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How to Plan A Science Project

Nov 22, 2007
Although the best science projects seldom are created according to a recipe, there is an orderly series of steps that is followed pretty universally by successful students and professional scientists.

Seven Steps to a Successful Project

Decide on the specific problem or process you want to investigate.

Think it through, planning progressive steps, controls and checks in some detail. Try to foresee blind alleys before you become stalled in them. List unwanted factors that might influence your results and plan ways to prevent or make use of such accidents.

Read widely, since success with science projects depends largely on how much you know about your subject. Such reading will increase your understanding of the possibilities and limitations of your project and help you to see it in context. In addition to your school library, try the public libraries in your vicinity, and university, college and specialized libraries for books, journals, monographs and theses on your subject.

When you have discovered relevant materials, dig into them deeply and take accurate notes, being sure to keep a complete record of your sources so you can give proper credit for borrowed material. If very little has been published in your field of investigation, at least you will know this and can include a statement to this effect in your project.

Talk to other people about your project and consult them about your plans. Often another student or an adult can find a fuzzy area in your thinking, detect an error or suggest a method that will save you many hours of work or frustration. When you have gone as far as you can alone, professional scientists and technicians usually will be glad to help you over the rough spots.

You will, of course, be considerate about querying them when they have time to answer, and only after you have done enough reading and thinking to be able to ask really intelligent questions. If you do not abuse their helpfulness, you may find adults eager to offer suggestions and even to lend you equipment, publications and other materials you might never discover for yourself. However, do not write an organization to send you everything it has on the subject, or expect the staff scientists to do your project for you.

Set up a notebook that will include accurate records of your original ideas, good and bad guesses, notes on your reading, all of your experiments and observations and graphs, tables, drawings, photographs or whatever is relevant and useful.

Begin the experiment or progressive steps of your project and establish the controls against which you will check each result. If the experiments do not yield the information you are looking for, record the results anyway and salvage whatever is useful in designing new experiments and controls. Remember that failures are instructive too. It often is extremely valuable to know what does not work.

Summarize your conclusions, when you have repeated your experiments sufficiently often to feel sure that your results are valid. Your conclusions may be positive or negative, since it is often as useful to prove a hypothesis false as true. If your work on this project opened up new questions that you hope to investigate, by all means mention these, too.

Writing a Report

Although there are many ways of writing about scientific work, the usual form for a written report is something like this:
Title - accurate, but not self-consciously long in an effort to impress
Summary - brief statement of the problem and the gist of your research
Introduction - reason for your interest in the problem, relevant work done by others, background information
Discussion of problem and hypothesis you are investigating
Details of materials, equipment, methods, steps of experiments, controls
Summary of observations and data
Conclusions drawn from observations
New questions, possible applications, future plans, if any
Appendix - graphs, tables, photographs, drawings
Bibliography and acknowledgements

Now you know the basics, it is time to start your own scientific project!
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