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Glossary of Research Terms

Part V: Learning the terminology

If you’re new to doing research, then you may want to begin by learning some of the terms used in discussing science projects. This brief glossary covers the main terms used on these pages and in other sources of information. We encourage you to come back to this section if you get ever stuck.

This list isn’t exhaustive. If you want to learn the definitions of even more advanced concepts related to science projects, you might want to reference the 2014 Intel ISEF International Rules and Guidelines for Pre-College Research.  It defines additional terms and provides guidance on the rules involved in doing various types of research.  Another resource is the four-page Student Handbook (PDF) for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, or ISEF.  The handbook also provides a concise but thorough description of science research projects.

Abstract     A brief summary of a research project and its findings.

Adult Supervisor     An adult who oversees a student experiment. This person should be familiar with the student’s project and the student’s area of research.

Bibliography     A list of the books referred to in a research project. It usually appears at the end, or as a separate section, known as an appendix.

Conclusions     A brief summary of how the results of an experiment support or contradict a hypothesis.

Control     A duplicate setup, sample or observation treated identically to the rest of an experiment except for the variable being tested. And the control variable is meant to represent what’s normal or unchanged. For instance, if one wanted to see the effect of adding fertilizer to a plant’s soil, the control would be the growth of a plant with no fertilizer.

Data Book (also Logbook)     A documentation of the work done during an experiment. It includes the findings, called data, collected during an experiment, as well as any observed responses, reactions and results.

Demonstration Project     A project that retests an experiment already conducted by someone else. A demonstration project can also show how something works. Adding a variable to a demonstration can make it into an experiment.

Hypothesis (or Research Question)     A proposed explanation for a phenomenon. In science, a hypothesis is an idea that hasn’t yet been rigorously tested. Once a hypothesis has been extensively tested and is generally accepted to be the accurate explanation for an observation, it becomes a scientific theory.

Independent Research Project     An experiment designed, carried out and interpreted on one’s own.

Engineering Design     A process or series of steps that guide an engineer in solving problems. The process starts with identifying a problem. It ends with creating a solution to solve that problem.

Falsification    To change information or evidence to mislead.

Graph     A diagram that illustrates a relationship, typically between two variables. Each variable is measured along one of two axes, positioned at right angles.

Literature Search     An organized review of books, articles and published research on a specific topic.

Mentor     An experienced and trusted adviser who provides advice and counseling.

Methodology (or Research Methods)     A particular procedure or set of procedures. These may include the methods, techniques and instruments used in a research experiment.

Qualified Scientist     An expert in a student’s field of research who also is familiar with any regulations that govern that field.

Results     A statement that explains or interprets the data produced in an experiment.

Scientific Method   A sequence of steps followed in investigating natural phenomena.

Scientific Research   The organized investigation of questions raised by scientific theories and hypotheses.

Scientific Theory   In science, a theory is a well-supported model or explanation of a natural phenomenon. A scientific theory is based on observations, experiments and reason. Repeated experiments can confirm the validity of a scientific theory.

Trial     One of a number of repetitions of an experiment.

Variable     In research, something that can be changed or altered during an experiment. Each variable that is to be tested would represent a different test condition. For instance, if you were testing the effects of fertilizer on plant growth, the variable might be amount of fertilizer used: such as none, the normal amount, twice the normal amount and five times the normal amount.

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