Elements of a research proposal and report

2005 © David S. Walonick, Ph.D.
All research reports use roughly the same format. It doesn't matter whether you've done a customer satisfaction survey, an employee opinion survey, a health care survey, or a marketing research survey. All have the same basic structure and format. The rationale is that readers of research reports (i.e., decision makers, funders, etc.) will know exactly where to find the information they are looking for, regardless of the individual report. Once you've learned the basic rules for research proposal and report writing, you can apply them to any research discipline. The same rules apply to writing a proposal, a thesis, a dissertation, or any business research report.

The Research Proposal and Report
• • • • • • • •

General Style, layout, and page formatting Outline of the chapters and sections Chapter I - Introduction Chapter II - Background Chapter III - Methodology Chapter IV - Results Chapter V - Conclusions and Recommendations

General considerations
Research papers usually have five chapters with well-established sections in each chapter. Readers of the paper will be looking for these chapters and sections so you should not deviate from the standard format unless you are specifically requested to do so by the research sponsor. Most research studies begin with a written proposal. Again, nearly all proposals follow the same format. In fact, the proposal is identical to the first three chapters of the final paper except that it's writtten in future tense. In the proposal, you might say something like "the researchers will secure the sample from ...", while in the final paper, it would be changed

to "the researchers secured the sample from ...". Once again, with the exception of tense, the proposal becomes the first three chapters of the final research paper. The most commonly used style for writing research reports is called "APA" and the rules are described in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Any library or bookstore will have it readily available. The style guide contains hundreds of rules for grammar, layout, and syntax. This paper will cover the most important ones. Avoid the use of first person pronouns. Refer to yourself or the research team in third person. Instead of saying "I will ..." or "We will ...", say something like "The researcher will ..." or "The research team will ...". A suggestion: Never present a draft (rough) copy of your proposal, thesis, dissertation, or research paper...even if asked. A paper that looks like a draft, will interpreted as such, and you can expect extensive and liberal modifications. Take the time to put your paper in perfect APA format before showing it to anyone else. The payoff will be great since it will then be perceived as a final paper, and there will be far fewer changes.

Style, layout, and page formatting
Title page
All text on the title page is centered vertically and horizontally. The title page has no page number and it is not counted in any page numbering.

Page layout
Left margin: 1½" Right margin: 1" Top margin: 1" Bottom margin: 1"

Page numbering
Pages are numbered at the top right. There should be 1" of white space from the top of the page number to the top of the paper. Numeric page numbering begins with the first page of Chapter 1 (although a page number is not placed on page 1).

Spacing and justification
All pages are single sided. Text is double-spaced, except for long quotations and the bibliography (which are single-spaced). There is one blank line between a section heading and the text that follows it. Do not right-justify text. Use ragged-right.

Font face and size
Any easily readable font is acceptable. The font should be 10 points or larger. Generally, the same font must be used throughout the manuscript, except 1) tables and graphs may use a different font, and 2) chapter titles and section headings may use a different font.


APA format should be used to cite references within the paper. If you name the author in your sentence, then follow the authors name with the year in parentheses. For example: Jones (2004) found that... If you do not include the authors name as part of the text, then both the author's name and year are enclosed in parentheses. For example: One researcher (Jones, 2004) found that... A complete bibliography is attached at the end of the paper. It is double spaced except single-spacing is used for a multiple-line reference. The first line of each reference is indented. Examples: Bradburn, N. M., & Mason, W. M. (1964). The effect of question order on response. Journal of Marketing Research 1 (4), 57-61. Bradburn, N. M., & Miles, C. (1979). Vague quantifiers. Public Opinion Quarterly 43 (1), 92-101.

Outline of chapters and sections
TITLE PAGE TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I - Introduction Introductory paragraphs Statement of the problem Purpose Significance of the study Research questions and/or hypotheses CHAPTER II - Background Literature review Definition of terms CHAPTER III - Methodology Restate purpose and research questions or null hypotheses Population and sampling Instrumentation (include copy in appendix) Procedure and time frame

Analysis plan (state critical alpha level and type of statistical tests) Validity and reliability Assumptions Scope and limitations CHAPTER IV - Results CHAPTER V - Conclusions and recommendations Summary (of what you did and found) Discussion (explanation of findings - why do you think you found what you did?) Recommendations (based on your findings) REFERENCES APPENDIX

Chapter I - Introduction
Introductory paragraphs
Chapter I begins with a few short introductory paragraphs (a couple of pages at most). The primary goal of the introductory paragraphs is to catch the attention of the readers and to get them "turned on" about the subject. It sets the stage for the paper and puts your topic in perspective. The introduction often contains dramatic and general statements about the need for the study. It uses dramatic illustrations or quotes to set the tone. When writing the introduction, put yourself in your reader's position - would you continue reading?

Statement of the Problem
The statement of the problem is the focal point of your research. It is just one sentence (with several paragraphs of elaboration). You are looking for something wrong. ....or something that needs close attention ....or existing methods that no longer seem to be working. Example of a problem statement: "The frequency of job layoffs is creating fear, anxiety, and a loss of productivity in middle management workers." While the problem statement itself is just one sentence, it is always accompanied by several paragraphs that elaborate on the problem. Present persuasive arguments why the problem is important enough to study. Include the opinions of others (politicians, futurists, other professionals). Explain how the problem relates to business, social or political trends by presenting data that demonstrates the scope and depth of the problem. Try to give dramatic and concrete illustrations of the problem. After writing this section, make sure

you can easily identify the single sentence that is the problem statement.

The purpose is a single statement or paragraph that explains what the study intends to accomplish. A few typical statements are: The goal of this study is to... ... overcome the difficulty with ... ... discover what ... ... understand the causes or effects of ... ... refine our current understanding of ... ... provide a new interpretation of ... ... understand what makes ___ successful or unsuccessful

Significance of the Study
This section creates a perspective for looking at the problem. It points out how your study relates to the larger issues and uses a persuasive rationale to justify the reason for your study. It makes the purpose worth pursuing. The significance of the study answers the questions: Why is your study important? To whom is it important? What benefit(s) will occur if your study is done?

Research Questions and/or Hypotheses and/or Null Hypotheses
Chapter I lists the research questions (although it is equally acceptable to present the hypotheses or null hypotheses). No elaboration is included in this section. An example would be: The research questions for this study will be: 1. What are the attitudes of... 2. Is there a significant difference between... 3. Is there a significant relationship between...

Chapter II - Background
Chapter II is a review of the literature. It is important because it shows what previous researchers have discovered. It is usually quite long and primarily depends upon how much research has previously been done in the area you are planning to investigate. If you are planning to explore a relatively new area, the literature review should cite similar areas of study or studies that lead up to the current research. Never say that your area is so new

that no research exists. It is one of the key elements that proposal readers look at when deciding whether or not to approve a proposal. Chapter II should also contain a definition of terms section when appropriate. Include it if your paper uses special terms that are unique to your field of inquiry or that might not be understood by the general reader. "Operational definitions" (definitions that you have formulated for the study) should also be included. An example of an operational definition is: "For the purpose of this research, improvement is operationally defined as posttest score minus pretest score".

Chapter III - Methodology
The methodology section describes your basic research plan. It usually begins with a few short introductory paragraphs that restate purpose and research questions. The phraseology should be identical to that used in Chapter I. Keep the wording of your research questions consistent throughout the document.

Population and sampling
The basic research paradigm is: 1) Define the population 2) Draw a representative sample from the population 3) Do the research on the sample 4) Infer your results from the sample back to the population As you can see, it all begins with a precise definition of the population. The whole idea of inferential research (using a sample to represent the entire population) depends upon an accurate description of the population. When you've finished your research and you make statements based on the results, who will they apply to? Usually, just one sentence is necessary to define the population. Examples are: "The population for this study is defined as all adult customers who make a purchase in our stores during the sampling time frame", or "...all home owners in the city of Minneapolis", or "...all potential consumers of our product". While the population can usually be defined by a single statement, the sampling procedure needs to be described in extensive detail. There are numerous sampling methods from which to choose. Describe in minute detail, how you will select the sample. Use specific names, places, times, etc. Don't omit any details. This is extremely important because the reader of the paper must decide if your sample will sufficiently represent the population.

If you are using a survey that was designed by someone else, state the source of the survey. Describe the theoretical constructs that the survey is attempting to measure. Include a copy of the actual survey in the appendix and state that a copy of the survey is in the appendix.

Procedure and time frame
State exactly when the research will begin and when it will end. Describe any special procedures that will be followed (e.g., instructions that will be read to participants, presentation of an informed consent form, etc.).

Analysis plan
The analysis plan should be described in detail. Each research question will usually require its own analysis. Thus, the research questions should be addressed one at a time followed by a description of the type of statistical tests that will be performed to answer that research question. Be specific. State what variables will be included in the analyses and identify the dependent and independent variables if such a relationship exists. Decision making criteria (e.g., the critical alpha level) should also be stated, as well as the computer software that will be used.

Validity and reliability
If the survey you're using was designed by someone else, then describe the previous validity and reliability assessments. When using an existing instrument, you'll want to perform the same reliability measurement as the author of the instrument. If you've developed your own survey, then you must describe the steps you took to assess its validity and a description of how you will measure its reliability. Validity refers to the accuracy or truthfulness of a measurement. Are we measuring what we think we are? There are no statistical tests to measure validity. All assessments of validity are subjective opinions based on the judgment of the researcher. Nevertheless, there are at least three types of validity that should be addressed and you should state what steps you took to assess validity. Face validity refers to the likelihood that a question will be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Pretesting a survey is a good way to increase the likelihood of face validity. One method of establishing face validity is described here. How to make sure your survey is valid. Content validity refers to whether an instrument provides adequate coverage of a topic. Expert opinions, literature searches, and pretest open-ended questions help to establish content validity. Construct validity refers to the theoretical foundations underlying a particular scale or measurement. It looks at the underlying theories or constructs that explain a phenomena. In other words, if you are using several survey items to measure a more global construct (e.g., a subscale of a survey), then you should describe why you believe the items comprise a construct. If a construct has been identified by previous researchers, then describe the criteria they used to validate the construct. A technique known as confirmatory factor analysis is often used to explore how individual survey items contribute to an overall construct measurement.

Reliability is synonymous with repeatability or stability. A measurement that yields consistent results over time is said to be reliable. When a measurement is prone to random error, it lacks reliability. There are three basic methods to test reliability : test-retest, equivalent form, and internal consistency. Most research uses some form of internal consistency. When there is a scale of items all attempting to measure the same construct, then we would expect a large degree of coherence in the way people answer those items. Various statistical tests can measure the degree of coherence. Another way to test reliability is to ask the same question with slightly different wording in different parts of the survey. The correlation between the items is a measure of their reliability. See: How to test the reliability of a survey.

All research studies make assumptions. The most obvious is that the sample represents the population. Another common assumptions are that an instrument has validity and is measuring the desired constructs. Still another is that respondents will answer a survey truthfully. The important point is for the researcher to state specifically what assumptions are being made.

Scope and limitations
All research studies also have limitations and a finite scope. Limitations are often imposed by time and budget constraints. Precisely list the limitations of the study. Describe the extent to which you believe the limitations degrade the quality of the research.

Chapter IV - Results
Description of the sample
Nearly all research collects various demographic information. It is important to report the descriptive statistics of the sample because it lets the reader decide if the sample is truly representative of the population.

The analyses section is cut and dry. It precisely follows the analysis plan laid out in Chapter III. Each research question addressed individually. For each research question: 1) Restate the research question using the exact wording as in Chapter I 2) If the research question is testable, state the null hypothesis 3) State the type of statistical test(s) performed 4) Report the statistics and conclusions, followed by any appropriate table(s) Numbers and tables are not self-evident. If you use tables or graphs, refer to them in the text and explain what they say. An example is: "Table 4 shows a strong negative relationship between delivery time and customer satisfaction (r=-.72, p=.03)". All tables and figures have a number and a descriptive heading. For example:

Table 4 The relationship between delivery time and customer satisfaction. Avoid the use of trivial tables or graphs. If a graph or table does not add new information (i.e., information not explained in the text), then don't include it. Simply present the results. Do not attempt to explain the results in this chapter.

Chapter V - Conclusions and recommendations
Begin the final chapter with a few paragraphs summarizing what you did and found (i.e., the conclusions from Chapter IV).

Discuss the findings. Do your findings support existing theories? Explain why you think you found what you did. Present plausible reasons why the results might have turned out the way they did.

Present recommendations based on your findings. Avoid the temptation to present recommendations based on your own beliefs or biases that are not specifically supported by your data. Recommendations fall into two categories. The first is recommendations to the study sponsor. What actions do you recommend they take based upon the data. The second is recommendations to other researchers. There are almost always ways that a study could be improved or refined. What would you change if you were to do your study over again? These are the recommendations to other researchers.

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How To Make An Investigatory Project
Sample Format:  Abstract

After finishing the research and experimentation, you are required to write a (maximum) 250word, one-page abstract. An abstract includes the a) purpose of the experiment, b) procedures used, c) data and d) conclusions. It also includes any possible research applications. The abstract should focus on work done since the last fair.
 Research Paper

A research paper should be prepared and available along with a project data book, and any necessary forms or relevant written materials. Aresearch paper helps organize data as well as thoughts. A good paper includes the following sections:
1. Title page - title of the project must be brief, simple and catchy 2. Statement of problems/objectives - the nature & scope of the problem should be presented with clarity. Two types of objectives may stated: 1. General Objective - this is related to the problem as given in the early part of the section 2. Specific Objective - this states the purpose of each experiment conducted. 3. Methodology - provides enough details so that a competent worker can repeat the experiments 1. Materials/Equipment - the exact technical specifications, quantities and source of method of preparation for all materials used should be given. Specifically, built equipment used in the study must be described and the description accompanied by a picture 2. Treatment/General Procedure - the manner & sequence by which each experiment or set of observations were done & how measurements were obtained should be described in detail. Avoid using the "recipe style" when stating the step-by-step procedure. Use the

narrative form in the past tense. 4. Results and discussion - this may be divided into sub-sections describing each set of experiment or observations. 1. Findings - the data maybe presented in full & discussed descriptively in the test or these maybe summarized in tables, pictures & graphs. The statistical test used to determine the possible significance of the finding should be described. Tables, pictures & graphs should make the presentation of the data more meaningful. 2. Analysis of Data - the interpretation of the findings are discussed & the significant features shown in the tables, figures or graphs are pointed out. 5. Conclusions - the general truth implied or illustrated by the results should be clearly stated. The evidence based on the results should be summarized for each statement. 6. Recommendations - consists of suggestions on future actions such as a new direction of research or further experiments to be performed, practices that might be adapted or discard in order to attain certain goals or objectives. 7. Bibliography - a list of the references used in guiding the research work and writing and paper.  Visual Display

You want to attract and inform. Make it easy for interested spectators and judges to assess your study and the results you have obtained. Make the most of your space using clear and concise display. (Source: Department of Science and Technology)

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Science Projects Category Biochemistry Botany Chemistry Engineering Biology Physics

Used Cooking Oil as an Additive Component of Candle
Abstract The study aims to produce a low-priced, high-quality candle by using used cooking oil as a major component. The following candle compositions were used: 100 percent paraffin wax; 90 percent paraffin and 10 percent oil; 80 percent paraffin and 20 percent oil; 70 percent paraffin and 30 percent oil; 60 percent paraffin and 40 percent oil; 50 percent paraffin and 50 percent oil. The firmness, texture, and light intensity of the candles were tested and compared. Results of the tests showed that the candle made from 100 percent paraffin wax had the lowest melting rate, lowest amount of melted candle, and a light intensity of 100 candelas (cd). The 90:10 preparation had the next lowest melting rate and amount of melted candle. The other preparations ranked according to the proportion of used cooking oil in the candle, with the 50:50 preparation performing least comparably with the 100 percent paraffin wax candle. Introduction Today, candles are made not only for lighting purposes but for many other uses such as home décor, novelty collections, as fixtures for big occasions (weddings, baptismals, etc.), and as scented varieties for aromatherapy. Candles are made from different types of waxes and oils. Cooking oil is a major kitchen item in Filipino households. It is also used substantially in fastfood outlets, where it is used in different stages of food preparations. Ordinarily,used cooking oil is discarded. This waste oil pollutes and clogs canals and sewerage systems.
Materials and Methods Results and Discussion Selected References

The Feasibility of Cocos nucifera Oil as an Additive for Quality Candles. Bato Balani Volume 15

Issue 1, Junior. pp. 16-18. Candles, Waxes, Oils. Microsoft Encarta 2004 Further clarification of the procedures and results should be directed to the researchers and adviser.
Researchers Lauriedette Ann D. Concepcion Joane F. Libranda Anna Carmela R. Santiago Adviser Mrs. Racquel C. Diaz Talavera National High School Source: BatoBalani for Science and Technology Vol. 26 NO. 3 SY 2006-2007. Incooperation with DOST.

There Are Different Forms of the Scientific Method
A confusing aspect of science is that not all fields of science arrive at conclusions in the same way. The physical sciences, like physics and chemistry, use experimental forms of the "scientific method." The physical sciences do experiments to gather numerical data from which relationships are derived, and conclusions are made. The more descriptive sciences, like zoology and anthropology, may use a form of the method that involves gathering of information by visual observation or interviewing. What is common among all sciences, however, is the making of hypothesis to explain observations, the gathering of data, and based on this data, the drawing of conclusions that confirm or deny the original hypothesis. The difference is in what is considered data, and how data is gathered and processed. Data for a physical scientist is numbers. The numbers are often plotted on graphs. Graphs can be used to derive equations that can be used for making predictions. Data, for an anthropologist, could be a recorded interview. Interviews can be compared to other related information. Hence the distinction between the exact sciences (physical sciences that use numbers to measure and calculate results), and other sciences that use descriptions and inferences to arrive at results. If you are not aware of this difference, you could produce a written report for your science project. Your project will then only show what you know about something instead of experimentally answering questions you have about observations you have made. The information given below assumes you are doing an experimental science project that uses the experimental method to gather data and test hypothesis.

What is the Experimental Scientific Method?
The steps listed below will help you systematically investigate observations that can be tested with the experimental method. Not all questions can be dealt with by the experimental scientific

method. You must choose a question or problem that can be formulated in terms of hypothesis that can be tested. Tests done to check hypothesis are called experiments. To design a suitable experiment you must make an educated guess about the things that affect the system you want to investigate. These are called variables. This requires thought, information gathering, and a study of the available facts relating to your problem. As you do experiments, you will record data that measures the effect of variables. Using this data you can calculate results. Results are presented in the form of tables or graphs. These results will show you trends related to how the variables affect the system you are working with. Based on these trends, you can draw conclusions about the hypothesis you originally made.

What Makes the Scientific Method Possible?
The existence of "cause and effect relationships" in nature is what makes experimental science possible. Hypothesis can only be verified using the scientific method described here if there is a cause and effect relationship between the variables you have chosen and the system you are studying.

What Is Experimental Science?
Experimental science is actually the search for cause and effect relationships in nature. A hypothesis is your best guess at what this cause and effect relationship is. Your conclusions will allow you to predict the result of future cause and effect relationships. If you can do this, you can harness effects to do things. Technology is the area that applies the findings of the sciences to produce machines, or do things for us.

The steps in the experimental scientific method as usually presented are: Observation, Hypothesis, Controlled Experiment, Conclusion. To actually do a science experiment, many more steps are needed. The following more accurately reflects the course of an actual experimental investigation.

Initial Observation
You notice something, and wonder why it happens. You see something and wonder what causes it. You want to know how or why something works. You ask questions about what you have observed. You want to investigate. The first step is to clearly write down exactly what you have observed.

Information Gathering
Find out about what you want to investigate. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the effect or area of study. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Title the Project
Choose a title that describes the effect or thing you are investigating. The title should be short and summarize what the investigation will deal with.

State the Purpose of the Project
What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

Identify Variables
Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

Make Hypothesis
When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other. At this point, you are ready to translate your questions into hypothesis. A hypothesis is a question which has been reworded into a form that can be tested by an experiment. Make a list of your answers to the questions you have. This can be a list of statements describing how or why you think the observed things work. These questions must be framed in terms of the variables you have identified. There is usually one hypothesis for each question you have. You must do at least one experiment to test each hypothesis. This is a very important step. If possible, ask a scientist to go over your hypothesis with you.

Design Experiments to Test Your Hypothesis
Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a "control." A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral "reference point" for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a "controlled experiment." Experiments are often done many times to guarantee that what you observe is reproducible, or to obtain an average result. Reproducibility is a crucial requirement. Without it you cannot trust your results. Reproducible experiments reduce the chance that you have made an experimental error, or observed a random effect during one particular experimental run. Some Guidelines for Experimental Procedures • • • • Select only one thing to change in each experiment. Things that can be changed are called variables. Change something that will help you answer your questions. The procedure must tell how you will change this one thing. The procedure must explain how you will measure the amount of change.

Each experiment should have a "control" for comparison so that you can see what the change actually did.

Obtain Materials and Equipment
Make a list of the things you need to do the experiment, and prepare them. If you need special equipment, a local college or business may be able to loan it to you. Another source of science materials are mail order supply houses such as Edmund Scientific in Barrington, New Jersey (phone 1-609-457-8880 for a catalog). Professional science supply houses are located in larger cities. They will have just about anything you will need.

Do the Experiments and Record Data
Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental "runs." During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered "raw data" since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results. As you do experiments, record all numerical measurements made. Data can be amounts of chemicals used, how long something is, the time something took, etc. If you are not making any measurements, you probably are not doing an experimental science project.

Record Your Observations
Observations can be written descriptions of what you noticed during an experiment, or problems encountered. Keep careful notes of everything you do, and everything that happens. Observations are valuable when drawing conclusions, and useful for locating experimental errors.

Perform Calculations
Do any calculations needed from your raw data to obtain the numbers you need to draw your conclusions. For example, you weighed a container. This weight is recorded in your raw data table as "wt. of container." You then added some soil to the container and weighed it again. This would be entered as "wt. of container + soil." In the calculation section, do the calculation to find out how much soil was used in this experimental run: (wt. of container + soil) - (wt. of container) = wt. of soil used Each calculated answer is entered into a table in a Results section. Not all experiments need a calculation section. However, if you do not have any calculations you may not be using the experimental scientific method. If you have calculations to make, you probably are using the experimental scientific method.

Summarize Results

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments. It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.

Draw Conclusions
Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Other Things You Can Mention in the Conclusion
• • • • • If your hypothesis is not correct, what could be the answer to your question? Summarize any difficulties or problems you had doing the experiment. Do you need to change the procedure and repeat your experiment? What would you do different next time? List other things you learned.

Try to Answer Related Questions
What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Experimental Errors
Can I Trust My Results?
If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically. If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential

errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.

Random Errors
If your measurement method is not the cause, try to determine if the error is systematic or random. Random errors are more obvious. They result in non-reproducible data that doesn't make sense. In this case, runs with the same combination of variables, and even the control itself, cannot be duplicated. Some randomness is always present in nature. No two measurements are exactly the same. You must judge if the differences in your data can be explained by nature operating normally. A random error may be occurring because you are doing something differently in each run. For example, you are not careful in cleaning your reaction vessels and some of the chemicals are being carried over from the last experiment. Scientists use various statistical tests to determine if the difference between runs is due to randomness in nature, or to the way they are doing the experiments.

Systematic Errors
Systematic errors are harder to find. Your data and results may look consistent and reproducible. Here you may be doing something you are not aware of that is causing all your measurements to be off the same amount. For example, if you were not aware that a piece of your ruler had been cut off and now starts at 2" instead of 1", all your measurements would be one inch too long. This is a systematic error because all your data is affected the same amount, and in the same direction. One way to check for systematic errors is to run experiments of a different design that should give the same answers. Scientists often do different kinds of experiments to cross check their results. Another way to locate errors is to have an independent investigator repeat your experiments. Others should get the same results you did.

Linked Variables
Your results can be invalid if your variables are not independent of one another, and you have not noticed this. Variables are independent if they produce their effects separately from each other. In other words, changing one variable does not affect changes produced by another variable.

What If My Science Project Doesn't Work?
No matter what happens, you will learn something. Science is not only about getting "the answer." Even if your experiments don't answer your questions, they will provide ideas that can be used to design other experiments. Knowing that something didn't work, is actually knowing quite a lot. Unsuccessful experiments are an important step in finding an answer. Scientists who study extremely complex problems can spend a lifetime and not find "the answer." Even so, their

results are valuable. Eventually, someone will use their work to find the answer. Are you that person?

EXPERIMENTAL SCIENCE PROJECTS: The Effect of Salt on the Boiling Temperature of Water
(Initially prepared by a 4th Grade student) To quickly jump to a section below click on: | Initial Observation | Title | Purpose | Hypothesis | Materials | Procedure | Data | | Experimental Observations | Calculations| Results | Conclusions | Questions |

Cooking instructions tell you to add salt to water before boiling it.

The Effect of Salt on the Boiling Temperature of Water

To find out how table salt affects the boiling temperature of water.

Adding table salt to boiling water will cause the water to boil at a higher temperature.

• • • • • • • Table Salt Distilled Water 2 Quart Cooking Pot Pint measuring cup Teaspoon and tablespoon measuring spoons Thermometer Stirring spoon

1. Boil one quart of distilled water on a stove. 2. Measure the temperature of the boiling water. Record the highest temperature reading. This is the control to compare with. 3. Measure out table salt using a kitchen measuring spoon. Level the spoonful. 4. Add the measured salt to the boiling water and stir.

5. Measure the temperature of the boiling water with the salt in it. Record the highest temperature reading. 6. Repeat for other amounts of salt.

Data Obtained: 2/25/95, Mankato, MN Amount of boiling water Temperature of boiling water (Control) Amount of table salt added to boiling water: Run #1 Temperature of boiling water after adding salt: Run #1 Additional amount of table salt added to boiling water: Run #2 Temperature of boiling water after adding salt: Run #2 2 Cups 212.9°F 1 Tbl. 215.6°F 1 Tbl. 218.3°F

When the salt was added to boiling water it bubbled up more, and then stopped boiling. Shortly afterwards, it boiled again. If the thermometer extends beyond the outside of the pot it reads a higher temperature. Heat from the stove burner makes the thermometer read higher. Keep the thermometer over the pot when making temperature measurements.

• • Total amount of table salt added for Run #1: 0 + 1 = 1 Tbl. Total amount of table salt added for Run #2: 1 + 1 = 2 Tbl.

Temperature of boiling water (Control) Amount of table salt added to boiling water: Run #1 Temperature of boiling water after adding salt: Run #1 212.9°F 1 Tbl. 215.6°F

Total amount of table salt added to boiling water: Run #2 Temperature of boiling water after adding salt: Run #2

2 Tbl. 218.3°F

Amount of Table Salt Added Versus Water Boiling Temperature

• Is the hypothesis correc

Yes. Adding table salt to water causes the water to boil at a higher temperature. Problems with doing the experiments. The temperature readings were hard to make. Gloves had to be worn to keep my hands from getting too hot. Had to be careful that the stove heat was not hitting the thermometer. Other things learned. Be careful when adding salt to boiling water. It makes the water boil vigorously for a second or two.


Why do you think cooking instructions tell you to add salt when boiling water? When the water is hotter, you can cook food faster. Salt also makes the food taste better.

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