a problem statement is a concise description of an issue to be addressed or a condition to be improved upon. it identifies the gap between the current (problem) state and desired (goal) state of a process or product. focusing on the facts, the problem statement should be designed to address the five ws. the first condition of solving a problem is understanding the problem, which can be done by way of a problem statement.
problem statements are widely used by businesses and organizations to execute process improvement projects. a simple and well-defined problem statement will be used by the project team to understand the problem and work toward developing a solution. it will also provide management with specific insights into the problem so that they can make appropriate project-approving decisions. as such, it is crucial for the problem statement to be clear and unambiguous.
the first step of the scientific method is to make an observation about the world around you. before hypotheses can be made or experiments can be done, one must first notice and think about some sort of phenomena occurring. the scientific method is used when one does not know why/how something is occurring and wants to uncover the answer, but before one can even question an occurrence, they must notice something puzzling in the first place.
asking a question
next, one must ask a question based on their observations, such as: why/how is this thing occurring? why/how does it happen this way? sometimes this step is listed first in the scientific method, with making an observation (and researching the phenomena in question) listed as second. in reality, both making observations and asking questions tend to happen around the same time, as one can see a confusing occurrence and immediately think, “why is it occurring? ” when observations are being made and questions are being formed, it is important to do research to see if others have already answered the question, or uncovered information that may help you shape your question. for example, if you find an answer to why something is occurring, you may want to go a step further and figure out how it occurs.
a hypothesis is an educated guess to explain the phenomena occurring based on prior observations. it answers the question posed in the previous step. hypotheses can be specific or more general depending on the question being asked, but all hypotheses must be testable by gathering evidence that can be measured. if a hypothesis is not testable, then it is impossible to perform an experiment to determine whether the hypothesis is supported by evidence.
performing an experiment
after forming a hypothesis, an experiment must be set up and performed to test the hypothesis. an experiment must have an independent variable, which is something that is manipulated by the person doing the experiment, and a dependent variable, which is the thing being measured (and which may be affected by the independent variable). all other variables must be controlled so that they do not affect the outcome. during an experiment, data is collected. data is a set of values; it may be quantitative (e.g. measured in numbers) or qualitative (a description or yes/no answer).
for example, if you were to test the effect of sunlight on plant growth, amount of light would be the independent variable (the thing you manipulate) and the height of the plants would be the dependent variable (the thing affected by the independent variable). other factors such as air temperature, amount of water in the soil, and species of plant would have to be kept the same between all of the plants used in the experiment so that you could truly collect data on whether sunlight affects plant growth. the data that you would collect would be quantitative, since you would measure the height of the plant in numbers.
after performing an experiment and collecting data, one must analyze the data. research experiments are usually analyzed with statistical software in order to determine relationships among the data. in the case of a simpler experiment, one would look at the data and see how they correlate with the change in the independent variable.
forming a conclusion
the last step of the scientific method is to form a conclusion. if the data support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis may be the explanation for the phenomena. however, multiple trials must be done to confirm the results, and it is also important to make sure that the sample size—the number of observations made—is big enough so that the data is not skewed by just a few observations. if the data do not support the hypothesis, then more observations must be made, a new hypothesis is formed, and the scientific method is used all over again. when a conclusion is drawn, the research can be presented to others to inform them of the findings and receive input about the validity of the conclusion drawn from the research.