The Parts of a Science Project
Discovering "what happens if"
Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service
The idea behind a science project is to discover "what happens if." What happens to one thing if you change something else?
1. The Research Question
Your research question is what you hope to figure out. It is your "what if" question. You should be able to write the research question in a simple sentence. For example, "What happens to seeds if they are kept at different temperatures before they are planted?"
2. The Hypothesis
The hypothesis is what you expect to happen in your experiment. For the research question about seeds (above), the hypothesis might be, "higher temperatures will make seeds sprout faster."
3. The Procedure
The procedure is the plan for how you will conduct your experiment. Here are some things to think about:
- An experiment can only have one variable. That is, you can change only one condition in each experiment. For example, with the seed experiment, the variable is the temperature at which the seeds are kept before you plant them. Keep each group of seeds at that temperature for the same amount of time. Also make sure that all the seeds get the same amount of light and water after you plant them.
- How long will your experiment take? If you only have a few weeks to do your experiment, decide on a procedure that you can carry out in that time.
- Consider your "sample size." How many seeds will you test at each temperature? Allow a big enough sample so that you can have a few duds in each group.
Once you decide on a procedure, write it down step by step. That way, you can prove what you did and can follow the same procedure if you need to repeat the experiment.
4. The Results
Results are the data, or information, that you collected. Your data should be in numbers. For example, let's say that some of your plants grew 1 centimeter the first week. Don't just write that the plants "look bigger"; write down exactly how much they grew.
5. The Conclusion
The conclusion is what you learned from doing the experiment. You might also think of the conclusion as a summary. In just a few sentences, your conclusion explains what happened in your experiment and whether it supported your hypothesis.
What if your results do not support your hypothesis? That is perfectly fine. You're not out to "prove" your hypothesis but to test it. Think along the lines of "here's what I thought was going to happen, and here's what actually happened." Then go on to explain why you think things happened the way they did.