Last updated by The POOG on December 16, 2020.
Science over the centuries has refined the process of conducting research. It is a multi-step process:
- Distill your thoughts or observations into a hypothesis or theory.
- Design an experiment that is expected to confirm or negate the hypothesis.
- Perform the experiment and evaluate the observed results.
- Draw a conclusion.
Most scientific papers fall into one of two categories: a report on an experiment or a review of the literature of reports on a particular experimental topic. Almost all papers are written to appear in either a professional journal or the proceedings of a conference. All such papers go through a peer review process before being accepted for publication.
All scientific papers follow closely the following structure in organization:
- An abstract. This is a brief overview of the paper giving the hypothesis, a high-level statement of the methodology used, a brief discussion of results, and a conclusion. It is designed to give the reader enough information to make a quick assessment as to whether the paper should be read in full.
- An introduction. This gives a background and context in terms of previous work by others. The hypothesis is stated.
- The design of the experiment. A detailed description is given of methodology and procedures used, step by step. The expectation in science is that others may and will try and replicate the experiment to confirm the results.
- Analysis and discussion of results. This section analyses the observations and data using such tools as statistics, mathematical models and theoretical arguments to formulate the results.
- A summary and/or conclusions. This section summarizes the nfindings of the experiment and makes a conclusion about the validity of the hypothesis. Recommendations are often made for followup work.
For the lay reader, the abstract should be readable and give them an understanding of where the paper fits into their research framework, if at all. If the paper appears useful, the introduction will often give additional understandable insight. The conclusion is really the key-point that the reader is after. The sections on methodology and analysis are where all the wild math, technical details, and assumed prior knowledge of the topic are used. Unless you are a researcher in the field, ignore this stuff.
The other class of articles is that of those that review the work of others in a field. Most of the material that lay persons write fall into this type of article. The validity and value of your article depends then on the validity and value of your sources. Here’s a ranking of source material from highest to lowest value:
- Scientific articles that are peer-reviewed.
- Scientific articles that are awaiting peer review. The peer-review process can take weeks to months since such depends on the available time of the multiple authorities chosen to perform a review (for which they don’t get paid).
- Statements by consortia of experts such as a group of doctors or scientists signing a letter on a topic. One should be able to ask for the names and credentials of the members of the consortium in order to validate it.
- Statement by a top expert in a field.
- Material created by authors or interviewers that include proper citations for all claims made. Rather than use the article, use the source, as long as it is higher on this scale than the writer.
- News sources without properly cited sources are useless.
- Anecdotal reports from friends and casual acquaintances are useless.
As a comment, material from sources in categories 6 and 7 can be useful to guide searches for valid sourced material. If the source is biased it can be useful as a contrarian indicator for further searching.
The Use of Frameworks
Particularly when you are approaching a new topic or field of study, a framework is extremely useful. A finished study should be highly organized but the initial work is with an indeterminate body of information that can be hard to process if a purpose has not been mapped out. Hence the need for a broad framework for organizing your research around.
Develop your framework early. You will modify it, expand it, or prune it as the topic evolves. But it saves a great deal of time in research. When you encounter new information ask yourself if it fitsinto the framework, and if so where.
This website has been an organic creation starting from a very high level breakdown of the large goals of the site. The structure has evolved as I processed new information. The seven categories – five capture most of the important issues – that make up the main menu haven’t changed much from the start, but the number of sub-categories or topics has grown continually. The number of articles within the topics have grown likewise and are open documents that I amend as I encounter additional relevant material.
It is therefore easy when I am presented with a new document, video or other material, to determine if I want to be bothered with it and if so, exactly what information included in it is relevant to my interests.
Research Tips from Others
A Canadian site, Canuck Law, backs its posts with extensive research and the author offers an article on how he does research. Also, in the following video, Mark Friesen describes how he applies critical analysis to a claimed document.
- Editor. Solutions #10: How To Do Your Own Research, Investigative Journalism. Canuck Law, .