Scientific Inquiry Process


When we engage in scientific inquiry we usually think there is a set procedure, a scientific method – hypothesise, design an experiment, get data, analyse it, make conclusions. This process doesn’t take into account a lot of the things that scientists do as they tackle a problem – follow hunches, use their imagination, discuss in corridors with colleagues. Not all scientists approach problems in the same way – many have preferred inquiry procedures which tie into their own preferred ways of learning and understanding. Different types of problems and contexts require different approaches.


So if there is no one set method to strictly apply is there anything in common? Yes! No matter whether you are a physicist or a biologist, as you inquire into something you are likely to cover different aspects. These are indicated in the chart below – it is like a road map – there are many different ways of arriving at the objective.


The more aspects that you visit the sounder your whole inquiry will be. You may find that you only seem to be able to get started if you have a real concrete experience of what you are investigating, while someone else needs to sit back and read information that others have collected to get an overview. By recognizing that different people have different entry points into the inquiry process and particular skills it is possible to come together in collaborative inquiry which takes the group beyond each individual. Dialogue is the key.


Often many ideas get lost because people move from one thing to another randomly without being aware of the different parts of the process. Ie. not staying in the Imagining aspect long enough to explore weird and interesting ideas or not really looking at how the ideas might be plausible – really searching for evidence or for logical consistency. Often groups end up having a meaningless experience because each individual has a very different approach to the others – there is no common ground. By having this map of scientific inquiry upfront students can be explicitly aware of their process – what is going wrong, what is going right and what is missing. With practice students learn to ask questions coming from each perspective of the map that moves their inquiry onwards and gives it rigor, leading to enhanced understanding and insight.


This becomes very powerful when coupled with students being asked to critically think about ideas of science using questions of:

  1. Is it intelligible?
  2. Is it plausible?

How is it convincing, logical, relevant, authentic, trustworthy, connected, supported by evidence, practical, meaningful, humane or fit a bigger picture?

  1. Is it useful?

How does it have greater explanatory or predictive power compared to other models? How does it have more elegance, simplicity, order or symmetry? How does it fit into other ways of explaining the world? How does it uplift, inspire or advance the world? In what ways can it be ethically applied?

  1. Is it believable?

What are my underlying beliefs and values about the world and how does this ide interact with these? How much of this idea am I willing to take on board and with what provisos? In what ways have I been convinced to accept this idea and am I happy that the type of validity claims are approapriate?


Students can explore the meaning of plausibility and realize that each perspective of the map has a plausibility dimension. For example in the Relating aspect plausibility might mean how does this relate to other studies, is it connected or does it feel right?


The inquiry process is done in a context of understanding the appropriateness of the type of study for a particular purpose and type of problem or phenomena. So coupled with their inquiry process students need to be aware of the choices they make whenever they begin to inquire.




Holistic Education Network of Tasmania