What Are the Elements of Classical Experimental Design?

Modern science seeks to build up a base of knowledge that can be proven, as opposed to subjective assessments. The key tool of this enterprise is experimentation: testing hypotheses to see whether they can be objectively proven. This process is commonly called "the scientific method," a series of steps for designing classical experiments.

  1. Ask a Question

    • The heart of any experiment is a question that the investigator is seeking to answer. This could involve questioning the validity of a previous experiment or a question brought to light from what others have done before.

    Background Research

    • Science is a body of knowledge, and investigators are expected to pose their questions in light of what scientists before them have done. By reading about existing knowledge, investigators can design the most informative experiments that add new information to their disciplines, as opposed to simply doing what others have done before.


    • Experimenters must construct two hypotheses. A null hypothesis is a statement that does not show anything new whereas the alternative hypothesis is a novel statement of new information that experimentation demonstrates. Investigators must come up with overwhelming evidence from an experiment to "reject" the null hypothesis and assert that the experiment has demonstrated something.


    • The experiment is when an investigator examines the hypotheses. The hypotheses must be designed in such a way that they can be disproven. Investigators must answer questions with quantitative results: Something measurable either happens or does not. This process is used to collect quantitative data.

    Data Analysis

    • After the experiment, investigators examine the data they have collected during the experiment. Usually, this is done with statistical tools like regression analysis. Depending on the results of the data analysis, investigators either fail to find sufficient evidence to reject a null hypothesis or find sufficient evidence to reject the null hypothesis.

    Share Your Results

    • Science is a discipline that builds on itself, so every investigation scientists conduct can be used by future scientists exploring their own questions. By sharing your results, usually by publishing papers in scientific journals, you can help other investigators with their experimental design.

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  • Photo Credit scientist image by Keith Frith from Fotolia.com

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