Biology: Research Methods

Research Methods in the Biological Sciences are as numerous and varied as the the diversity of questions asked and the phenomenon studied. They include the following:

1. Experimental research - experiments can be carried out in the laboratory or in the field.

  • Regardless of where the research takes place, the data may be obtained using molecular techniques like Southern blots and PCR, genetic tests, cell culture and imaging, biochemical assays, physiological measurements, surveys, questionnaires, interviews, etc.
  • These approaches emphasize quantitative rather than qualitative data, often incorporate statistical analysis, and draw conclusions based on deduction rather than induction
  • They are the most widely used research methods in biology

2. Observational research - observations are often used to generate a question and hypothesis, but can also be used to test them.

  • These studies are not controlled experiments, but can nevertheless be a useful first step in the answering of biological questions

3. Surveys, questionnaires, and interviews - these approaches are often used in studies of human biology, behavior, and psychology. To obtain valid results using these methods, there are a number of considerations:

  • First, there must be evidence that the subjects will respond to items in a consistent way if the measure is administered a second time.
  • Second, if the items are to be combined into scales, there must be evidence that they represent a single dimension—this concept is referred to as “internal consistency.”
  • Third, there must be evidence that the measurements are valid, that is, that the test items or survey questions actually tap the construct the experimenter is trying to measure.

4. Bibliographical and archival research - these include a wide range of studies that involve theoretical, interpretive, and phenomenological analyses.

  • Questions that originate in biographical, historical, or philosophical issues - or that focus upon intellectual history or sources of influence -  are associated with this category
  • Many questions in biology are inescapably connected with philosophical issues and questions of historical interpretation
  • History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Topics - these fields focus upon the life and work of a particular psychologist or scientist, the medical influences upon Freud or another researcher, or the development of the idea of natural selection since the time of Charles Darwin

5. Biology education research - it is common to compare one or more teaching approaches using naturally occurring groups such as children in a specific school or students in two parallel sections of the same course.