What Does This Course Cover?

The objective of the course is to teach you how to design and execute a scientific research study. These three words -- scientific, research and study -- may seem redundant to you but they are not really. Let's look at each one, in reverse order.

A "study" is a unit of research. A scientist may conduct research all her life, but that stream of research is cut up into separate studies that have beginnings, middles, and ends.

"Research" means that you are choosing to understand something by collecting information about it that comes from outside yourself. Philosophers may spend their lives understanding love, but they don't do research. Instead, they just think about it, testing their ideas by building logical arguments for and against the ideas. To do research means that you use data to inform your ideas. In general, "data" refers to primary data, which is information about objects that you collect yourself directly from those objects. But it can also refer to secondary data, which is data collected by others, and often available to you only in summarized form. We don't really deal with secondary data in this course.

"Scientific" means that the exploration will follow the principles of scientific inquiry, which is a set of steps and procedures that has proven very successful over the years. The scientific method begins with a clearly defined research question -- typically some observed phenomenon that needs explanation. Then an iterative cycle is begun in which the scientist constructs a provisional explanation (theory) of the phenomenon, derives some predictions based on that theory, figures out what data would test these predictions, constructs a replicable empirical test that controls as much as possible for extraneous effects such as personal bias and confounding variables, and then analyzes the data. Based on these results, the scientist then changes the theory to account for the new facts (the data), derives new predictions based on the new theory, etc. etc.

To do all this, you will need a collection of diverse techniques and skills, including:

Here's a picture of how some of the elements covered in this course relate to each other. Arrows point from more general categories to subcategories.

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Revised: September 04, 2000 Go to Home Page