All scientific investigations are based around five fundamental steps. Without these steps, each experiment would be conducted in a different manner, and it would next to impossible for other scientists to replicate the results of any experiment. Having a standard set of steps also ensures that each experiment is conducted in a way that focuses on the test being impartial and that the results are based on good research.
The first step in a scientific investigation is to ask a question. Obviously, it is impossible to answer a question without first identifying a problem. Once the problem is identified, however, a question needs to be formulated.
The second step is to gather information or conduct research. This research is typically done by looking through scientific journals to find accounts of similar experiments to the one being planned. Research can also include analyzing equipment necessary to conduct the experiment and obtaining backgrounds on the subjects of the experiment.
The third step is to make a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an educated guess about the outcome of the experiment. Since the hypothesis is typically based on research conducted in the second step, the hypothesis functions as a short summary of the prior research while it declares the expected results of the experiment.
The fourth step is to test the hypothesis. In other words, design and conduct an experiment that will prove or disprove the hypothesis. Be sure to follow the standard guidelines regarding the treatment of test subjects during the experiment.
The fifth step is gather results and declare a conclusion. After the experiment is completed, be sure to collect enough data to back up a solid conclusion. This conclusion should either prove or disprove the hypothesis. It is also acceptable to admit that there were flaws in the experiment that did not lead to a good enough collection of data to definitively prove or disprove the hypothesis. In any case, recommendations should be made along with the conclusion to future researchers who wish to conduct research on a similar topic.
Of course, it is important to understand that a scientist must complete these steps in this order to conduct a peer-accepted experiment. Many researchers, however, find that they will often have to go back and repeat steps before moving on to the next step. For example, many scientists will return back to reviewing the available literature before designing and conducting their experiment.