Getting Started With Research
So you want to do a research project? Find information here on how to get started.
1. Problem Finding
The most important part of a strong research project is the “problem finding”. You must begin with an excellent question. Become familiar with the project categories. Then begin thinking about a fascinating question you can explore. How do you find a great problem to investigate? The best problems are:
• Something you find utterly fascinating
• A new way of thinking about a problem
• Important to society
• Connected to you in some way
• Hot topics in the news—something people are talking about
Where do you find these interesting ideas?
ISEF Project Abstracts: Search here for International Science and Engineering Fair abstracts in categories you find interesting. This will help you understand what sort of projects make it to International competition, which is just for high school students. Achieving International quality work is a remarkable accomplishment that comes from sustained effort and exemplary attention to detail.
Science Daily: Articles chunked by category. When you choose an article you’ll also get a list of related articles that is very helpful to further search.
Science News for Students: Designed for student researchers ages 9–14 and published by the Society for Science & the Public.
Science News: A bit more advanced than Science News for Students.
Young Naturalist Awards: Take a look at these winning essays, which are presented in an engaging way. It’s a good source of inspiration.
How can you understand all of these resources? This reading is complicated and has an odd structure to it!
Try this article on understanding scientific writing. Science and engineering writing can appear like a foreign language, but often has a very predictable organization to help you pick out the most important ideas with ease.
2. Developing A Testable Question
Disclaimer: The information below is a bit complex when you look at it the first time. Very soon you will start to “speak research” as you get very familiar with the basic principles of good research design. It will become second nature to you.
Begin by narrowing your focus from a broad concept to a testable question. A testable question is one that can actually be answered with a controlled scientific investigation. It asks the question: What is the effect of X on Y? What is the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable? The independent variable (IV) is what the researcher changes. The dependent variable (DV) is what the researcher measures that is impacted by the IV.
For example: What is the effect of Lantana camara extract on the germination of Palmer’s amaranth seeds? In this example, the researcher treated her experimental group of seeds with Lantana camara extract. She also, of course, had a control group that she treated only with distilled water (this provides a basis for comparison). She measured the number of seeds that germinated each day for five days.
Her independent variable is the Lantana camara extract.
Her dependent variable is the number of seeds that germinated. They can be counted.
Dependent variables are always measured in some way, providing data. She can control all of the other variables in the experiment by keeping everything the same for the control and treatment groups except for the addition of Lantana camara extract. This is a solid testable question.