Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Scienfitic method

core definition

Scientific method asserts that the statements of quantifiable relations must be logically derived (deduced) from a set of axioms (statements that are irrefutable and true by definition), and expressed as a set of testable hypotheses that will enable statements, which resist falsification and are expressible in 'quantifiable form', to be derived.

explanatory context

Scientific method is a rather taken-for-granted notion of the processes that operate in the development of the physical sciences. (It has, however, only developed since the 18th century).

The scientific method depends upon a rather specific and limited positivistic notion of the nature of science. Yet it is often defined in rather vague terms. Often it is described as the 'classic experimental method' on the assumption that this is a self-evident designation.

Scientific method initially assumed an underlying inductivist view of science but this has, effectively, been replaced by a falsificationist view.


Arguably, these principles are almost self-evident with regard to natural sciences such as mechanics (and can be added to using such aesthetic principles as rigour, power and simplicity). However, it is not self-evident that these principles can be applied to human behaviour, either individually or collectively. Equally, neither is it clear that these principles of axiomatic deductive argument necessarily apply to contemporaray physics dominated by uncertainty and contingency.


analytical review

Wolfs (undated) states:

The scientific method is the process by which scientists, collectively and over time, endeavor to construct an accurate (that is, reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary) representation of the world...the scientific method attempts to minimize the influence of bias or prejudice in the experimenter when testing an hypothesis or a theory.

The scientific method has four steps

1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.

2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.

3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.

4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

If the experiments bear out the hypothesis it may come to be regarded as a theory or law of nature (more on the concepts of hypothesis, model, theory and law below). If the experiments do not bear out the hypothesis, it must be rejected or modified. What is key in the description of the scientific method just given is the predictive power (the ability to get more out of the theory than you put in; see Barrow, 1991) of the hypothesis or theory, as tested by experiment. It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory.


Revision notes (undated) defined scientific method as:

A method of posing and answering questions that relies on clear, objective guidelines for gathering and interpreting observable evidence.


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Scientific method: A systematic, organized series of steps that ensures maximum objectivity and consistency in researching a problem.

associated issues


related areas

See also



hypothetical deduction



Revision notes, undated, 'Sociology Glossary', available at, no longer available 1 June 2017.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, 'not found' 1 June 2019..

Wolfs, F., undated, Appendix E: Introduction to the Scientific Method, available at, accessed 12 April 2013, still available 28 December 2016, not accessible 14 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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