magnifying glass Observation: The First Step in the Scientific Method

To observe means to look at something carefully and to notice the details. When people observe things they often wonder why it is that way. Scientists work to answer that question. They make observations as the first step to the scientific method.

Observations are also called data. There are two kinds of data.

Qualitative data are descriptions that do not have numbers.

The massive white oak tree is the largest object in town, is an example of qualitative data.

Quantitative data are obtained by measuring and have numbers. Scientists use instruments (tools) to obtain numeric data.

The students used proportion, shadows and their math skills to find that the tree's height is 150 feet. They also found that the trunk circumference is 195 inches (4.95300 meters) and it has an average crown spread of 94 feet (28.65 meters). This is quantitative data.

Practice observing by looking at this photo. I saw this oddity in my woodpile on 10/25/2008 at 1115 GMT.


Click here for a closer view. Use the Back Button of your browser to return to this web page.

1. Write your observations.


2. Imagine - If you were standing in the scene:

What tools (instruments) might you use to measure what you are observing?


3. Fire up your imagination or curiosity. Write a 3 questions about what you have observed.


4. Theorize - What caused this tree trunk to form this way?


How could you test your theory?


"A good deal of science is observational and descriptive." National Health Museum, Writing Hypotheses

Explore more:

About Units of Measurement - IB Biology | Observing Biology how to's

Temperature facts and figures - IB Biology | Writing Hypotheses

Steps of the Scientific Method - Science Buddies | Learn about the Scientific Method

Observation Skills Builders index


Trees Facts Hunt | Plants Facts Activity | Winter's Story | Bluebirds Project

meter ruler

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FAQ Posted by Cynthia J. O'Hora 3/2009, released for noncommercial use by nonprofit organizations

Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards Science & Technology, Reading Writing

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