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Scientific Inquiry

Essential Process of Scientific Inquiry

Research papers often require students to know the essential process of scientific inquiry. Paper Masters can help with this process by giving you a perfect sample research project that illustrates how scientific inquiry is undertaken. The purpose of this page is to let you experience the essential process of scientific inquiry:

  1. Asking a question that you are interested in
  2. Framing it in a scientifically approachable way
  3. Find empirical evidence (data) that allows you to answer the question
  4. Prompt you to ask further questions.

Even though you may not want to become an expert in perception one day, the skills involved in this exercise will prove to be useful for any inquiries in your lifetime.

There are two ways to gather empirical evidence:

  1. Analyzing existing data
  2. Collecting your own data.

For most research papers, you are not required to collect data in a systematic way, although you may add your informal observations.

Step 1 In Scientific Inquiry Research Papers

Ask a question:

First pick a question that interests you and seems tractable (answerable). It must be a question (or a set of related questions) related to the broad areas of perception covered in this course. The word 'perception' is used in two senses: it is used to refer an awareness of the physical elements of environment through physical sensation (for example, color perception and face perception), as well as a quick, acute and intuitive understanding of a situation (for example, the perception of the latest trends in food industry). Because this course is primarily concerned with understanding perception in the first sense, your question must be concerned with an issue in the first sense of "perception" as well.

Following are some exemplary questions that you may ask:

• How does emotion influence visual perception?

• Why is it more difficult to recognize a face of a different race?

• Is change blindness a problem of perception or memory?

• What do magicians' tricks tell us about the mechanisms of perception and attention?

• Do musicians perceive tones differently from non-musicians?

• Do blind people hear better?

• Do deaf people see better?

• Are visual mental images faint versions of visual perception?

• Can a blind person really see with sensory substitution?

• Is beauty in the eye of beholders?


You can pick one of the above questions or come up with a question of your own. Keep in mind, however, whatever question you ask MUST be relevant to the topics discussed in this course. An irrelevant topic could get you zero point. Questions concerned with a narrow and technical issue (for example, what causes cataract or glaucoma) or questions to which conventional answers can easily be found on the Internet and other sources (for example, those regarding ESP and subliminal perception) are not good either. If you are not quite sure about the appropriateness of your question, please do not hesitate to ask me.

Step 2 in a Research Paper Using Scientific Inquiry

Find journal articles related to your question You need to read carefully AT LEAST 5 articles (the more the better) published in professional research journals that are related to the topic you choose. Professional research journals are peer-reviewed, and typically have an editorial board that consists of experts in the research field. I suggest that you try to find these articles through the database PsychoInfo, as most of the articles found there are professional articles. Other databases you may use include Medline and Pubmed. The Internet is a great source for information of special interests. However, because the Internet is essentially a public depository, the information you find there can be of mixed quality. Articles published on referred (peer-reviewed) electronic journals (e-journals) are no different from those of paper journals and can always be cited. Articles (most often in pdf files) found on researchers' institutional or personal web pages that are published or soon to be published on professional journals, can also be cited. In most cases, however, you need to exercise caution about the material found on the Internet. If you are unsure about its sources, do not hesitate to ask me by sending the web links via e-mail. Here is how to find an article from the PsychInfo database (I will show you in class as well):

You can access it through our library homepage. Just click on the database icon, and PsychoInfo is one of many databases there. Type in the keyword (s) that is most relevant to your topic. You may find many items or no results. In the first case, look through and locate the one that you need and check whether our library has the journal. If the library has it, locate the journal on the shelf by its call number. If not, you can obtain it through inter-library loan (a free service for students). If you fail to find anything by the key word, try a different but related key word and repeat the process until you find what you need. If you have found the articles that you want, please make a copy of each of them. If the article you want is online, you can simply print it out.

How do you know whether an article is what you want? Well, the title of the article usually says a lot. However, sometimes the title can be misleading. So you have to read the abstract (which is a summary of the main points of the article) carefully to decide whether it is truly relevant. Moreover, some articles are redundant or overlapping in content, in which case you don't have to read every one of them. You may have to read more than 20 abstracts to decide which 5 articles are the most relevant.

Step 3 Read the articles for Your Scientific Inquiry Research Project

You have to read the articles carefully and take notes IN YOUR OWN WORDS: authors' research hypothesis (namely, what they expect to find), what they find, and whatever important issues that remain.

Step 4: Write your paper
Your final paper should look like a mini review paper. It should consist of the following sections (with CLEAR SECTION TITLES):

Here you raise the question that interests you and explain why you found it interesting. If you can't think of any reasons, please browse the articles first to get some hints. You may find it necessary to divide this section into several subsections, each representing one part or aspect of the question.

Research findings
Here you summarize the existing research findings. You may find it necessary to divide this section into several subsections, each containing a different kind of results bearing on the research question.

Discussion and conclusions
Here you put your own thoughts on the general conclusions from the research findings. Think carefully on what you are able to say based on the studies you read and avoid making assertions that are not research-based. It is not appropriately to simply say "I agree with the author ". You have to provide reasons based on what you read and what has been discovered for whatever you believe to be the case. Likewise, I value any reasoned doubt and criticism on existing researches. Again, rather than simply saying that "I don't believe the results" or "I don't believe it's a fair conclusion", it would be more valuable to say what other conditions could lead to the same results and what alternative explanations apply to the results.

• A mini proposal for future research
Here you sketch a new research that is designed to tackle either an unresolved issue from the existing researches, or is about something new but related to the question you raised in the introduction. You have to clearly state your research hypothesis (what you expect to find), the kind of data you need to support your hypothesis, and the methods you use for collecting the data. In terms of research methods, you must try to emulate the researches that you read. In addition, you must provide some plausible reasons for a hypothetical negative result or a result opposite to what you expected ("if it turns out to be the opposite of what I expected, it is most likely due to ..because."). You are not expected to actually conduct the research.

• Additional thoughts:
Here you try to relate your specific research question to the important general issues in perception studies (eg, how perception is related to the distal stimuli and proximal stimuli, bottom-up processing and top-down processing, perceptual learning, brain plasticity, the relation between perception and action etc) that are covered throughout the course, as well as to offer your own insights.

• References:
List all the articles cited in your paper in APA style.

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