A General Overview of Independent Research Addressing Topics Related to Science and Society

Before you dive into the details of your project, it is a good idea to consider the big picture. Where do you start? How do you decide what to do and how do you organize your project? What are the steps involved in a biology research project? The information below will provide an overview of what is involved in designing and carrying out an independent research project. Additional detailed information on how to approach each step is provided in Getting Started with Independent Research Addressing Topics Related to Science and Society.

Identify a question or problem related to the interaction between science and society now or throughout history that interests YOU.

All good research starts with a good question.

Be creative. Come up with an idea that interests you.

Scientific advances affect many different aspects of society, and society in turn influences scientific and technological activities. Ecological and environmental changes impact society and societal decisions impact the natural world. The effects of this multifaceted interaction can be seen now and throughout history.

Your project can address any aspect of the complex relationship between science and society. You can examine current issues at the cutting edge of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, or consider the interactive relationship of science and society from a historical perspective. Technological and scientific change have had tremendous impacts on the course of history.

Once you have a topic, follow the steps in the sections below to narrow and refine your question. Think about what interests YOU and what YOU care about.

Discuss your ideas with your teacher and other students.

Framing a good question takes time and effort, but pays off in the long run.

Do some background research – as you read, evaluate and modify your original ideas as necessary.

Background research will make it much easier to frame your question and design your research project. Use the library and the Internet to find out what is known about your topic, to look for past research on similar subjects, and to learn from the experience of others. Be sure that your data comes from reliable sources, such as academic journals, government reports, books, online library databases. The ASSET Research Resources Student Handout lists several possible sources for obtaining articles and other pertinent background materials.  Ask your school librarian for help obtaining journal articles and other resources.

As you explore your topic, make a list of key concepts and key words related to your question.

Reviewing what has already been written about your topic will help identify sources of information and research approaches that others have used to address similar questions, and will help you to narrow and focus your research topic. As you explore your topic, you may want to revise or modify your specific research question.

Construct a hypothesis based on a specific question

As you begin to research your topic, you may want to further revise your specific research question. Using the background information you have gathered and your key concepts, focus your ideas and refine your question. Ultimately you want to ask a specific question based on a single hypothesis. For example, you might be interested in the rapid spread of antibiotic resistance throughout the world today. You could narrow that down to looking at societal factors that affect the spread of antibiotic resistance, asking a specific question like “What factors are primarily responsible for the spread of antibiotic resistance in developing countries?” A possible hypothesis could be “The availability of over-the-counter antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription combined with a lack of sanitation resulting from extreme poverty lead to the rapid spread of drug resistant bacteria.”

Develop a Research Design

Once you have an interesting question and a clear hypothesis, you need to clearly outline the specific steps you’ll take to answer your question. Planning a well-designed research project requires thought and careful attention to detail.

Talk your research plan over with your teacher and other students before you begin. Research projects often undergo several modifications in the planning stage before they are actually carried out, and discussion with others is a valuable tool for project development.

Determine how you will collect your information. Identify the resources you will need and how you will obtain them. The ASSET Research Resources Student Handout lists several possible free sources for obtaining articles and other pertinent background materials. Public data can be obtained from many sources, including books, academic journals, and government reports. Electronic databases like Web of Science, Google Scholar, or JSTOR will help you locate sources, and often offer full text electronic documents depending on your library’s institutional subscriptions. Ask your school librarian to help, as he or she may have access to sources in other libraries through interlibrary loans. You can use Internet search engines like Yahoo or Google to find popular sources of information, or use more specific search tools like Lexis Nexus. Additional sources can be identified by searching for references cited in sources you have already read. Book reviews, often found in journals and linked to online, are another way to identify potentially useful books.

It is important to evaluate the reliability of your sources carefully, critically assessing their credibility and accuracy.

Collect your data

Collect the data you need, being careful to follow your research design. Decide how many sources you need to accurately and fairly answer your question. The number of resources needed will vary, but in all cases it is important to present enough information to justify the conclusions you draw from your data.

Analyze your results

Go over your results with a critical eye. Discuss your findings with your teacher and with other students. Make sure your results provide you with enough information to do a meaningful analysis. Determine whether you need any additional data. Review your research design and make sure you have answered your original question and substantiated your findings with data from dependable sources. Decide on the best method for analyzing and presenting your results. What are the main findings of your research? What information does your research provide relative to your original question? Would a statistical analysis of your data be helpful? If so, what methods do you need to use?

Interpret your results

After analyzing your results, you need to reach conclusions that summarize what your research has shown you about your original question. Conclusions may support or contradict your original hypothesis. Sometimes the conclusion will be very straightforward and clear, and other times the conclusions may not supply a complete answer to the question you originally posed. In either case the conclusions should summarize your study and reflect what you have learned by carrying out the research so others can benefit from your work.

To decide what conclusions can be drawn from your research, you should first briefly summarize your project, including what question(s) were asked and what your original hypothesis was.

Summarize your key findings in a few sentences, and relate those findings to your original question. Determine how your results support or disagree with your original hypothesis, including any uncertainties that exist in your findings. Do you have enough information to support your conclusion? What new insight or information does your research provide? What are some possibilities for future study?

Present your conclusions

Your research can be presented in many ways, depending on your audience and the original purpose of conducting the research. More detailed suggestions for how to organize and present your work in different formats are available.

You can write a paper. A well-written paper generally provides a clear introduction to your topic that establishes the significance of the research carried out, and includes a brief review of what has been written in the past, along with a discussion that brings together the information you have gathered and the conclusions you have reached based on your research.

A written paper may not be the best way to reach your audience and most clearly present your findings. The choice depends on what you do and what your findings are. No matter what format you use, you need to insure that your target audience understands the context and significance of your research, and has sufficient information to be able to evaluate the evidence supporting your results and conclusions. Talk to your teacher for ideas and help in putting together your final research product.