Identify | Hypothesis | Procedure | Collect | Analyze Data | Conclusion | Presentation
Before you can identify your research question – often referred to as the "problem" – you'll need to get an idea of what topic you'd like to study. A good way to begin is to spend some time observing ecosystems in your area. Worthy candidates include your own backyard, school grounds, unmowed fields, streams, ponds, seaside dunes, or shallow reef habitats. Your target area could even be a man-made habitat, like a reservoir. The point is to find an area that intrigues you.
To find out what species are commonly found in your study area, do some preliminary research in the library, over the Internet, and with local organizations such as a nature center or museum. You can also get in touch with environmental organizations for help. Talk to professionals in your local community. Continue to observe ecosystems as you contemplate the direction of your research project.
As you conduct your preliminary observations, you should be asking yourself what elements of the ecosystem interest you most. What are some of the issues surrounding this particular ecosystem? For example, if you live in a coastal community, you may be drawn to issues about beach erosion.
Once you have narrowed your topic, consider what ideas you would like to test. For example, if your focus is beach erosion, you may want to look at the effects of vegetation on the amount of erosion. To narrow your focus further, consider what aspects of this problem can be solved in an experiment. When you can express this idea as a specific, open-ended question – such as "How does botanical diversity affect sand accumulation?" – you have your research question.
Go to Step 2: Form a Hypothesis >>