The Scientific Method of Writing
If your middle school experience was anything like mine, the words “science fair” conjure images of a loud gymnasium, colorful tri-fold cardboard displays, and perhaps even small aquariums with animals or displays to touch and hold. It was during these science fairs that I was first introduced, as I’m sure you may have been as well, to the scientific method.
Why am I talking about the scientific method on a writing center blog? Believe it or not, the scientific method is very much related to writing. The same six steps which may have led you to performing an experiment about whose nose was better between a dog and a human are the same six steps which can help you with your next writing project.
Every piece of writing starts with some spark of interest. Whether you are delving into your own experiences for a personal narrative, dissecting a novel for analysis, or beginning a long research project, your writing and research should begin with a question that interests you and makes you want to uncover the answer. What was a moment in which I felt like an outsider? Why do butterfly wings develop spots that look like eyes? What would happen if aliens landed on earth? The more passionate you are about your question, the more fun you will have researching and writing.
Once you have your question, you’ll need to do some research to give you some background to use in order to answer your question. This research could include journal articles, prior experiment reports, or primary texts like a poem, novel, or even a film. If you are writing a creative piece, your research might include interviewing family for more information to include in a personal narrative or looking up the proper procedures for an EMS responder for a short story.
Once you have done your background research, you can formulate your “hypothesis” – your argument for your writing. The “hypothesis” may be, in many cases, your thesis statement. It is the answer to your original question and the main point or set of points that you will claim to be true. Just like in your grade school’s science fair, your hypothesis should be based on your research findings.
Once you’ve done your research and formulated your thesis, you’ll need to create an analysis. You’ve told your reader what you have found to be true – whether it is that butterflies developed “eyes” to ward off predators or that Antigone is a true representation of tragedy – and now you need to convince the reader that your findings are, indeed, accurate. While you may not be hosting an experiment with control groups for your writing, you will need to provide evidence of your claims, just as you would when presenting scientific fact. Often the best evidence is quotations from a primary source (which may be a novel or relevant book) and secondary sources (journal articles, prior experiments or case studies) which provide support to your argument. If you are trying to convince your reader that the society in The Great Gatsby was shallow, you might quote Daisy’s famous line regarding her daughter to support your argument: “I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”
In creative writing, this evidence is often called “showing instead of telling.” While you may not be attempting to persuade your reader of a certain belief or conclusion in a poem or work of fiction like you may be in other types of writing, you are trying to convince the reader of other things, such as emotions or motives. The best way to do this is to show these things to your reader, by describing things like body language, dialogue, setting, and mood. Instead of simply telling your reader that your character is sad, you’d instead show this by the tears in his eyes, the jeans he’s been wearing for several days, and the frown on his face.
Just like a scientific report, in the conclusion of your writing, you will provide the results of your research and thesis. Your results are the culmination of all of the previous steps of your writing project. Instead of using your conclusion to merely summarize what you’ve already said, you can model even this section after a scientific report: what is the importance and significance of what you’ve written? How does it advance the understanding of your original question? You’ve given your argument and you’ve given your evidence to support your argument; your conclusion is where you further express the implication of what you’ve written.
Writing is definitely more of an art than a science; however, thinking about writing and the writing process in different ways can often aid with writer’s block through the various stages, especially getting started. The next time you begin a writing project, imagine a flashback sequence to the sixth grade science fair and think of the scientific method.