Writing with Scientists
Writing with Scientists Home Step 1: Discover Your Big QuestionStep 2: Explain the Hows and WhysStep 3: Present Your InformationStep 4: Conclude with New QuestionsStep 5: Show Your SourcesStep 6: Publish OnlineRead Student Writing Words to Know


Learn about
the Partnership


Step 1: Describe Your Big Question

What are you investigating?
Define your topic. Think of your topic as the question you want to answer through your experiments and research. A good question is one that makes you and others curious. Explain why your question is an important one to you, or to the world.

Keep in mind that some topic ideas are too big for you to investigate fully. On the other hand, if a topic idea is extremely specific, it may be difficult to get enough information.

Example in Action
See an excerpt from a student scientist’s report.

Why did you choose this topic?
Now it’s time to take one step back. You decided to investigate something. Why? What made you interested in finding out more?

• Maybe you made an observation — like algae in your fish tank — and you wanted to figure out a way to solve that problem.

• Maybe you’ve always been curious about something — like seahorses, ever since you were little and heard a story about them — and now you want to get to the bottom of what they’re all about.

The best experience you’ll have writing a report — and probably the best report — will come from a topic that fascinates you.

Example in Action
See an excerpt from a student scientist's report.

Top Tip
Just because it's important to be clear and precise doesn't mean your writing has to be boring — you can add your personal voice by explaining what interested you and why.

Example in Action
See an excerpt from a student scientist's report.

What did you expect the outcome to be?
Now that you’ve defined your question, explain your best guess at what you thought the answer would be before you conducted your investigation. This “best” guess — or hypothesis — is based on your observations of the subject and the beginning research you did after you picked your question.

Next Step

View and print items marked (PDF) using Adobe Acrobat Reader© software, version 4.0 or higher. Items marked (PDF Form) feature editable areas. Save edits with version 7.0 or higher. Get Adobe Reader for free.


Dr. Susan Perkins

Scientist at Work

I'm curious about malaria parasites. These are single-celled organisms that produce the disease malaria that can infect people. Other animals can be hosts to malaria including many species of lizards. Fortunately, people can't get the disease from lizards, but by studying malaria in lizards, we can learn a lot about these parasites.

A few years ago, I made an observation. A species of malaria, called Plasmodium azurophilum, was supposed to be able to infect both the red and the white blood cells of several species of lizards known as anoles. However, after looking at many, many microscope slides, I realized that very few lizards had parasites in both their red and white cells. In most infected lizards, I only found the parasites in one cell type. I wondered, “Could these, in fact, be two different parasite species?”


Print a Worksheet