by your background knowledge and research.

 

4. COLLECT BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE

Research your topic area using books, websites and experts to broaden your scientific understanding of the topic.

 

5. DESIGN A FAIR EXPERIMENT TO TEST YOUR HYPOTHESIS

To conduct a fair test you change only one thing (a variable). You need to be able to measure the change. You keep everything else the same.

An example:

Research Question What I will change What I will measure What I will keep the same
How does the amount of light affect the growth of seedlings? the amount of light (dark, partial shade or full sun) how much each seedling grows (the seedlings’ heights) type of seedling, type of soil, amount of water used to water the seedlings, size of container, planting depth of seed.


6. CARRY OUT YOUR FAIR TEST

You should conduct your experiment at least 5 times to make sure your results are reliable (or in the case of seedlings, using several seedlings for each amount of light).

 

7. RECORD

Make sure you record all results and observations in your logbook. Do you need to make any changes to your fair test(s) and do them again? Did anything go wrong? Include all of this in your logbook.

 

8. ORGANISE AND ANALYSE YOUR DATA

What is the best way to organise and analyse your data? Can you use tables and graphs to record the data you have collected? Are there any patterns or trends you have identified in your data? Does the data support your hypothesis?

9. EXPLAIN THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT ALL AND WRITE A CONCLUSION

Here is where you explain the science related to your investigation based on your earlier research and what happened in your experiment. You need to explain your results clearly. What happened? Why?

Describe any patterns you can see in the data you have collected. Can you explain them. Analyse the success of the method you chose. Did anything go wrong? Would you change anything if you repeated the investigation again? Can you think of any further investigations that would help answer your question more deeply?

 

To help you along, use the following statements to guide your logbook entries:

  1. I am investigating …
  2. My question is …
  3. My hypothesis is …
  4. How will I make a fair test?

I will change …

I will measure …

I will keep the same …

  1. List of equipment I will use to conduct the investigation:
  2. Record of the results:
  3. Explanation of the results:

 Your actual report should have the following headings:

  1. Background Information
  2. Aim
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Equipment
  5. Method
  6. Results
  7. Discussion and Conclusion
  8. Acknowledgements (e.g. Thank you to my dad who helped me type up my report, etc…)
  9. (Reference list or Bibliography) – optional