Few readers of this preface will need to be convinced of the enormous importance of scientific research in our present-day civilization or of the magnitude of the effort which is being expended in this activity. Anyone who has tried to do research also knows that it is in general a highly inefficient endeavor. An exploration into the unknown cannot be planned in advance with the precision of a mass-production process. Nevertheless, some investigators are far more effective than others and make fewer wrong decisions at the innumerable crossroads which are reached daily during the course of a typical research problem. We have no way of acquiring the inborn wisdom which is mostly responsible for their success, but perhaps there are a few techniques which we can learn from them.
This book is an attempt to collect in one place and to explain as simply as possible a number of general principles, techniques, and guides for procedure which successful investigators in various fields of science have found helpful. The emphasis is entirely on the practical rather than the philosophical or psychological aspects. Topics have been included only if they appeared to be useful to working scientists in more than one field. As a consequence the coverage is necessarily broad rather than deep.
Naturally a physical chemist cannot claim to be able to write a book equally useful in all the sciences. Nevertheless, many of the topics treated have been found useful by others in such diverse fields as agriculture, industrial and military research, biology, and medicine as well as in the physical sciences.
Much of the material should be understandable to a college senior, but the book is more specifically intended for students beginning research and for those more experienced research workers who wish an introduction to various topics which were not included in their training. The mathematical treatments have been kept as elementary as possible but are given where they seemed required.
In carrying out these objectives, I have acted simply as a collector of ideas from many areas, in most of which I claim no expertness. I have tried to present these ideas from the viewpoint of a practicing scientist and to illustrate them with as many actual examples as possible. Many of these are examples of the dire consequences of ignoring the maxims herein set down. In this field I do claim a certain authority; many of