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  • How to Write a Strong Hypothesis | Guide & Examples

How to Write a Strong Hypothesis | Guide & Examples

Published on 6 May 2022 by Shona McCombes .

A hypothesis is a statement that can be tested by scientific research. If you want to test a relationship between two or more variables, you need to write hypotheses before you start your experiment or data collection.

Table of contents

What is a hypothesis, developing a hypothesis (with example), hypothesis examples, frequently asked questions about writing hypotheses.

A hypothesis states your predictions about what your research will find. It is a tentative answer to your research question that has not yet been tested. For some research projects, you might have to write several hypotheses that address different aspects of your research question.

A hypothesis is not just a guess – it should be based on existing theories and knowledge. It also has to be testable, which means you can support or refute it through scientific research methods (such as experiments, observations, and statistical analysis of data).

Variables in hypotheses

Hypotheses propose a relationship between two or more variables . An independent variable is something the researcher changes or controls. A dependent variable is something the researcher observes and measures.

In this example, the independent variable is exposure to the sun – the assumed cause . The dependent variable is the level of happiness – the assumed effect .

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Step 1: ask a question.

Writing a hypothesis begins with a research question that you want to answer. The question should be focused, specific, and researchable within the constraints of your project.

Step 2: Do some preliminary research

Your initial answer to the question should be based on what is already known about the topic. Look for theories and previous studies to help you form educated assumptions about what your research will find.

At this stage, you might construct a conceptual framework to identify which variables you will study and what you think the relationships are between them. Sometimes, you’ll have to operationalise more complex constructs.

Step 3: Formulate your hypothesis

Now you should have some idea of what you expect to find. Write your initial answer to the question in a clear, concise sentence.

Step 4: Refine your hypothesis

You need to make sure your hypothesis is specific and testable. There are various ways of phrasing a hypothesis, but all the terms you use should have clear definitions, and the hypothesis should contain:

  • The relevant variables
  • The specific group being studied
  • The predicted outcome of the experiment or analysis

Step 5: Phrase your hypothesis in three ways

To identify the variables, you can write a simple prediction in if … then form. The first part of the sentence states the independent variable and the second part states the dependent variable.

In academic research, hypotheses are more commonly phrased in terms of correlations or effects, where you directly state the predicted relationship between variables.

If you are comparing two groups, the hypothesis can state what difference you expect to find between them.

Step 6. Write a null hypothesis

If your research involves statistical hypothesis testing , you will also have to write a null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is the default position that there is no association between the variables. The null hypothesis is written as H 0 , while the alternative hypothesis is H 1 or H a .

Hypothesis testing is a formal procedure for investigating our ideas about the world using statistics. It is used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses , by calculating how likely it is that a pattern or relationship between variables could have arisen by chance.

A hypothesis is not just a guess. It should be based on existing theories and knowledge. It also has to be testable, which means you can support or refute it through scientific research methods (such as experiments, observations, and statistical analysis of data).

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (‘ x affects y because …’).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses. In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

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How to Develop a Good Research Hypothesis

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The story of a research study begins by asking a question. Researchers all around the globe are asking curious questions and formulating research hypothesis. However, whether the research study provides an effective conclusion depends on how well one develops a good research hypothesis. Research hypothesis examples could help researchers get an idea as to how to write a good research hypothesis.

This blog will help you understand what is a research hypothesis, its characteristics and, how to formulate a research hypothesis

Table of Contents

What is Hypothesis?

Hypothesis is an assumption or an idea proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested. It is a precise, testable statement of what the researchers predict will be outcome of the study.  Hypothesis usually involves proposing a relationship between two variables: the independent variable (what the researchers change) and the dependent variable (what the research measures).

What is a Research Hypothesis?

Research hypothesis is a statement that introduces a research question and proposes an expected result. It is an integral part of the scientific method that forms the basis of scientific experiments. Therefore, you need to be careful and thorough when building your research hypothesis. A minor flaw in the construction of your hypothesis could have an adverse effect on your experiment. In research, there is a convention that the hypothesis is written in two forms, the null hypothesis, and the alternative hypothesis (called the experimental hypothesis when the method of investigation is an experiment).

Characteristics of a Good Research Hypothesis

As the hypothesis is specific, there is a testable prediction about what you expect to happen in a study. You may consider drawing hypothesis from previously published research based on the theory.

A good research hypothesis involves more effort than just a guess. In particular, your hypothesis may begin with a question that could be further explored through background research.

To help you formulate a promising research hypothesis, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the language clear and focused?
  • What is the relationship between your hypothesis and your research topic?
  • Is your hypothesis testable? If yes, then how?
  • What are the possible explanations that you might want to explore?
  • Does your hypothesis include both an independent and dependent variable?
  • Can you manipulate your variables without hampering the ethical standards?
  • Does your research predict the relationship and outcome?
  • Is your research simple and concise (avoids wordiness)?
  • Is it clear with no ambiguity or assumptions about the readers’ knowledge
  • Is your research observable and testable results?
  • Is it relevant and specific to the research question or problem?

research hypothesis example

The questions listed above can be used as a checklist to make sure your hypothesis is based on a solid foundation. Furthermore, it can help you identify weaknesses in your hypothesis and revise it if necessary.

Source: Educational Hub

How to formulate a research hypothesis.

A testable hypothesis is not a simple statement. It is rather an intricate statement that needs to offer a clear introduction to a scientific experiment, its intentions, and the possible outcomes. However, there are some important things to consider when building a compelling hypothesis.

1. State the problem that you are trying to solve.

Make sure that the hypothesis clearly defines the topic and the focus of the experiment.

2. Try to write the hypothesis as an if-then statement.

Follow this template: If a specific action is taken, then a certain outcome is expected.

3. Define the variables

Independent variables are the ones that are manipulated, controlled, or changed. Independent variables are isolated from other factors of the study.

Dependent variables , as the name suggests are dependent on other factors of the study. They are influenced by the change in independent variable.

4. Scrutinize the hypothesis

Evaluate assumptions, predictions, and evidence rigorously to refine your understanding.

Types of Research Hypothesis

The types of research hypothesis are stated below:

1. Simple Hypothesis

It predicts the relationship between a single dependent variable and a single independent variable.

2. Complex Hypothesis

It predicts the relationship between two or more independent and dependent variables.

3. Directional Hypothesis

It specifies the expected direction to be followed to determine the relationship between variables and is derived from theory. Furthermore, it implies the researcher’s intellectual commitment to a particular outcome.

4. Non-directional Hypothesis

It does not predict the exact direction or nature of the relationship between the two variables. The non-directional hypothesis is used when there is no theory involved or when findings contradict previous research.

5. Associative and Causal Hypothesis

The associative hypothesis defines interdependency between variables. A change in one variable results in the change of the other variable. On the other hand, the causal hypothesis proposes an effect on the dependent due to manipulation of the independent variable.

6. Null Hypothesis

Null hypothesis states a negative statement to support the researcher’s findings that there is no relationship between two variables. There will be no changes in the dependent variable due the manipulation of the independent variable. Furthermore, it states results are due to chance and are not significant in terms of supporting the idea being investigated.

7. Alternative Hypothesis

It states that there is a relationship between the two variables of the study and that the results are significant to the research topic. An experimental hypothesis predicts what changes will take place in the dependent variable when the independent variable is manipulated. Also, it states that the results are not due to chance and that they are significant in terms of supporting the theory being investigated.

Research Hypothesis Examples of Independent and Dependent Variables

Research Hypothesis Example 1 The greater number of coal plants in a region (independent variable) increases water pollution (dependent variable). If you change the independent variable (building more coal factories), it will change the dependent variable (amount of water pollution).
Research Hypothesis Example 2 What is the effect of diet or regular soda (independent variable) on blood sugar levels (dependent variable)? If you change the independent variable (the type of soda you consume), it will change the dependent variable (blood sugar levels)

You should not ignore the importance of the above steps. The validity of your experiment and its results rely on a robust testable hypothesis. Developing a strong testable hypothesis has few advantages, it compels us to think intensely and specifically about the outcomes of a study. Consequently, it enables us to understand the implication of the question and the different variables involved in the study. Furthermore, it helps us to make precise predictions based on prior research. Hence, forming a hypothesis would be of great value to the research. Here are some good examples of testable hypotheses.

More importantly, you need to build a robust testable research hypothesis for your scientific experiments. A testable hypothesis is a hypothesis that can be proved or disproved as a result of experimentation.

Importance of a Testable Hypothesis

To devise and perform an experiment using scientific method, you need to make sure that your hypothesis is testable. To be considered testable, some essential criteria must be met:

  • There must be a possibility to prove that the hypothesis is true.
  • There must be a possibility to prove that the hypothesis is false.
  • The results of the hypothesis must be reproducible.

Without these criteria, the hypothesis and the results will be vague. As a result, the experiment will not prove or disprove anything significant.

What are your experiences with building hypotheses for scientific experiments? What challenges did you face? How did you overcome these challenges? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

Frequently Asked Questions

The steps to write a research hypothesis are: 1. Stating the problem: Ensure that the hypothesis defines the research problem 2. Writing a hypothesis as an 'if-then' statement: Include the action and the expected outcome of your study by following a ‘if-then’ structure. 3. Defining the variables: Define the variables as Dependent or Independent based on their dependency to other factors. 4. Scrutinizing the hypothesis: Identify the type of your hypothesis

Hypothesis testing is a statistical tool which is used to make inferences about a population data to draw conclusions for a particular hypothesis.

Hypothesis in statistics is a formal statement about the nature of a population within a structured framework of a statistical model. It is used to test an existing hypothesis by studying a population.

Research hypothesis is a statement that introduces a research question and proposes an expected result. It forms the basis of scientific experiments.

The different types of hypothesis in research are: • Null hypothesis: Null hypothesis is a negative statement to support the researcher’s findings that there is no relationship between two variables. • Alternate hypothesis: Alternate hypothesis predicts the relationship between the two variables of the study. • Directional hypothesis: Directional hypothesis specifies the expected direction to be followed to determine the relationship between variables. • Non-directional hypothesis: Non-directional hypothesis does not predict the exact direction or nature of the relationship between the two variables. • Simple hypothesis: Simple hypothesis predicts the relationship between a single dependent variable and a single independent variable. • Complex hypothesis: Complex hypothesis predicts the relationship between two or more independent and dependent variables. • Associative and casual hypothesis: Associative and casual hypothesis predicts the relationship between two or more independent and dependent variables. • Empirical hypothesis: Empirical hypothesis can be tested via experiments and observation. • Statistical hypothesis: A statistical hypothesis utilizes statistical models to draw conclusions about broader populations.

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Wow! You really simplified your explanation that even dummies would find it easy to comprehend. Thank you so much.

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I enjoy reading the post. Hypotheses are actually an intrinsic part in a study. It bridges the research question and the methodology of the study.

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It very interesting to read the topic, can you guide me any specific example of hypothesis process establish throw the Demand and supply of the specific product in market

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What is and How to Write a Good Hypothesis in Research?

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Table of Contents

One of the most important aspects of conducting research is constructing a strong hypothesis. But what makes a hypothesis in research effective? In this article, we’ll look at the difference between a hypothesis and a research question, as well as the elements of a good hypothesis in research. We’ll also include some examples of effective hypotheses, and what pitfalls to avoid.

What is a Hypothesis in Research?

Simply put, a hypothesis is a research question that also includes the predicted or expected result of the research. Without a hypothesis, there can be no basis for a scientific or research experiment. As such, it is critical that you carefully construct your hypothesis by being deliberate and thorough, even before you set pen to paper. Unless your hypothesis is clearly and carefully constructed, any flaw can have an adverse, and even grave, effect on the quality of your experiment and its subsequent results.

Research Question vs Hypothesis

It’s easy to confuse research questions with hypotheses, and vice versa. While they’re both critical to the Scientific Method, they have very specific differences. Primarily, a research question, just like a hypothesis, is focused and concise. But a hypothesis includes a prediction based on the proposed research, and is designed to forecast the relationship of and between two (or more) variables. Research questions are open-ended, and invite debate and discussion, while hypotheses are closed, e.g. “The relationship between A and B will be C.”

A hypothesis is generally used if your research topic is fairly well established, and you are relatively certain about the relationship between the variables that will be presented in your research. Since a hypothesis is ideally suited for experimental studies, it will, by its very existence, affect the design of your experiment. The research question is typically used for new topics that have not yet been researched extensively. Here, the relationship between different variables is less known. There is no prediction made, but there may be variables explored. The research question can be casual in nature, simply trying to understand if a relationship even exists, descriptive or comparative.

How to Write Hypothesis in Research

Writing an effective hypothesis starts before you even begin to type. Like any task, preparation is key, so you start first by conducting research yourself, and reading all you can about the topic that you plan to research. From there, you’ll gain the knowledge you need to understand where your focus within the topic will lie.

Remember that a hypothesis is a prediction of the relationship that exists between two or more variables. Your job is to write a hypothesis, and design the research, to “prove” whether or not your prediction is correct. A common pitfall is to use judgments that are subjective and inappropriate for the construction of a hypothesis. It’s important to keep the focus and language of your hypothesis objective.

An effective hypothesis in research is clearly and concisely written, and any terms or definitions clarified and defined. Specific language must also be used to avoid any generalities or assumptions.

Use the following points as a checklist to evaluate the effectiveness of your research hypothesis:

  • Predicts the relationship and outcome
  • Simple and concise – avoid wordiness
  • Clear with no ambiguity or assumptions about the readers’ knowledge
  • Observable and testable results
  • Relevant and specific to the research question or problem

Research Hypothesis Example

Perhaps the best way to evaluate whether or not your hypothesis is effective is to compare it to those of your colleagues in the field. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to writing a powerful research hypothesis. As you’re reading and preparing your hypothesis, you’ll also read other hypotheses. These can help guide you on what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to writing a strong research hypothesis.

Here are a few generic examples to get you started.

Eating an apple each day, after the age of 60, will result in a reduction of frequency of physician visits.

Budget airlines are more likely to receive more customer complaints. A budget airline is defined as an airline that offers lower fares and fewer amenities than a traditional full-service airline. (Note that the term “budget airline” is included in the hypothesis.

Workplaces that offer flexible working hours report higher levels of employee job satisfaction than workplaces with fixed hours.

Each of the above examples are specific, observable and measurable, and the statement of prediction can be verified or shown to be false by utilizing standard experimental practices. It should be noted, however, that often your hypothesis will change as your research progresses.

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How to Write a Hypothesis – Steps & Tips

Published by Alaxendra Bets at August 14th, 2021 , Revised On October 26, 2023

What is a Research Hypothesis?

You can test a research statement with the help of experimental or theoretical research, known as a hypothesis.

If you want to find out the similarities, differences, and relationships between variables, you must write a testable hypothesis before compiling the data, performing analysis, and generating results to complete.

The data analysis and findings will help you test the hypothesis and see whether it is true or false. Here is all you need to know about how to write a hypothesis for a  dissertation .

Research Hypothesis Definition

Not sure what the meaning of the research hypothesis is?

A research hypothesis predicts an answer to the research question  based on existing theoretical knowledge or experimental data.

Some studies may have multiple hypothesis statements depending on the research question(s).  A research hypothesis must be based on formulas, facts, and theories. It should be testable by data analysis, observations, experiments, or other scientific methodologies that can refute or support the statement.

Variables in Hypothesis

Developing a hypothesis is easy. Most research studies have two or more variables in the hypothesis, particularly studies involving correlational and experimental research. The researcher can control or change the independent variable(s) while measuring and observing the independent variable(s).

“How long a student sleeps affects test scores.”

In the above statement, the dependent variable is the test score, while the independent variable is the length of time spent in sleep. Developing a hypothesis will be easy if you know your research’s dependent and independent variables.

Once you have developed a thesis statement, questions such as how to write a hypothesis for the dissertation and how to test a research hypothesis become pretty straightforward.

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Step-by-Step Guide on How to Write a Hypothesis

Here are the steps involved in how to write a hypothesis for a dissertation.

Step 1: Start with a Research Question

  • Begin by asking a specific question about a topic of interest.
  • This question should be clear, concise, and researchable.

Example: Does exposure to sunlight affect plant growth?

Step 2: Do Preliminary Research

  • Before formulating a hypothesis, conduct background research to understand existing knowledge on the topic.
  • Familiarise yourself with prior studies, theories, or observations related to the research question.

Step 3: Define Variables

  • Independent Variable (IV): The factor that you change or manipulate in an experiment.
  • Dependent Variable (DV): The factor that you measure.

Example: IV: Amount of sunlight exposure (e.g., 2 hours/day, 4 hours/day, 8 hours/day) DV: Plant growth (e.g., height in centimetres)

Step 4: Formulate the Hypothesis

  • A hypothesis is a statement that predicts the relationship between variables.
  • It is often written as an “if-then” statement.

Example: If plants receive more sunlight, then they will grow taller.

Step 5: Ensure it is Testable

A good hypothesis is empirically testable. This means you should be able to design an experiment or observation to test its validity.

Example: You can set up an experiment where plants are exposed to varying amounts of sunlight and then measure their growth over a period of time.

Step 6: Consider Potential Confounding Variables

  • Confounding variables are factors other than the independent variable that might affect the outcome.
  • It is important to identify these to ensure that they do not skew your results.

Example: Soil quality, water frequency, or type of plant can all affect growth. Consider keeping these constant in your experiment.

Step 7: Write the Null Hypothesis

  • The null hypothesis is a statement that there is no effect or no relationship between the variables.
  • It is what you aim to disprove or reject through your research.

Example: There is no difference in plant growth regardless of the amount of sunlight exposure.

Step 8: Test your Hypothesis

Design an experiment or conduct observations to test your hypothesis.

Example: Grow three sets of plants: one set exposed to 2 hours of sunlight daily, another exposed to 4 hours, and a third exposed to 8 hours. Measure and compare their growth after a set period.

Step 9: Analyse the Results

After testing, review your data to determine if it supports your hypothesis.

Step 10: Draw Conclusions

  • Based on your findings, determine whether you can accept or reject the hypothesis.
  • Remember, even if you reject your hypothesis, it’s a valuable result. It can guide future research and refine questions.

Three Ways to Phrase a Hypothesis

Try to use “if”… and “then”… to identify the variables. The independent variable should be present in the first part of the hypothesis, while the dependent variable will form the second part of the statement. Consider understanding the below research hypothesis example to create a specific, clear, and concise research hypothesis;

If an obese lady starts attending Zomba fitness classes, her health will improve.

In academic research, you can write the predicted variable relationship directly because most research studies correlate terms.

The number of Zomba fitness classes attended by the obese lady has a positive effect on health.

If your research compares two groups, then you can develop a hypothesis statement on their differences.

An obese lady who attended most Zumba fitness classes will have better health than those who attended a few.

How to Write a Null Hypothesis

If a statistical analysis is involved in your research, then you must create a null hypothesis. If you find any relationship between the variables, then the null hypothesis will be the default position that there is no relationship between them. H0 is the symbol for the null hypothesis, while the hypothesis is represented as H1. The null hypothesis will also answer your question, “How to test the research hypothesis in the dissertation.”

H0: The number of Zumba fitness classes attended by the obese lady does not affect her health.

H1: The number of Zumba fitness classes attended by obese lady positively affects health.

Also see:  Your Dissertation in Education

Hypothesis Examples

Research Question: Does the amount of sunlight a plant receives affect its growth? Hypothesis: Plants that receive more sunlight will grow taller than plants that receive less sunlight.

Research Question: Do students who eat breakfast perform better in school exams than those who don’t? Hypothesis: Students who eat a morning breakfast will score higher on school exams compared to students who skip breakfast.

Research Question: Does listening to music while studying impact a student’s ability to retain information? Hypothesis 1 (Directional): Students who listen to music while studying will retain less information than those who study in silence. Hypothesis 2 (Non-directional): There will be a difference in information retention between students who listen to music while studying and those who study in silence.

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If you are unsure about how to rest a research hypothesis in a dissertation or simply unsure about how to develop a hypothesis for your research, then you can take advantage of our dissertation services which cover every tiny aspect of a dissertation project you might need help with including but not limited to setting up a hypothesis and research questions,  help with individual chapters ,  full dissertation writing ,  statistical analysis , and much more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 rules for writing a good hypothesis.

  • Clear Statement: State a clear relationship between variables.
  • Testable: Ensure it can be investigated and measured.
  • Specific: Avoid vague terms, be precise in predictions.
  • Falsifiable: Design to allow potential disproof.
  • Relevant: Address research question and align with existing knowledge.

What is a hypothesis in simple words?

A hypothesis is an educated guess or prediction about something that can be tested. It is a statement that suggests a possible explanation for an event or phenomenon based on prior knowledge or observation. Scientists use hypotheses as a starting point for experiments to discover if they are true or false.

What is the hypothesis and examples?

A hypothesis is a testable prediction or explanation for an observation or phenomenon. For example, if plants are given sunlight, then they will grow. In this case, the hypothesis suggests that sunlight has a positive effect on plant growth. It can be tested by experimenting with plants in varying light conditions.

What is the hypothesis in research definition?

A hypothesis in research is a clear, testable statement predicting the possible outcome of a study based on prior knowledge and observation. It serves as the foundation for conducting experiments or investigations. Researchers test the validity of the hypothesis to draw conclusions and advance knowledge in a particular field.

Why is it called a hypothesis?

The term “hypothesis” originates from the Greek word “hypothesis,” which means “base” or “foundation.” It’s used to describe a foundational statement or proposition that can be tested. In scientific contexts, it denotes a tentative explanation for a phenomenon, serving as a starting point for investigation or experimentation.

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Doing Research: A New Researcher’s Guide pp 17–49 Cite as

How Do You Formulate (Important) Hypotheses?

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  • First Online: 03 December 2022

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Part of the Research in Mathematics Education book series (RME)

Building on the ideas in Chap. 1, we describe formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses as a continuing cycle of clarifying what you want to study, making predictions about what you might find together with developing your reasons for these predictions, imagining tests of these predictions, revising your predictions and rationales, and so on. Many resources feed this process, including reading what others have found about similar phenomena, talking with colleagues, conducting pilot studies, and writing drafts as you revise your thinking. Although you might think you cannot predict what you will find, it is always possible—with enough reading and conversations and pilot studies—to make some good guesses. And, once you guess what you will find and write out the reasons for these guesses you are on your way to scientific inquiry. As you refine your hypotheses, you can assess their research importance by asking how connected they are to problems your research community really wants to solve.

Download chapter PDF

Part I. Getting Started

We want to begin by addressing a question you might have had as you read the title of this chapter. You are likely to hear, or read in other sources, that the research process begins by asking research questions . For reasons we gave in Chap. 1 , and more we will describe in this and later chapters, we emphasize formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses. However, it is important to know that asking and answering research questions involve many of the same activities, so we are not describing a completely different process.

We acknowledge that many researchers do not actually begin by formulating hypotheses. In other words, researchers rarely get a researchable idea by writing out a well-formulated hypothesis. Instead, their initial ideas for what they study come from a variety of sources. Then, after they have the idea for a study, they do lots of background reading and thinking and talking before they are ready to formulate a hypothesis. So, for readers who are at the very beginning and do not yet have an idea for a study, let’s back up. Where do research ideas come from?

There are no formulas or algorithms that spawn a researchable idea. But as you begin the process, you can ask yourself some questions. Your answers to these questions can help you move forward.

What are you curious about? What are you passionate about? What have you wondered about as an educator? These are questions that look inward, questions about yourself.

What do you think are the most pressing educational problems? Which problems are you in the best position to address? What change(s) do you think would help all students learn more productively? These are questions that look outward, questions about phenomena you have observed.

What are the main areas of research in the field? What are the big questions that are being asked? These are questions about the general landscape of the field.

What have you read about in the research literature that caught your attention? What have you read that prompted you to think about extending the profession’s knowledge about this? What have you read that made you ask, “I wonder why this is true?” These are questions about how you can build on what is known in the field.

What are some research questions or testable hypotheses that have been identified by other researchers for future research? This, too, is a question about how you can build on what is known in the field. Taking up such questions or hypotheses can help by providing some existing scaffolding that others have constructed.

What research is being done by your immediate colleagues or your advisor that is of interest to you? These are questions about topics for which you will likely receive local support.

Exercise 2.1

Brainstorm some answers for each set of questions. Record them. Then step back and look at the places of intersection. Did you have similar answers across several questions? Write out, as clearly as you can, the topic that captures your primary interest, at least at this point. We will give you a chance to update your responses as you study this book.

Part II. Paths from a General Interest to an Informed Hypothesis

There are many different paths you might take from conceiving an idea for a study, maybe even a vague idea, to formulating a prediction that leads to an informed hypothesis that can be tested. We will explore some of the paths we recommend.

We will assume you have completed Exercise 2.1 in Part I and have some written answers to the six questions that preceded it as well as a statement that describes your topic of interest. This very first statement could take several different forms: a description of a problem you want to study, a question you want to address, or a hypothesis you want to test. We recommend that you begin with one of these three forms, the one that makes most sense to you. There is an advantage to using all three and flexibly choosing the one that is most meaningful at the time and for a particular study. You can then move from one to the other as you think more about your research study and you develop your initial idea. To get a sense of how the process might unfold, consider the following alternative paths.

Beginning with a Prediction If You Have One

Sometimes, when you notice an educational problem or have a question about an educational situation or phenomenon, you quickly have an idea that might help solve the problem or answer the question. Here are three examples.

You are a teacher, and you noticed a problem with the way the textbook presented two related concepts in two consecutive lessons. Almost as soon as you noticed the problem, it occurred to you that the two lessons could be taught more effectively in the reverse order. You predicted better outcomes if the order was reversed, and you even had a preliminary rationale for why this would be true.

You are a graduate student and you read that students often misunderstand a particular aspect of graphing linear functions. You predicted that, by listening to small groups of students working together, you could hear new details that would help you understand this misconception.

You are a curriculum supervisor and you observed sixth-grade classrooms where students were learning about decimal fractions. After talking with several experienced teachers, you predicted that beginning with percentages might be a good way to introduce students to decimal fractions.

We begin with the path of making predictions because we see the other two paths as leading into this one at some point in the process (see Fig. 2.1 ). Starting with this path does not mean you did not sense a problem you wanted to solve or a question you wanted to answer.

The process flow diagram of initiation of hypothesis. It starts with a problem situation and leads to a prediction following the question to the hypothesis.

Three Pathways to Formulating Informed Hypotheses

Notice that your predictions can come from a variety of sources—your own experience, reading, and talking with colleagues. Most likely, as you write out your predictions you also think about the educational problem for which your prediction is a potential solution. Writing a clear description of the problem will be useful as you proceed. Notice also that it is easy to change each of your predictions into a question. When you formulate a prediction, you are actually answering a question, even though the question might be implicit. Making that implicit question explicit can generate a first draft of the research question that accompanies your prediction. For example, suppose you are the curriculum supervisor who predicts that teaching percentages first would be a good way to introduce decimal fractions. In an obvious shift in form, you could ask, “In what ways would teaching percentages benefit students’ initial learning of decimal fractions?”

The picture has a difference between a question and a prediction: a question simply asks what you will find whereas a prediction also says what you expect to find; written.

There are advantages to starting with the prediction form if you can make an educated guess about what you will find. Making a prediction forces you to think now about several things you will need to think about at some point anyway. It is better to think about them earlier rather than later. If you state your prediction clearly and explicitly, you can begin to ask yourself three questions about your prediction: Why do I expect to observe what I am predicting? Why did I make that prediction? (These two questions essentially ask what your rationale is for your prediction.) And, how can I test to see if it’s right? This is where the benefits of making predictions begin.

Asking yourself why you predicted what you did, and then asking yourself why you answered the first “why” question as you did, can be a powerful chain of thought that lays the groundwork for an increasingly accurate prediction and an increasingly well-reasoned rationale. For example, suppose you are the curriculum supervisor above who predicted that beginning by teaching percentages would be a good way to introduce students to decimal fractions. Why did you make this prediction? Maybe because students are familiar with percentages in everyday life so they could use what they know to anchor their thinking about hundredths. Why would that be helpful? Because if students could connect hundredths in percentage form with hundredths in decimal fraction form, they could bring their meaning of percentages into decimal fractions. But how would that help? If students understood that a decimal fraction like 0.35 meant 35 of 100, then they could use their understanding of hundredths to explore the meaning of tenths, thousandths, and so on. Why would that be useful? By continuing to ask yourself why you gave the previous answer, you can begin building your rationale and, as you build your rationale, you will find yourself revisiting your prediction, often making it more precise and explicit. If you were the curriculum supervisor and continued the reasoning in the previous sentences, you might elaborate your prediction by specifying the way in which percentages should be taught in order to have a positive effect on particular aspects of students’ understanding of decimal fractions.

Developing a Rationale for Your Predictions

Keeping your initial predictions in mind, you can read what others already know about the phenomenon. Your reading can now become targeted with a clear purpose.

By reading and talking with colleagues, you can develop more complete reasons for your predictions. It is likely that you will also decide to revise your predictions based on what you learn from your reading. As you develop sound reasons for your predictions, you are creating your rationales, and your predictions together with your rationales become your hypotheses. The more you learn about what is already known about your research topic, the more refined will be your predictions and the clearer and more complete your rationales. We will use the term more informed hypotheses to describe this evolution of your hypotheses.

The picture says you develop sound reasons for your predictions, you are creating your rationales, and your predictions together with your rationales become your hypotheses.

Developing more informed hypotheses is a good thing because it means: (1) you understand the reasons for your predictions; (2) you will be able to imagine how you can test your hypotheses; (3) you can more easily convince your colleagues that they are important hypotheses—they are hypotheses worth testing; and (4) at the end of your study, you will be able to more easily interpret the results of your test and to revise your hypotheses to demonstrate what you have learned by conducting the study.

Imagining Testing Your Hypotheses

Because we have tied together predictions and rationales to constitute hypotheses, testing hypotheses means testing predictions and rationales. Testing predictions means comparing empirical observations, or findings, with the predictions. Testing rationales means using these comparisons to evaluate the adequacy or soundness of the rationales.

Imagining how you might test your hypotheses does not mean working out the details for exactly how you would test them. Rather, it means thinking ahead about how you could do this. Recall the descriptor of scientific inquiry: “experience carefully planned in advance” (Fisher, 1935). Asking whether predictions are testable and whether rationales can be evaluated is simply planning in advance.

You might read that testing hypotheses means simply assessing whether predictions are correct or incorrect. In our view, it is more useful to think of testing as a means of gathering enough information to compare your findings with your predictions, revise your rationales, and propose more accurate predictions. So, asking yourself whether hypotheses can be tested means asking whether information could be collected to assess the accuracy of your predictions and whether the information will show you how to revise your rationales to sharpen your predictions.

Cycles of Building Rationales and Planning to Test Your Predictions

Scientific reasoning is a dialogue between the possible and the actual, an interplay between hypotheses and the logical expectations they give rise to: there is a restless to-and-fro motion of thought, the formulation and rectification of hypotheses (Medawar, 1982 , p.72).

As you ask yourself about how you could test your predictions, you will inevitably revise your rationales and sharpen your predictions. Your hypotheses will become more informed, more targeted, and more explicit. They will make clearer to you and others what, exactly, you plan to study.

When will you know that your hypotheses are clear and precise enough? Because of the way we define hypotheses, this question asks about both rationales and predictions. If a rationale you are building lets you make a number of quite different predictions that are equally plausible rather than a single, primary prediction, then your hypothesis needs further refinement by building a more complete and precise rationale. Also, if you cannot briefly describe to your colleagues a believable way to test your prediction, then you need to phrase it more clearly and precisely.

Each time you strengthen your rationales, you might need to adjust your predictions. And, each time you clarify your predictions, you might need to adjust your rationales. The cycle of going back and forth to keep your predictions and rationales tightly aligned has many payoffs down the road. Every decision you make from this point on will be in the interests of providing a transparent and convincing test of your hypotheses and explaining how the results of your test dictate specific revisions to your hypotheses. As you make these decisions (described in the succeeding chapters), you will probably return to clarify your hypotheses even further. But, you will be in a much better position, at each point, if you begin with well-informed hypotheses.

Beginning by Asking Questions to Clarify Your Interests

Instead of starting with predictions, a second path you might take devotes more time at the beginning to asking questions as you zero in on what you want to study. Some researchers suggest you start this way (e.g., Gournelos et al., 2019 ). Specifically, with this second path, the first statement you write to express your research interest would be a question. For example, you might ask, “Why do ninth-grade students change the way they think about linear equations after studying quadratic equations?” or “How do first graders solve simple arithmetic problems before they have been taught to add and subtract?”

The first phrasing of your question might be quite general or vague. As you think about your question and what you really want to know, you are likely to ask follow-up questions. These questions will almost always be more specific than your first question. The questions will also express more clearly what you want to know. So, the question “How do first graders solve simple arithmetic problems before they have been taught to add and subtract” might evolve into “Before first graders have been taught to solve arithmetic problems, what strategies do they use to solve arithmetic problems with sums and products below 20?” As you read and learn about what others already know about your questions, you will continually revise your questions toward clearer and more explicit and more precise versions that zero in on what you really want to know. The question above might become, “Before they are taught to solve arithmetic problems, what strategies do beginning first graders use to solve arithmetic problems with sums and products below 20 if they are read story problems and given physical counters to help them keep track of the quantities?”

Imagining Answers to Your Questions

If you monitor your own thinking as you ask questions, you are likely to begin forming some guesses about answers, even to the early versions of the questions. What do students learn about quadratic functions that influences changes in their proportional reasoning when dealing with linear functions? It could be that if you analyze the moments during instruction on quadratic equations that are extensions of the proportional reasoning involved in solving linear equations, there are times when students receive further experience reasoning proportionally. You might predict that these are the experiences that have a “backward transfer” effect (Hohensee, 2014 ).

These initial guesses about answers to your questions are your first predictions. The first predicted answers are likely to be hunches or fuzzy, vague guesses. This simply means you do not know very much yet about the question you are asking. Your first predictions, no matter how unfocused or tentative, represent the most you know at the time about the question you are asking. They help you gauge where you are in your thinking.

Shifting to the Hypothesis Formulation and Testing Path

Research questions can play an important role in the research process. They provide a succinct way of capturing your research interests and communicating them to others. When colleagues want to know about your work, they will often ask “What are your research questions?” It is good to have a ready answer.

However, research questions have limitations. They do not capture the three images of scientific inquiry presented in Chap. 1 . Due, in part, to this less expansive depiction of the process, research questions do not take you very far. They do not provide a guide that leads you through the phases of conducting a study.

Consequently, when you can imagine an answer to your research question, we recommend that you move onto the hypothesis formulation and testing path. Imagining an answer to your question means you can make plausible predictions. You can now begin clarifying the reasons for your predictions and transform your early predictions into hypotheses (predictions along with rationales). We recommend you do this as soon as you have guesses about the answers to your questions because formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses offers a tool that puts you squarely on the path of scientific inquiry. It is a tool that can guide you through the entire process of conducting a research study.

This does not mean you are finished asking questions. Predictions are often created as answers to questions. So, we encourage you to continue asking questions to clarify what you want to know. But your target shifts from only asking questions to also proposing predictions for the answers and developing reasons the answers will be accurate predictions. It is by predicting answers, and explaining why you made those predictions, that you become engaged in scientific inquiry.

Cycles of Refining Questions and Predicting Answers

An example might provide a sense of how this process plays out. Suppose you are reading about Vygotsky’s ( 1987 ) zone of proximal development (ZPD), and you realize this concept might help you understand why your high school students had trouble learning exponential functions. Maybe they were outside this zone when you tried to teach exponential functions. In order to recognize students who would benefit from instruction, you might ask, “How can I identify students who are within the ZPD around exponential functions?” What would you predict? Maybe students in this ZPD are those who already had knowledge of related functions. You could write out some reasons for this prediction, like “students who understand linear and quadratic functions are more likely to extend their knowledge to exponential functions.” But what kind of data would you need to test this? What would count as “understanding”? Are linear and quadratic the functions you should assess? Even if they are, how could you tell whether students who scored well on tests of linear and quadratic functions were within the ZPD of exponential functions? How, in the end, would you measure what it means to be in this ZPD? So, asking a series of reasonable questions raised some red flags about the way your initial question was phrased, and you decide to revise it.

You set the stage for revising your question by defining ZPD as the zone within which students can solve an exponential function problem by making only one additional conceptual connection between what they already know and exponential functions. Your revised question is, “Based on students’ knowledge of linear and quadratic functions, which students are within the ZPD of exponential functions?” This time you know what kind of data you need: the number of conceptual connections students need to bridge from their knowledge of related functions to exponential functions. How can you collect these data? Would you need to see into the minds of the students? Or, are there ways to test the number of conceptual connections someone makes to move from one topic to another? Do methods exist for gathering these data? You decide this is not realistic, so you now have a choice: revise the question further or move your research in a different direction.

Notice that we do not use the term research question for all these early versions of questions that begin clarifying for yourself what you want to study. These early versions are too vague and general to be called research questions. In this book, we save the term research question for a question that comes near the end of the work and captures exactly what you want to study . By the time you are ready to specify a research question, you will be thinking about your study in terms of hypotheses and tests. When your hypotheses are in final form and include clear predictions about what you will find, it will be easy to state the research questions that accompany your predictions.

To reiterate one of the key points of this chapter: hypotheses carry much more information than research questions. Using our definition, hypotheses include predictions about what the answer might be to the question plus reasons for why you think so. Unlike research questions, hypotheses capture all three images of scientific inquiry presented in Chap. 1 (planning, observing and explaining, and revising one’s thinking). Your hypotheses represent the most you know, at the moment, about your research topic. The same cannot be said for research questions.

Beginning with a Research Problem

When you wrote answers to the six questions at the end of Part I of this chapter, you might have identified a research interest by stating it as a problem. This is the third path you might take to begin your research. Perhaps your description of your problem might look something like this: “When I tried to teach my middle school students by presenting them with a challenging problem without showing them how to solve similar problems, they didn’t exert much effort trying to find a solution but instead waited for me to show them how to solve the problem.” You do not have a specific question in mind, and you do not have an idea for why the problem exists, so you do not have a prediction about how to solve it. Writing a statement of this problem as clearly as possible could be the first step in your research journey.

As you think more about this problem, it will feel natural to ask questions about it. For example, why did some students show more initiative than others? What could I have done to get them started? How could I have encouraged the students to keep trying without giving away the solution? You are now on the path of asking questions—not research questions yet, but questions that are helping you focus your interest.

As you continue to think about these questions, reflect on your own experience, and read what others know about this problem, you will likely develop some guesses about the answers to the questions. They might be somewhat vague answers, and you might not have lots of confidence they are correct, but they are guesses that you can turn into predictions. Now you are on the hypothesis-formulation-and-testing path. This means you are on the path of asking yourself why you believe the predictions are correct, developing rationales for the predictions, asking what kinds of empirical observations would test your predictions, and refining your rationales and predictions as you read the literature and talk with colleagues.

A simple diagram that summarizes the three paths we have described is shown in Fig. 2.1 . Each row of arrows represents one pathway for formulating an informed hypothesis. The dotted arrows in the first two rows represent parts of the pathways that a researcher may have implicitly travelled through already (without an intent to form a prediction) but that ultimately inform the researcher’s development of a question or prediction.

Part III. One Researcher’s Experience Launching a Scientific Inquiry

Martha was in her third year of her doctoral program and beginning to identify a topic for her dissertation. Based on (a) her experience as a high school mathematics teacher and a curriculum supervisor, (b) the reading she has done to this point, and (c) her conversations with her colleagues, she has developed an interest in what kinds of professional development experiences (let’s call them learning opportunities [LOs] for teachers) are most effective. Where does she go from here?

Exercise 2.2

Before you continue reading, please write down some suggestions for Martha about where she should start.

A natural thing for Martha to do at this point is to ask herself some additional questions, questions that specify further what she wants to learn: What kinds of LOs do most teachers experience? How do these experiences change teachers’ practices and beliefs? Are some LOs more effective than others? What makes them more effective?

To focus her questions and decide what she really wants to know, she continues reading but now targets her reading toward everything she can find that suggests possible answers to these questions. She also talks with her colleagues to get more ideas about possible answers to these or related questions. Over several weeks or months, she finds herself being drawn to questions about what makes LOs effective, especially for helping teachers teach more conceptually. She zeroes in on the question, “What makes LOs for teachers effective for improving their teaching for conceptual understanding?”

This question is more focused than her first questions, but it is still too general for Martha to define a research study. How does she know it is too general? She uses two criteria. First, she notices that the predictions she makes about the answers to the question are all over the place; they are not constrained by the reasons she has assembled for her predictions. One prediction is that LOs are more effective when they help teachers learn content. Martha makes this guess because previous research suggests that effective LOs for teachers include attention to content. But this rationale allows lots of different predictions. For example, LOs are more effective when they focus on the content teachers will teach; LOs are more effective when they focus on content beyond what teachers will teach so teachers see how their instruction fits with what their students will encounter later; and LOs are more effective when they are tailored to the level of content knowledge participants have when they begin the LOs. The rationale she can provide at this point does not point to a particular prediction.

A second measure Martha uses to decide her question is too general is that the predictions she can make regarding the answers seem very difficult to test. How could she test, for example, whether LOs should focus on content beyond what teachers will teach? What does “content beyond what teachers teach” mean? How could you tell whether teachers use their new knowledge of later content to inform their teaching?

Before anticipating what Martha’s next question might be, it is important to pause and recognize how predicting the answers to her questions moved Martha into a new phase in the research process. As she makes predictions, works out the reasons for them, and imagines how she might test them, she is immersed in scientific inquiry. This intellectual work is the main engine that drives the research process. Also notice that revisions in the questions asked, the predictions made, and the rationales built represent the updated thinking (Chap. 1 ) that occurs as Martha continues to define her study.

Based on all these considerations and her continued reading, Martha revises the question again. The question now reads, “Do LOs that engage middle school mathematics teachers in studying mathematics content help teachers teach this same content with more of a conceptual emphasis?” Although she feels like the question is more specific, she realizes that the answer to the question is either “yes” or “no.” This, by itself, is a red flag. Answers of “yes” or “no” would not contribute much to understanding the relationships between these LOs for teachers and changes in their teaching. Recall from Chap. 1 that understanding how things work, explaining why things work, is the goal of scientific inquiry.

Martha continues by trying to understand why she believes the answer is “yes.” When she tries to write out reasons for predicting “yes,” she realizes that her prediction depends on a variety of factors. If teachers already have deep knowledge of the content, the LOs might not affect them as much as other teachers. If the LOs do not help teachers develop their own conceptual understanding, they are not likely to change their teaching. By trying to build the rationale for her prediction—thus formulating a hypothesis—Martha realizes that the question still is not precise and clear enough.

Martha uses what she learned when developing the rationale and rephrases the question as follows: “ Under what conditions do LOs that engage middle school mathematics teachers in studying mathematics content help teachers teach this same content with more of a conceptual emphasis?” Through several additional cycles of thinking through the rationale for her predictions and how she might test them, Martha specifies her question even further: “Under what conditions do middle school teachers who lack conceptual knowledge of linear functions benefit from LOs that engage them in conceptual learning of linear functions as assessed by changes in their teaching toward a more conceptual emphasis on linear functions?”

Each version of Martha’s question has become more specific. This has occurred as she has (a) identified a starting condition for the teachers—they lack conceptual knowledge of linear functions, (b) specified the mathematics content as linear functions, and (c) included a condition or purpose of the LO—it is aimed at conceptual learning.

Because of the way Martha’s question is now phrased, her predictions will require thinking about the conditions that could influence what teachers learn from the LOs and how this learning could affect their teaching. She might predict that if teachers engaged in LOs that extended over multiple sessions, they would develop deeper understanding which would, in turn, prompt changes in their teaching. Or she might predict that if the LOs included examples of how their conceptual learning could translate into different instructional activities for their students, teachers would be more likely to change their teaching. Reasons for these predictions would likely come from research about the effects of professional development on teachers’ practice.

As Martha thinks about testing her predictions, she realizes it will probably be easier to measure the conditions under which teachers are learning than the changes in the conceptual emphasis in their instruction. She makes a note to continue searching the literature for ways to measure the “conceptualness” of teaching.

As she refines her predictions and expresses her reasons for the predictions, she formulates a hypothesis (in this case several hypotheses) that will guide her research. As she makes predictions and develops the rationales for these predictions, she will probably continue revising her question. She might decide, for example, that she is not interested in studying the condition of different numbers of LO sessions and so decides to remove this condition from consideration by including in her question something like “. . . over five 2-hour sessions . . .”

At this point, Martha has developed a research question, articulated a number of predictions, and developed rationales for them. Her current question is: “Under what conditions do middle school teachers who lack conceptual knowledge of linear functions benefit from five 2-hour LO sessions that engage them in conceptual learning of linear functions as assessed by changes in their teaching toward a more conceptual emphasis on linear functions?” Her hypothesis is:

Prediction: Participating teachers will show changes in their teaching with a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding, with larger changes on linear function topics directly addressed in the LOs than on other topics.

Brief Description of Rationale: (1) Past research has shown correlations between teachers’ specific mathematics knowledge of a topic and the quality of their teaching of that topic. This does not mean an increase in knowledge causes higher quality teaching but it allows for that possibility. (2) Transfer is usually difficult for teachers, but the examples developed during the LO sessions will help them use what they learned to teach for conceptual understanding. This is because the examples developed during the LO sessions are much like those that will be used by the teachers. So larger changes will be found when teachers are teaching the linear function topics addressed in the LOs.

Notice it is more straightforward to imagine how Martha could test this prediction because it is more precise than previous predictions. Notice also that by asking how to test a particular prediction, Martha will be faced with a decision about whether testing this prediction will tell her something she wants to learn. If not, she can return to the research question and consider how to specify it further and, perhaps, constrain further the conditions that could affect the data.

As Martha formulates her hypotheses and goes through multiple cycles of refining her question(s), articulating her predictions, and developing her rationales, she is constantly building the theoretical framework for her study. Because the theoretical framework is the topic for Chap. 3 , we will pause here and pick up Martha’s story in the next chapter. Spoiler alert: Martha’s experience contains some surprising twists and turns.

Before leaving Martha, however, we point out two aspects of the process in which she has been engaged. First, it can be useful to think about the process as identifying (1) the variables targeted in her predictions, (2) the mechanisms she believes explain the relationships among the variables, and (3) the definitions of all the terms that are special to her educational problem. By variables, we mean things that can be measured and, when measured, can take on different values. In Martha’s case, the variables are the conceptualness of teaching and the content topics addressed in the LOs. The mechanisms are cognitive processes that enable teachers to see the relevance of what they learn in PD to their own teaching and that enable the transfer of learning from one setting to another. Definitions are the precise descriptions of how the important ideas relevant to the research are conceptualized. In Martha’s case, definitions must be provided for terms like conceptual understanding, linear functions, LOs, each of the topics related to linear functions, instructional setting, and knowledge transfer.

A second aspect of the process is a practice that Martha acquired as part of her graduate program, a practice that can go unnoticed. Martha writes out, in full sentences, her thinking as she wrestles with her research question, her predictions of the answers, and the rationales for her predictions. Writing is a tool for organizing thinking and we recommend you use it throughout the scientific inquiry process. We say more about this at the end of the chapter.

Here are the questions Martha wrote as she developed a clearer sense of what question she wanted to answer and what answer she predicted. The list shows the increasing refinement that occurred as she continued to read, think, talk, and write.

Early questions: What kinds of LOs do most teachers experience? How do these experiences change teachers’ practices and beliefs? Are some LOs more effective than others? What makes them more effective?

First focused question: What makes LOs for teachers effective for improving their teaching for conceptual understanding?

Question after trying to predict the answer and imagining how to test the prediction: Do LOs that engage middle school mathematics teachers in studying mathematics content help teachers teach this same content with more of a conceptual emphasis?

Question after developing an initial rationale for her prediction: Under what conditions do LOs that engage middle school mathematics teachers in studying mathematics content help teachers teach this same content with more of a conceptual emphasis?

Question after developing a more precise prediction and richer rationale: Under what conditions do middle school teachers who lack conceptual knowledge of linear functions benefit from five 2-hour LO sessions that engage them in conceptual learning of linear functions as assessed by changes in their teaching toward a more conceptual emphasis on linear functions?

Part IV. An Illustrative Dialogue

The story of Martha described the major steps she took to refine her thinking. However, there is a lot of work that went on behind the scenes that wasn’t part of the story. For example, Martha had conversations with fellow students and professors that sharpened her thinking. What do these conversations look like? Because they are such an important part of the inquiry process, it will be helpful to “listen in” on the kinds of conversations that students might have with their advisors.

Here is a dialogue between a beginning student, Sam (S), and their advisor, Dr. Avery (A). They are meeting to discuss data Sam collected for a course project. The dialogue below is happening very early on in Sam’s conceptualization of the study, prior even to systematic reading of the literature.

Thanks for meeting with me today. As you know, I was able to collect some data for a course project a few weeks ago, but I’m having trouble analyzing the data, so I need your help. Let me try to explain the problem. As you know, I wanted to understand what middle-school teachers do to promote girls’ achievement in a mathematics class. I conducted four observations in each of three teachers’ classrooms. I also interviewed each teacher once about the four lessons I observed, and I interviewed two girls from each of the teachers’ classes. Obviously, I have a ton of data. But when I look at all these data, I don’t really know what I learned about my topic. When I was observing the teachers, I thought I might have observed some ways the teachers were promoting girls’ achievement, but then I wasn’t sure how to interpret my data. I didn’t know if the things I was observing were actually promoting girls’ achievement.

What were some of your observations?

Well, in a couple of my classroom observations, teachers called on girls to give an answer, even when the girls didn’t have their hands up. I thought that this might be a way that teachers were promoting the girls’ achievement. But then the girls didn’t say anything about that when I interviewed them and also the teachers didn’t do it in every class. So, it’s hard to know what effect, if any, this might have had on their learning or their motivation to learn. I didn’t want to ask the girls during the interview specifically about the teacher calling on them, and without the girls bringing it up themselves, I didn’t know if it had any effect.

Well, why didn’t you want to ask the girls about being called on?

Because I wanted to leave it as open as possible; I didn’t want to influence what they were going to say. I didn’t want to put words in their mouths. I wanted to know what they thought the teacher was doing that promoted their mathematical achievement and so I only asked the girls general questions, like “Do you think the teacher does things to promote girls’ mathematical achievement?” and “Can you describe specific experiences you have had that you believe do and do not promote your mathematical achievement?”

So then, how did they answer those general questions?

Well, with very general answers, such as that the teacher knows their names, offers review sessions, grades their homework fairly, gives them opportunities to earn extra credit, lets them ask questions, and always answers their questions. Nothing specific that helps me know what teaching actions specifically target girls’ mathematics achievement.

OK. Any ideas about what you might do next?

Well, I remember that when I was planning this data collection for my course, you suggested I might want to be more targeted and specific about what I was looking for. I can see now that more targeted questions would have made my data more interpretable in terms of connecting teaching actions to the mathematical achievement of girls. But I just didn’t want to influence what the girls would say.

Yes, I remember when you were planning your course project, you wanted to keep it open. You didn’t want to miss out on discovering something new and interesting. What do you think now about this issue?

Well, I still don’t want to put words in their mouths. I want to know what they think. But I see that if I ask really open questions, I have no guarantee they will talk about what I want them to talk about. I guess I still like the idea of an open study, but I see that it’s a risky approach. Leaving the questions too open meant I didn’t constrain their responses and there were too many ways they could interpret and answer the questions. And there are too many ways I could interpret their responses.

By this point in the dialogue, Sam has realized that open data (i.e., data not testing a specific prediction) is difficult to interpret. In the next part, Dr. Avery explains why collecting open data was not helping Sam achieve goals for her study that had motivated collecting open data in the first place.

Yes, I totally agree. Even for an experienced researcher, it can be difficult to make sense of this kind of open, messy data. However, if you design a study with a more specific focus, you can create questions for participants that are more targeted because you will be interested in their answers to these specific questions. Let’s reflect back on your data collection. What can you learn from it for the future?

When I think about it now, I realize that I didn’t think about the distinction between all the different constructs at play in my study, and I didn’t choose which one I was focusing on. One construct was the teaching moves that teachers think could be promoting achievement. Another is what teachers deliberately do to promote girls’ mathematics achievement, if anything. Another was the teaching moves that actually do support girls’ mathematics achievement. Another was what teachers were doing that supported girls’ mathematics achievement versus the mathematics achievement of all students. Another was students’ perception of what their teacher was doing to promote girls’ mathematics achievement. I now see that any one of these constructs could have been the focus of a study and that I didn’t really decide which of these was the focus of my course project prior to collecting data.

So, since you told me that the topic of this course project is probably what you’ll eventually want to study for your dissertation, which of these constructs are you most interested in?

I think I’m more interested in the teacher moves that teachers deliberately do to promote girls’ achievement. But I’m still worried about asking teachers directly and getting too specific about what they do because I don’t want to bias what they will say. And I chose qualitative methods and an exploratory design because I thought it would allow for a more open approach, an approach that helps me see what’s going on and that doesn’t bias or predetermine the results.

Well, it seems to me you are conflating three issues. One issue is how to conduct an unbiased study. Another issue is how specific to make your study. And the third issue is whether or not to choose an exploratory or qualitative study design. Those three issues are not the same. For example, designing a study that’s more open or more exploratory is not how researchers make studies fair and unbiased. In fact, it would be quite easy to create an open study that is biased. For example, you could ask very open questions and then interpret the responses in a way that unintentionally, and even unknowingly, aligns with what you were hoping the findings would say. Actually, you could argue that by adding more specificity and narrowing your focus, you’re creating constraints that prevent bias. The same goes for an exploratory or qualitative study; they can be biased or unbiased. So, let’s talk about what is meant by getting more specific. Within your new focus on what teachers deliberately do, there are many things that would be interesting to look at, such as teacher moves that address math anxiety, moves that allow girls to answer questions more frequently, moves that are specifically fitted to student thinking about specific mathematical content, and so on. What are one or two things that are most interesting to you? One way to answer this question is by thinking back to where your interest in this topic began.

In the preceding part of the dialogue, Dr. Avery explained how the goals Sam had for their study were not being met with open data. In the next part, Sam begins to articulate a prediction, which Sam and Dr. Avery then sharpen.

Actually, I became interested in this topic because of an experience I had in college when I was in a class of mostly girls. During whole class discussions, we were supposed to critically evaluate each other’s mathematical thinking, but we were too polite to do that. Instead, we just praised each other’s work. But it was so different in our small groups. It seemed easier to critique each other’s thinking and to push each other to better solutions in small groups. I began wondering how to get girls to be more critical of each other’s thinking in a whole class discussion in order to push everyone’s thinking.

Okay, this is great information. Why not use this idea to zoom-in on a more manageable and interpretable study? You could look specifically at how teachers support girls in critically evaluating each other’s thinking during whole class discussions. That would be a much more targeted and specific topic. Do you have predictions about what teachers could do in that situation, keeping in mind that you are looking specifically at girls’ mathematical achievement, not students in general?

Well, what I noticed was that small groups provided more social and emotional support for girls, whereas the whole class discussion did not provide that same support. The girls felt more comfortable critiquing each other’s thinking in small groups. So, I guess I predict that when the social and emotional supports that are present in small groups are extended to the whole class discussion, girls would be more willing to evaluate each other’s mathematical thinking critically during whole class discussion . I guess ultimately, I’d like to know how the whole class discussion could be used to enhance, rather than undermine, the social and emotional support that is present in the small groups.

Okay, then where would you start? Would you start with a study of what the teachers say they will do during whole class discussion and then observe if that happens during whole class discussion?

But part of my prediction also involves the small groups. So, I’d also like to include small groups in my study if possible. If I focus on whole groups, I won’t be exploring what I am interested in. My interest is broader than just the whole class discussion.

That makes sense, but there are many different things you could look at as part of your prediction, more than you can do in one study. For instance, if your prediction is that when the social and emotional supports that are present in small groups are extended to whole class discussions, girls would be more willing to evaluate each other’s mathematical thinking critically during whole class discussions , then you could ask the following questions: What are the social and emotional supports that are present in small groups?; In which small groups do they exist?; Is it groups that are made up only of girls?; Does every small group do this, and for groups that do this, when do these supports get created?; What kinds of small group activities that teachers ask them to work on are associated with these supports?; Do the same social and emotional supports that apply to small groups even apply to whole group discussion?

All your questions make me realize that my prediction about extending social and emotional supports to whole class discussions first requires me to have a better understanding of the social and emotional supports that exist in small groups. In fact, I first need to find out whether those supports commonly exist in small groups or is that just my experience working in small groups. So, I think I will first have to figure out what small groups do to support each other and then, in a later study, I could ask a teacher to implement those supports during whole class discussions and find out how you can do that. Yeah, now I’m seeing that.

The previous part of the dialogue illustrates how continuing to ask questions about one’s initial prediction is a good way to make it more and more precise (and researchable). In the next part, we see how developing a precise prediction has the added benefit of setting the researcher up for future studies.

Yes, I agree that for your first study, you should probably look at small groups. In other words, you should focus on only a part of your prediction for now, namely the part that says there are social and emotional supports in small groups that support girls in critiquing each other’s thinking . That begins to sharpen the focus of your prediction, but you’ll want to continue to refine it. For example, right now, the question that this prediction leads to is a question with a yes or no answer, but what you’ve said so far suggests to me that you are looking for more than that.

Yes, I want to know more than just whether there are supports. I’d like to know what kinds. That’s why I wanted to do a qualitative study.

Okay, this aligns more with my thinking about research as being prediction driven. It’s about collecting data that would help you revise your existing predictions into better ones. What I mean is that you would focus on collecting data that would allow you to refine your prediction, make it more nuanced, and go beyond what is already known. Does that make sense, and if so, what would that look like for your prediction?

Oh yes, I like that. I guess that would mean that, based on the data I collect for this next study, I could develop a more refined prediction that, for example, more specifically identifies and differentiates between different kinds of social and emotional supports that are present in small groups, or maybe that identifies the kinds of small groups that they occur in, or that predicts when and how frequently or infrequently they occur, or about the features of the small group tasks in which they occur, etc. I now realize that, although I chose qualitative research to make my study be more open, really the reason qualitative research fits my purposes is because it will allow me to explore fine-grained aspects of social and emotional supports that may exist for girls in small groups.

Yes, exactly! And then, based on the data you collect, you can include in your revised prediction those new fine-grained aspects. Furthermore, you will have a story to tell about your study in your written report, namely the story about your evolving prediction. In other words, your written report can largely tell how you filled out and refined your prediction as you learned more from carrying out the study. And even though you might not use them right away, you are also going to be able to develop new predictions that you would not have even thought of about social and emotional supports in small groups and your aim of extending them to whole-class discussions, had you not done this study. That will set you up to follow up on those new predictions in future studies. For example, you might have more refined ideas after you collect the data about the goals for critiquing student thinking in small groups versus the goals for critiquing student thinking during whole class discussion. You might even begin to think that some of the social and emotional supports you observe are not even replicable or even applicable to or appropriate for whole-class discussions, because the supports play different roles in different contexts. So, to summarize what I’m saying, what you look at in this study, even though it will be very focused, sets you up for a research program that will allow you to more fully investigate your broader interest in this topic, where each new study builds on your prior body of work. That’s why it is so important to be explicit about the best place to start this research, so that you can build on it.

I see what you are saying. We started this conversation talking about my course project data. What I think I should have done was figure out explicitly what I needed to learn with that study with the intention of then taking what I learned and using it as the basis for the next study. I didn’t do that, and so I didn’t collect data that pushed forward my thinking in ways that would guide my next study. It would be as if I was starting over with my next study.

Sam and Dr. Avery have just explored how specifying a prediction reveals additional complexities that could become fodder for developing a systematic research program. Next, we watch Sam beginning to recognize the level of specificity required for a prediction to be testable.

One thing that would have really helped would have been if you had had a specific prediction going into your data collection for your course project.

Well, I didn’t really have much of an explicit prediction in mind when I designed my methods.

Think back, you must have had some kind of prediction, even if it was implicit.

Well, yes, I guess I was predicting that teachers would enact moves that supported girls’ mathematical achievement. And I observed classrooms to identify those teacher moves, I interviewed teachers to ask them about the moves I observed, and I interviewed students to see if they mentioned those moves as promoting their mathematical achievement. The goal of my course project was to identify teacher moves that support girls’ mathematical achievement. And my specific research question was: What teacher moves support girls’ mathematical achievement?

So, really you were asking the teacher and students to show and tell you what those moves are and the effects of those moves, as a result putting the onus on your participants to provide the answers to your research question for you. I have an idea, let’s try a thought experiment. You come up with data collection methods for testing the prediction that there are social and emotional supports in small groups that support girls in critiquing each other’s thinking that still puts the onus on the participants. And then I’ll see if I can think of data collection methods that would not put the onus on the participants.

Hmm, well. .. I guess I could simply interview girls who participated in small groups and ask them “are there social and emotional supports that you use in small groups that support your group in critiquing each other’s thinking and if so, what are they?” In that case, I would be putting the onus on them to be aware of the social dynamics of small groups and to have thought about these constructs as much as I have. Okay now can you continue the thought experiment? What might the data collection methods look like if I didn’t put the onus on the participants?

First, I would pick a setting in which it was only girls at this point to reduce the number of variables. Then, personally I would want to observe a lot of groups of girls interacting in groups around tasks. I would be looking for instances when the conversation about students’ ideas was shut down and instances when the conversation about students’ ideas involved critiquing of ideas and building on each other’s thinking. I would also look at what happened just before and during those instances, such as: did the student continue to talk after their thinking was critiqued, did other students do anything to encourage the student to build on their own thinking (i.e., constructive criticism) or how did they support or shut down continued participation. In fact, now that I think about it, “critiquing each other’s thinking” can be defined in a number of different ways. I could mean just commenting on someone’s thinking, judging correctness and incorrectness, constructive criticism that moves the thinking forward, etc. If you put the onus on the participants to answer your research question, you are stuck with their definition, and they won’t have thought about this very much, if at all.

I think that what you are also saying is that my definitions would affect my data collection. If I think that critiquing each other’s thinking means that the group moves their thinking forward toward more valid and complete mathematical solutions, then I’m going to focus on different moves than if I define it another way, such as just making a comment on each other’s thinking and making each other feel comfortable enough to keep participating. In fact, am I going to look at individual instances of critiquing or look at entire sequences in which the critiquing leads to a goal? This seems like a unit of analysis question, and I would need to develop a more nuanced prediction that would make explicit what that unit of analysis is.

I agree, your definition of “critiquing each other’s thinking” could entirely change what you are predicting. One prediction could be based on defining critiquing as a one-shot event in which someone makes one comment on another person’s thinking. In this case the prediction would be that there are social and emotional supports in small groups that support girls in making an evaluative comment on another student’s thinking. Another prediction could be based on defining critiquing as a back-and-forth process in which the thinking gets built on and refined. In that case, the prediction would be something like that there are social and emotional supports in small groups that support girls in critiquing each other’s thinking in ways that do not shut down the conversation but that lead to sustained conversations that move each other toward more valid and complete solutions.

Well, I think I am more interested in the second prediction because it is more compatible with my long-term interests, which are that I’m interested in extending small group supports to whole class discussions. The second prediction is more appropriate for eventually looking at girls in whole class discussion. During whole class discussion, the teacher tries to get a sustained conversation going that moves the students’ thinking forward. So, if I learn about small group supports that lead to sustained conversations that move each other toward more valid and complete solutions , those supports might transfer to whole class discussions.

In the previous part of the dialogue, Dr. Avery and Sam showed how narrowing down a prediction to one that is testable requires making numerous important decisions, including how to define the constructs referred to in the prediction. In the final part of the dialogue, Dr. Avery and Sam begin to outline the reading Sam will have to do to develop a rationale for the specific prediction.

Do you see how your prediction and definitions are getting more and more specific? You now need to read extensively to further refine your prediction.

Well, I should probably read about micro dynamics of small group interactions, anything about interactions in small groups, and what is already known about small group interactions that support sustained conversations that move students’ thinking toward more valid and complete solutions. I guess I could also look at research on whole-class discussion methods that support sustained conversations that move the class to more mathematically valid and complete solutions, because it might give me ideas for what to look for in the small groups. I might also need to focus on research about how learners develop understandings about a particular subject matter so that I know what “more valid and complete solutions” look like. I also need to read about social and emotional supports but focus on how they support students cognitively, rather than in other ways.

Sounds good, let’s get together after you have processed some of this literature and we can talk about refining your prediction based on what you read and also the methods that will best suit testing that prediction.

Great! Thanks for meeting with me. I feel like I have a much better set of tools that push my own thinking forward and allow me to target something specific that will lead to more interpretable data.

Part V. Is It Always Possible to Formulate Hypotheses?

In Chap. 1 , we noted you are likely to read that research does not require formulating hypotheses. Some sources describe doing research without making predictions and developing rationales for these predictions. Some researchers say you cannot always make predictions—you do not know enough about the situation. In fact, some argue for the value of not making predictions (e.g., Glaser & Holton, 2004 ; Merton, 1968 ; Nemirovsky, 2011 ). These are important points of view, so we will devote this section to discussing them.

Can You Always Predict What You Will Find?

One reason some researchers say you do not need to make predictions is that it can be difficult to imagine what you will find. This argument comes up most often for descriptive studies. Suppose you want to describe the nature of a situation you do not know much about. Can you still make a prediction about what you will find? We believe that, although you do not know exactly what you will find, you probably have a hunch or, at a minimum, a very fuzzy idea. It would be unusual to ask a question about a situation you want to know about without at least a fuzzy inkling of what you might find. The original question just would not occur to you. We acknowledge you might have only a vague idea of what you will find and you might not have much confidence in your prediction. However, we expect if you monitor your own thinking you will discover you have developed a suspicion along the way, regardless how vague the suspicion might be. Through the cyclic process we discussed above, that suspicion or hunch gradually evolves and turns into a prediction.

The Benefits of Making Predictions Even When They Are Wrong: An Example from the 1970s

One of us was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970s, assigned as a research assistant to a project that was investigating young children’s thinking about simple arithmetic. A new curriculum was being written, and the developers wanted to know how to introduce the earliest concepts and skills to kindergarten and first-grade children. The directors of the project did not know what to expect because, at the time, there was little research on five- and six-year-olds’ pre-instruction strategies for adding and subtracting.

After consulting what literature was available, talking with teachers, analyzing the nature of different types of addition and subtraction problems, and debating with each other, the research team formulated some hypotheses about children’s performance. Following the usual assumptions at the time and recognizing the new curriculum would introduce the concepts, the researchers predicted that, before instruction, most children would not be able to solve the problems. Based on the rationale that some young children did not yet recognize the simple form for written problems (e.g., 5 + 3 = ___), the researchers predicted that the best chance for success would be to read problems as stories (e.g., Jesse had 5 apples and then found 3 more. How many does she have now?). They reasoned that, even though children would have difficulty on all the problems, some story problems would be easier because the semantic structure is easier to follow. For example, they predicted the above story about adding 3 apples to 5 would be easier than a problem like, “Jesse had some apples in the refrigerator. She put in 2 more and now has 6. How many were in the refrigerator at the beginning?” Based on the rationale that children would need to count to solve the problems and that it can be difficult to keep track of the numbers, they predicted children would be more successful if they were given counters. Finally, accepting the common reasoning that larger numbers are more difficult than smaller numbers, they predicted children would be more successful if all the numbers in a problem were below 10.

Although these predictions were not very precise and the rationales were not strongly convincing, these hypotheses prompted the researchers to design the study to test their predictions. This meant they would collect data by presenting a variety of problems under a variety of conditions. Because the goal was to describe children’s thinking, problems were presented to students in individual interviews. Problems with different semantic structures were included, counters were available for some problems but not others, and some problems had sums to 9 whereas others had sums to 20 or more.

The punchline of this story is that gathering data under these conditions, prompted by the predictions, made all the difference in what the researchers learned. Contrary to predictions, children could solve addition and subtraction problems before instruction. Counters were important because almost all the solution strategies were based on counting which meant that memory was an issue because many strategies require counting in two ways simultaneously. For example, subtracting 4 from 7 was usually solved by counting down from 7 while counting up from 1 to 4 to keep track of counting down. Because children acted out the stories with their counters, the semantic structure of the story was also important. Stories that were easier to read and write were also easier to solve.

To make a very long story very short, other researchers were, at about the same time, reporting similar results about children’s pre-instruction arithmetic capabilities. A clear pattern emerged regarding the relative difficulty of different problem types (semantic structures) and the strategies children used to solve each type. As the data were replicated, the researchers recognized that kindergarten and first-grade teachers could make good use of this information when they introduced simple arithmetic. This is how Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) was born (Carpenter et al., 1989 ; Fennema et al., 1996 ).

To reiterate, the point of this example is that the study conducted to describe children’s thinking would have looked quite different if the researchers had made no predictions. They would have had no reason to choose the particular problems and present them under different conditions. The fact that some of the predictions were completely wrong is not the point. The predictions created the conditions under which the predictions were tested which, in turn, created learning opportunities for the researchers that would not have existed without the predictions. The lesson is that even research that aims to simply describe a phenomenon can benefit from hypotheses. As signaled in Chap. 1 , this also serves as another example of “failing productively.”

Suggestions for What to Do When You Do Not Have Predictions

There likely are exceptions to our claim about being able to make a prediction about what you will find. For example, there could be rare cases where researchers truly have no idea what they will find and can come up with no predictions and even no hunches. And, no research has been reported on related phenomena that would offer some guidance. If you find yourself in this position, we suggest one of three approaches: revise your question, conduct a pilot study, or choose another question.

Because there are many advantages to making predictions explicit and then writing out the reasons for these predictions, one approach is to adjust your question just enough to allow you to make a prediction. Perhaps you can build on descriptions that other researchers have provided for related situations and consider how you can extend this work. Building on previous descriptions will enable you to make predictions about the situation you want to describe.

A second approach is to conduct a small pilot study or, better, a series of small pilot studies to develop some preliminary ideas of what you might find. If you can identify a small sample of participants who are similar to those in your study, you can try out at least some of your research plans to help make and refine your predictions. As we detail later, you can also use pilot studies to check whether key aspects of your methods (e.g., tasks, interview questions, data collection methods) work as you expect.

A third approach is to return to your list of interests and choose one that has been studied previously. Sometimes this is the wisest choice. It is very difficult for beginning researchers to conduct research in brand-new areas where no hunches or predictions are possible. In addition, the contributions of this research can be limited. Recall the earlier story about one of us “failing productively” by completing a dissertation in a somewhat new area. If, after an exhaustive search, you find that no one has investigated the phenomenon in which you are interested or even related phenomena, it can be best to move in a different direction. You will read recommendations in other sources to find a “gap” in the research and develop a study to “fill the gap.” This can be helpful advice if the gap is very small. However, if the gap is large, too large to predict what you might find, the study will present severe challenges. It will be more productive to extend work that has already been done than to launch into an entirely new area.

Should You Always Try to Predict What You Will Find?

In short, our answer to the question in the heading is “yes.” But this calls for further explanation.

Suppose you want to observe a second-grade classroom in order to investigate how students talk about adding and subtracting whole numbers. You might think, “I don’t want to bias my thinking; I want to be completely open to what I see in the classroom.” Sam shared a similar point of view at the beginning of the dialogue: “I wanted to leave it as open as possible; I didn’t want to influence what they were going to say.” Some researchers say that beginning your research study by making predictions is inappropriate precisely because it will bias your observations and results. The argument is that by bringing a set of preconceptions, you will confirm what you expected to find and be blind to other observations and outcomes. The following quote illustrates this view: “The first step in gaining theoretical sensitivity is to enter the research setting with as few predetermined ideas as possible—especially logically deducted, a priori hypotheses. In this posture, the analyst is able to remain sensitive to the data by being able to record events and detect happenings without first having them filtered through and squared with pre-existing hypotheses and biases” (Glaser, 1978, pp. 2–3).

We take a different point of view. In fact, we believe there are several compelling reasons for making your predictions explicit.

Making Your Predictions Explicit Increases Your Chances of Productive Observations

Because your predictions are an extension of what is already known, they prepare you to identify more nuanced relationships that can advance our understanding of a phenomenon. For example, rather than simply noticing, in a general sense, that students talking about addition and subtraction leads them to better understandings, you might, based on your prediction, make the specific observation that talking about addition and subtraction in a particular way helps students to think more deeply about a particular concept related to addition and subtraction. Going into a study without predictions can bring less sensitivity rather than more to the study of a phenomenon. Drawing on knowledge about related phenomena by reading the literature and conducting pilot studies allows you to be much more sensitive and your observations to be more productive.

Making Your Predictions Explicit Allows You to Guard Against Biases

Some genres and methods of educational research are, in fact, rooted in philosophical traditions (e.g., Husserl, 1929/ 1973 ) that explicitly call for researchers to temporarily “bracket” or set aside existing theory as well as their prior knowledge and experience to better enter into the experience of the participants in the research. However, this does not mean ignoring one’s own knowledge and experience or turning a blind eye to what has been learned by others. Much more than the simplistic image of emptying one’s mind of preconceptions and implicit biases (arguably an impossible feat to begin with), the goal is to be as reflective as possible about one’s prior knowledge and conceptions and as transparent as possible about how they may guide observations and shape interpretations (Levitt et al., 2018 ).

We believe it is better to be honest about the predictions you are almost sure to have because then you can deliberately plan to minimize the chances they will influence what you find and how you interpret your results. For starters, it is important to recognize that acknowledging you have some guesses about what you will find does not make them more influential. Because you are likely to have them anyway, we recommend being explicit about what they are. It is easier to deal with biases that are explicit than those that lurk in the background and are not acknowledged.

What do we mean by “deal with biases”? Some journals require you to include a statement about your “positionality” with respect to the participants in your study and the observations you are making to gather data. Formulating clear hypotheses is, in our view, a direct response to this request. The reasons for your predictions are your explicit statements about your positionality. Often there are methodological strategies you can use to protect the study from undue influences of bias. In other words, making your vague predictions explicit can help you design your study so you minimize the bias of your findings.

Making Your Predictions Explicit Can Help You See What You Did Not Predict

Making your predictions explicit does not need to blind you to what is different than expected. It does not need to force you to see only what you want to see. Instead, it can actually increase your sensitivity to noticing features of the situation that are surprising, features you did not predict. Results can stand out when you did not expect to see them.

In contrast, not bringing your biases to consciousness might subtly shift your attention away from these unexpected results in ways that you are not aware of. This path can lead to claiming no biases and no unexpected findings without being conscious of them. You cannot observe everything, and some things inevitably will be overlooked. If you have predicted what you will see, you can design your study so that the unexpected results become more salient rather than less.

Returning to the example of observing a second-grade classroom, we note that the field already knows a great deal about how students talk about addition and subtraction. Being cognizant of what others have observed allows you to enter the classroom with some clear predictions about what will happen. The rationales for these predictions are based on all the related knowledge you have before stepping into the classroom, and the predictions and rationales help you to better deal with what you see. This is partly because you are likely to be surprised by the things you did not anticipate. There is almost always something that will surprise you because your predictions will almost always be incomplete or too general. This sensitivity to the unanticipated—the sense of surprise that sparks your curiosity—is an indication of your openness to the phenomenon you are studying.

Making Your Predictions Explicit Allows You to Plan in Advance

Recall from Chap. 1 the descriptor of scientific inquiry: “Experience carefully planned in advance.” If you make no predictions about what might happen, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to plan your study in advance. Again, you cannot observe everything, so you must make decisions about what you will observe. What kind of data will you plan to collect? Why would you collect these data instead of others? If you have no idea what to expect, on what basis will you make these consequential decisions? Even if your predictions are vague and your rationales for the predictions are a bit shaky, at least they provide a direction for your plan. They allow you to explain why you are planning this study and collecting these data. They allow you to “carefully plan in advance.”

Making Your Predictions Explicit Allows You to Put Your Rationales in Harm’s Way

Rationales are developed to justify the predictions. Rationales represent your best reasoning about the research problem you are studying. How can you tell whether your reasoning is sound? You can try it out with colleagues. However, the best way to test it is to put it in “harm’s way” (Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003 p. 10). And the best approach to putting your reasoning in harm’s way is to test the predictions it generates. Regardless if you are conducting a qualitative or quantitative study, rationales can be improved only if they generate testable predictions. This is possible only if predictions are explicit and precise. As we described earlier, rationales are evaluated for their soundness and refined in light of the specific differences between predictions and empirical observations.

Making Your Predictions Explicit Forces You to Organize and Extend Your (and the Field’s) Thinking

By writing out your predictions (even hunches or fuzzy guesses) and by reflecting on why you have these predictions and making these reasons explicit for yourself, you are advancing your thinking about the questions you really want to answer. This means you are making progress toward formulating your research questions and your final hypotheses. Making more progress in your own thinking before you conduct your study increases the chances your study will be of higher quality and will be exactly the study you intended. Making predictions, developing rationales, and imagining tests are tools you can use to push your thinking forward before you even collect data.

Suppose you wonder how preservice teachers in your university’s teacher preparation program will solve particular kinds of math problems. You are interested in this question because you have noticed several PSTs solve them in unexpected ways. As you ask the question you want to answer, you make predictions about what you expect to see. When you reflect on why you made these predictions, you realize that some PSTs might use particular solution strategies because they were taught to use some of them in an earlier course, and they might believe you expect them to solve the problems in these ways. By being explicit about why you are making particular predictions, you realize that you might be answering a different question than you intend (“How much do PSTs remember from previous courses?” or even “To what extent do PSTs believe different instructors have similar expectations?”). Now you can either change your question or change the design of your study (i.e., the sample of students you will use) or both. You are advancing your thinking by being explicit about your predictions and why you are making them.

The Costs of Not Making Predictions

Avoiding making predictions, for whatever reason, comes with significant costs. It prevents you from learning very much about your research topic. It would require not reading related research, not talking with your colleagues, and not conducting pilot studies because, if you do, you are likely to find a prediction creeping into your thinking. Not doing these things would forego the benefits of advancing your thinking before you collect data. It would amount to conducting the study with as little forethought as possible.

Part VI. How Do You Formulate Important Hypotheses?

We provided a partial answer in Chap. 1 to the question of a hypothesis’ importance when we encouraged considering the ultimate goal to which a study’s findings might contribute. You might want to reread Part III of Chap. 1 where we offered our opinions about the purposes of doing research. We also recommend reading the March 2019 editorial in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education (Cai et al., 2019b ) in which we address what constitutes important educational research.

As we argued in Chap. 1 and in the March 2019 editorial, a worthy ultimate goal for educational research is to improve the learning opportunities for all students. However, arguments can be made for other ultimate goals as well. To gauge the importance of your hypotheses, think about how clearly you can connect them to a goal the educational community considers important. In addition, given the descriptors of scientific inquiry proposed in Chap. 1 , think about how testing your hypotheses will help you (and the community) understand what you are studying. Will you have a better explanation for the phenomenon after your study than before?

Although we address the question of importance again, and in more detail, in Chap. 5 , it is useful to know here that you can determine the significance or importance of your hypotheses when you formulate them. The importance need not depend on the data you collect or the results you report. The importance can come from the fact that, based on the results of your study, you will be able to offer revised hypotheses that help the field better understand an important issue. In large part, it is these revised hypotheses rather than the data that determine a study’s importance.

A critical caveat to this discussion is that few hypotheses are self-evidently important. They are important only if you make the case for their importance. Even if you follow closely the guidelines we suggest for formulating an important hypothesis, you must develop an argument that convinces others. This argument will be presented in the research paper you write.

The picture has a few hypotheses that are self-evidently important. They are important only if you make the case for their importance; written.

Consider Martha’s hypothesis presented earlier. When we left Martha, she predicted that “Participating teachers will show changes in their teaching with a greater emphasis on conceptual understanding with larger changes on linear function topics directly addressed in the LOs than on other topics.” For researchers and educators not intimately familiar with this area of research, it is not apparent why someone should spend a year or more conducting a dissertation to test this prediction. Her rationale, summarized earlier, begins to describe why this could be an important hypothesis. But it is by writing a clear argument that explains her rationale to readers that she will convince them of its importance.

How Martha fills in her rationale so she can create a clear written argument for its importance is taken up in Chap. 3 . As we indicated, Martha’s work in this regard led her to make some interesting decisions, in part due to her own assessment of what was important.

Part VII. Beginning to Write the Research Paper for Your Study

It is common to think that researchers conduct a study and then, after the data are collected and analyzed, begin writing the paper about the study. We recommend an alternative, especially for beginning researchers. We believe it is better to write drafts of the paper at the same time you are planning and conducting your study. The paper will gradually evolve as you work through successive phases of the scientific inquiry process. Consequently, we will call this paper your evolving research paper .

The picture has, we believe it is better to write drafts of the paper at the same time you are planning and conducting your study; written.

You will use your evolving research paper to communicate your study, but you can also use writing as a tool for thinking and organizing your thinking while planning and conducting the study. Used as a tool for thinking, you can write drafts of your ideas to check on the clarity of your thinking, and then you can step back and reflect on how to clarify it further. Be sure to avoid jargon and general terms that are not well defined. Ask yourself whether someone not in your field, maybe a sibling, a parent, or a friend, would be able to understand what you mean. You are likely to write multiple drafts with lots of scribbling, crossing out, and revising.

Used as a tool for communicating, writing the best version of what you know before moving to the next phase will help you record your decisions and the reasons for them before you forget important details. This best-version-for-now paper also provides the basis for your thinking about the next phase of your scientific inquiry.

At this point in the process, you will be writing your (research) questions, the answers you predict, and the rationales for your predictions. The predictions you make should be direct answers to your research questions and should flow logically from (or be directly supported by) the rationales you present. In addition, you will have a written statement of the study’s purpose or, said another way, an argument for the importance of the hypotheses you will be testing. It is in the early sections of your paper that you will convince your audience about the importance of your hypotheses.

In our experience, presenting research questions is a more common form of stating the goal of a research study than presenting well-formulated hypotheses. Authors sometimes present a hypothesis, often as a simple prediction of what they might find. The hypothesis is then forgotten and not used to guide the analysis or interpretations of the findings. In other words, authors seldom use hypotheses to do the kind of work we describe. This means that many research articles you read will not treat hypotheses as we suggest. We believe these are missed opportunities to present research in a more compelling and informative way. We intend to provide enough guidance in the remaining chapters for you to feel comfortable organizing your evolving research paper around formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses.

While we were editing one of the leading research journals in mathematics education ( JRME ), we conducted a study of reviewers’ critiques of papers submitted to the journal. Two of the five most common concerns were: (1) the research questions were unclear, and (2) the answers to the questions did not make a substantial contribution to the field. These are likely to be major concerns for the reviewers of all research journals. We hope the knowledge and skills you have acquired working through this chapter will allow you to write the opening to your evolving research paper in a way that addresses these concerns. Much of the chapter should help make your research questions clear, and the prior section on formulating “important hypotheses” will help you convey the contribution of your study.

Exercise 2.3

Look back at your answers to the sets of questions before part II of this chapter.

Think about how you would argue for the importance of your current interest.

Write your interest in the form of (1) a research problem, (2) a research question, and (3) a prediction with the beginnings of a rationale. You will update these as you read the remaining chapters.

Part VIII. The Heart of Scientific Inquiry

In this chapter, we have described the process of formulating hypotheses. This process is at the heart of scientific inquiry. It is where doing research begins. Conducting research always involves formulating, testing, and revising hypotheses. This is true regardless of your research questions and whether you are using qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Without engaging in this process in a deliberate, intense, relentless way, your study will reveal less than it could. By engaging in this process, you are maximizing what you, and others, can learn from conducting your study.

In the next chapter, we build on the ideas we have developed in the first two chapters to describe the purpose and nature of theoretical frameworks . The term theoretical framework, along with closely related terms like conceptual framework, can be somewhat mysterious for beginning researchers and can seem like a requirement for writing a paper rather than an aid for conducting research. We will show how theoretical frameworks grow from formulating hypotheses—from developing rationales for the predicted answers to your research questions. We will propose some practical suggestions for building theoretical frameworks and show how useful they can be. In addition, we will continue Martha’s story from the point at which we paused earlier—developing her theoretical framework.

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Hiebert, J., Cai, J., Hwang, S., Morris, A.K., Hohensee, C. (2023). How Do You Formulate (Important) Hypotheses?. In: Doing Research: A New Researcher’s Guide. Research in Mathematics Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-19078-0_2

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What Is A Research (Scientific) Hypothesis? A plain-language explainer + examples

By:  Derek Jansen (MBA)  | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2020

If you’re new to the world of research, or it’s your first time writing a dissertation or thesis, you’re probably noticing that the words “research hypothesis” and “scientific hypothesis” are used quite a bit, and you’re wondering what they mean in a research context .

“Hypothesis” is one of those words that people use loosely, thinking they understand what it means. However, it has a very specific meaning within academic research. So, it’s important to understand the exact meaning before you start hypothesizing. 

Research Hypothesis 101

  • What is a hypothesis ?
  • What is a research hypothesis (scientific hypothesis)?
  • Requirements for a research hypothesis
  • Definition of a research hypothesis
  • The null hypothesis

What is a hypothesis?

Let’s start with the general definition of a hypothesis (not a research hypothesis or scientific hypothesis), according to the Cambridge Dictionary:

Hypothesis: an idea or explanation for something that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved.

In other words, it’s a statement that provides an explanation for why or how something works, based on facts (or some reasonable assumptions), but that has not yet been specifically tested . For example, a hypothesis might look something like this:

Hypothesis: sleep impacts academic performance.

This statement predicts that academic performance will be influenced by the amount and/or quality of sleep a student engages in – sounds reasonable, right? It’s based on reasonable assumptions , underpinned by what we currently know about sleep and health (from the existing literature). So, loosely speaking, we could call it a hypothesis, at least by the dictionary definition.

But that’s not good enough…

Unfortunately, that’s not quite sophisticated enough to describe a research hypothesis (also sometimes called a scientific hypothesis), and it wouldn’t be acceptable in a dissertation, thesis or research paper . In the world of academic research, a statement needs a few more criteria to constitute a true research hypothesis . 

What is a research hypothesis?

A research hypothesis (also called a scientific hypothesis) is a statement about the expected outcome of a study (for example, a dissertation or thesis). To constitute a quality hypothesis, the statement needs to have three attributes – specificity , clarity and testability .

Let’s take a look at these more closely.

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hypothesis formulation dissertation

Hypothesis Essential #1: Specificity & Clarity

A good research hypothesis needs to be extremely clear and articulate about both what’ s being assessed (who or what variables are involved ) and the expected outcome (for example, a difference between groups, a relationship between variables, etc.).

Let’s stick with our sleepy students example and look at how this statement could be more specific and clear.

Hypothesis: Students who sleep at least 8 hours per night will, on average, achieve higher grades in standardised tests than students who sleep less than 8 hours a night.

As you can see, the statement is very specific as it identifies the variables involved (sleep hours and test grades), the parties involved (two groups of students), as well as the predicted relationship type (a positive relationship). There’s no ambiguity or uncertainty about who or what is involved in the statement, and the expected outcome is clear.

Contrast that to the original hypothesis we looked at – “Sleep impacts academic performance” – and you can see the difference. “Sleep” and “academic performance” are both comparatively vague , and there’s no indication of what the expected relationship direction is (more sleep or less sleep). As you can see, specificity and clarity are key.

A good research hypothesis needs to be very clear about what’s being assessed and very specific about the expected outcome.

Hypothesis Essential #2: Testability (Provability)

A statement must be testable to qualify as a research hypothesis. In other words, there needs to be a way to prove (or disprove) the statement. If it’s not testable, it’s not a hypothesis – simple as that.

For example, consider the hypothesis we mentioned earlier:

Hypothesis: Students who sleep at least 8 hours per night will, on average, achieve higher grades in standardised tests than students who sleep less than 8 hours a night.  

We could test this statement by undertaking a quantitative study involving two groups of students, one that gets 8 or more hours of sleep per night for a fixed period, and one that gets less. We could then compare the standardised test results for both groups to see if there’s a statistically significant difference. 

Again, if you compare this to the original hypothesis we looked at – “Sleep impacts academic performance” – you can see that it would be quite difficult to test that statement, primarily because it isn’t specific enough. How much sleep? By who? What type of academic performance?

So, remember the mantra – if you can’t test it, it’s not a hypothesis 🙂

A good research hypothesis must be testable. In other words, you must able to collect observable data in a scientifically rigorous fashion to test it.

Defining A Research Hypothesis

You’re still with us? Great! Let’s recap and pin down a clear definition of a hypothesis.

A research hypothesis (or scientific hypothesis) is a statement about an expected relationship between variables, or explanation of an occurrence, that is clear, specific and testable.

So, when you write up hypotheses for your dissertation or thesis, make sure that they meet all these criteria. If you do, you’ll not only have rock-solid hypotheses but you’ll also ensure a clear focus for your entire research project.

What about the null hypothesis?

You may have also heard the terms null hypothesis , alternative hypothesis, or H-zero thrown around. At a simple level, the null hypothesis is the counter-proposal to the original hypothesis.

For example, if the hypothesis predicts that there is a relationship between two variables (for example, sleep and academic performance), the null hypothesis would predict that there is no relationship between those variables.

At a more technical level, the null hypothesis proposes that no statistical significance exists in a set of given observations and that any differences are due to chance alone.

And there you have it – hypotheses in a nutshell. 

If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help you. If you need hands-on help developing and testing your hypotheses, consider our private coaching service , where we hold your hand through the research journey.

hypothesis formulation dissertation

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This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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12 Comments

Lynnet Chikwaikwai

Very useful information. I benefit more from getting more information in this regard.

Dr. WuodArek

Very great insight,educative and informative. Please give meet deep critics on many research data of public international Law like human rights, environment, natural resources, law of the sea etc

Afshin

In a book I read a distinction is made between null, research, and alternative hypothesis. As far as I understand, alternative and research hypotheses are the same. Can you please elaborate? Best Afshin

GANDI Benjamin

This is a self explanatory, easy going site. I will recommend this to my friends and colleagues.

Lucile Dossou-Yovo

Very good definition. How can I cite your definition in my thesis? Thank you. Is nul hypothesis compulsory in a research?

Egya Salihu

Please what is the difference between alternate hypothesis and research hypothesis?

Mulugeta Tefera

It is a very good explanation. However, it limits hypotheses to statistically tasteable ideas. What about for qualitative researches or other researches that involve quantitative data that don’t need statistical tests?

Derek Jansen

In qualitative research, one typically uses propositions, not hypotheses.

Samia

could you please elaborate it more

Patricia Nyawir

I’ve benefited greatly from these notes, thank you.

Hopeson Khondiwa

This is very helpful

Dr. Andarge

well articulated ideas are presented here, thank you for being reliable sources of information

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Hypothesis Testing | A Step-by-Step Guide with Easy Examples

Published on November 8, 2019 by Rebecca Bevans . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Hypothesis testing is a formal procedure for investigating our ideas about the world using statistics . It is most often used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses, that arise from theories.

There are 5 main steps in hypothesis testing:

  • State your research hypothesis as a null hypothesis and alternate hypothesis (H o ) and (H a  or H 1 ).
  • Collect data in a way designed to test the hypothesis.
  • Perform an appropriate statistical test .
  • Decide whether to reject or fail to reject your null hypothesis.
  • Present the findings in your results and discussion section.

Though the specific details might vary, the procedure you will use when testing a hypothesis will always follow some version of these steps.

Table of contents

Step 1: state your null and alternate hypothesis, step 2: collect data, step 3: perform a statistical test, step 4: decide whether to reject or fail to reject your null hypothesis, step 5: present your findings, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about hypothesis testing.

After developing your initial research hypothesis (the prediction that you want to investigate), it is important to restate it as a null (H o ) and alternate (H a ) hypothesis so that you can test it mathematically.

The alternate hypothesis is usually your initial hypothesis that predicts a relationship between variables. The null hypothesis is a prediction of no relationship between the variables you are interested in.

  • H 0 : Men are, on average, not taller than women. H a : Men are, on average, taller than women.

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For a statistical test to be valid , it is important to perform sampling and collect data in a way that is designed to test your hypothesis. If your data are not representative, then you cannot make statistical inferences about the population you are interested in.

There are a variety of statistical tests available, but they are all based on the comparison of within-group variance (how spread out the data is within a category) versus between-group variance (how different the categories are from one another).

If the between-group variance is large enough that there is little or no overlap between groups, then your statistical test will reflect that by showing a low p -value . This means it is unlikely that the differences between these groups came about by chance.

Alternatively, if there is high within-group variance and low between-group variance, then your statistical test will reflect that with a high p -value. This means it is likely that any difference you measure between groups is due to chance.

Your choice of statistical test will be based on the type of variables and the level of measurement of your collected data .

  • an estimate of the difference in average height between the two groups.
  • a p -value showing how likely you are to see this difference if the null hypothesis of no difference is true.

Based on the outcome of your statistical test, you will have to decide whether to reject or fail to reject your null hypothesis.

In most cases you will use the p -value generated by your statistical test to guide your decision. And in most cases, your predetermined level of significance for rejecting the null hypothesis will be 0.05 – that is, when there is a less than 5% chance that you would see these results if the null hypothesis were true.

In some cases, researchers choose a more conservative level of significance, such as 0.01 (1%). This minimizes the risk of incorrectly rejecting the null hypothesis ( Type I error ).

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hypothesis formulation dissertation

The results of hypothesis testing will be presented in the results and discussion sections of your research paper , dissertation or thesis .

In the results section you should give a brief summary of the data and a summary of the results of your statistical test (for example, the estimated difference between group means and associated p -value). In the discussion , you can discuss whether your initial hypothesis was supported by your results or not.

In the formal language of hypothesis testing, we talk about rejecting or failing to reject the null hypothesis. You will probably be asked to do this in your statistics assignments.

However, when presenting research results in academic papers we rarely talk this way. Instead, we go back to our alternate hypothesis (in this case, the hypothesis that men are on average taller than women) and state whether the result of our test did or did not support the alternate hypothesis.

If your null hypothesis was rejected, this result is interpreted as “supported the alternate hypothesis.”

These are superficial differences; you can see that they mean the same thing.

You might notice that we don’t say that we reject or fail to reject the alternate hypothesis . This is because hypothesis testing is not designed to prove or disprove anything. It is only designed to test whether a pattern we measure could have arisen spuriously, or by chance.

If we reject the null hypothesis based on our research (i.e., we find that it is unlikely that the pattern arose by chance), then we can say our test lends support to our hypothesis . But if the pattern does not pass our decision rule, meaning that it could have arisen by chance, then we say the test is inconsistent with our hypothesis .

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Descriptive statistics
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Correlation coefficient

Methodology

  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Types of interviews
  • Cohort study
  • Thematic analysis

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Survivorship bias
  • Availability heuristic
  • Nonresponse bias
  • Regression to the mean

Hypothesis testing is a formal procedure for investigating our ideas about the world using statistics. It is used by scientists to test specific predictions, called hypotheses , by calculating how likely it is that a pattern or relationship between variables could have arisen by chance.

A hypothesis states your predictions about what your research will find. It is a tentative answer to your research question that has not yet been tested. For some research projects, you might have to write several hypotheses that address different aspects of your research question.

A hypothesis is not just a guess — it should be based on existing theories and knowledge. It also has to be testable, which means you can support or refute it through scientific research methods (such as experiments, observations and statistical analysis of data).

Null and alternative hypotheses are used in statistical hypothesis testing . The null hypothesis of a test always predicts no effect or no relationship between variables, while the alternative hypothesis states your research prediction of an effect or relationship.

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The Craft of Writing a Strong Hypothesis

Deeptanshu D

Table of Contents

Writing a hypothesis is one of the essential elements of a scientific research paper. It needs to be to the point, clearly communicating what your research is trying to accomplish. A blurry, drawn-out, or complexly-structured hypothesis can confuse your readers. Or worse, the editor and peer reviewers.

A captivating hypothesis is not too intricate. This blog will take you through the process so that, by the end of it, you have a better idea of how to convey your research paper's intent in just one sentence.

What is a Hypothesis?

The first step in your scientific endeavor, a hypothesis, is a strong, concise statement that forms the basis of your research. It is not the same as a thesis statement , which is a brief summary of your research paper .

The sole purpose of a hypothesis is to predict your paper's findings, data, and conclusion. It comes from a place of curiosity and intuition . When you write a hypothesis, you're essentially making an educated guess based on scientific prejudices and evidence, which is further proven or disproven through the scientific method.

The reason for undertaking research is to observe a specific phenomenon. A hypothesis, therefore, lays out what the said phenomenon is. And it does so through two variables, an independent and dependent variable.

The independent variable is the cause behind the observation, while the dependent variable is the effect of the cause. A good example of this is “mixing red and blue forms purple.” In this hypothesis, mixing red and blue is the independent variable as you're combining the two colors at your own will. The formation of purple is the dependent variable as, in this case, it is conditional to the independent variable.

Different Types of Hypotheses‌

Types-of-hypotheses

Types of hypotheses

Some would stand by the notion that there are only two types of hypotheses: a Null hypothesis and an Alternative hypothesis. While that may have some truth to it, it would be better to fully distinguish the most common forms as these terms come up so often, which might leave you out of context.

Apart from Null and Alternative, there are Complex, Simple, Directional, Non-Directional, Statistical, and Associative and casual hypotheses. They don't necessarily have to be exclusive, as one hypothesis can tick many boxes, but knowing the distinctions between them will make it easier for you to construct your own.

1. Null hypothesis

A null hypothesis proposes no relationship between two variables. Denoted by H 0 , it is a negative statement like “Attending physiotherapy sessions does not affect athletes' on-field performance.” Here, the author claims physiotherapy sessions have no effect on on-field performances. Even if there is, it's only a coincidence.

2. Alternative hypothesis

Considered to be the opposite of a null hypothesis, an alternative hypothesis is donated as H1 or Ha. It explicitly states that the dependent variable affects the independent variable. A good  alternative hypothesis example is “Attending physiotherapy sessions improves athletes' on-field performance.” or “Water evaporates at 100 °C. ” The alternative hypothesis further branches into directional and non-directional.

  • Directional hypothesis: A hypothesis that states the result would be either positive or negative is called directional hypothesis. It accompanies H1 with either the ‘<' or ‘>' sign.
  • Non-directional hypothesis: A non-directional hypothesis only claims an effect on the dependent variable. It does not clarify whether the result would be positive or negative. The sign for a non-directional hypothesis is ‘≠.'

3. Simple hypothesis

A simple hypothesis is a statement made to reflect the relation between exactly two variables. One independent and one dependent. Consider the example, “Smoking is a prominent cause of lung cancer." The dependent variable, lung cancer, is dependent on the independent variable, smoking.

4. Complex hypothesis

In contrast to a simple hypothesis, a complex hypothesis implies the relationship between multiple independent and dependent variables. For instance, “Individuals who eat more fruits tend to have higher immunity, lesser cholesterol, and high metabolism.” The independent variable is eating more fruits, while the dependent variables are higher immunity, lesser cholesterol, and high metabolism.

5. Associative and casual hypothesis

Associative and casual hypotheses don't exhibit how many variables there will be. They define the relationship between the variables. In an associative hypothesis, changing any one variable, dependent or independent, affects others. In a casual hypothesis, the independent variable directly affects the dependent.

6. Empirical hypothesis

Also referred to as the working hypothesis, an empirical hypothesis claims a theory's validation via experiments and observation. This way, the statement appears justifiable and different from a wild guess.

Say, the hypothesis is “Women who take iron tablets face a lesser risk of anemia than those who take vitamin B12.” This is an example of an empirical hypothesis where the researcher  the statement after assessing a group of women who take iron tablets and charting the findings.

7. Statistical hypothesis

The point of a statistical hypothesis is to test an already existing hypothesis by studying a population sample. Hypothesis like “44% of the Indian population belong in the age group of 22-27.” leverage evidence to prove or disprove a particular statement.

Characteristics of a Good Hypothesis

Writing a hypothesis is essential as it can make or break your research for you. That includes your chances of getting published in a journal. So when you're designing one, keep an eye out for these pointers:

  • A research hypothesis has to be simple yet clear to look justifiable enough.
  • It has to be testable — your research would be rendered pointless if too far-fetched into reality or limited by technology.
  • It has to be precise about the results —what you are trying to do and achieve through it should come out in your hypothesis.
  • A research hypothesis should be self-explanatory, leaving no doubt in the reader's mind.
  • If you are developing a relational hypothesis, you need to include the variables and establish an appropriate relationship among them.
  • A hypothesis must keep and reflect the scope for further investigations and experiments.

Separating a Hypothesis from a Prediction

Outside of academia, hypothesis and prediction are often used interchangeably. In research writing, this is not only confusing but also incorrect. And although a hypothesis and prediction are guesses at their core, there are many differences between them.

A hypothesis is an educated guess or even a testable prediction validated through research. It aims to analyze the gathered evidence and facts to define a relationship between variables and put forth a logical explanation behind the nature of events.

Predictions are assumptions or expected outcomes made without any backing evidence. They are more fictionally inclined regardless of where they originate from.

For this reason, a hypothesis holds much more weight than a prediction. It sticks to the scientific method rather than pure guesswork. "Planets revolve around the Sun." is an example of a hypothesis as it is previous knowledge and observed trends. Additionally, we can test it through the scientific method.

Whereas "COVID-19 will be eradicated by 2030." is a prediction. Even though it results from past trends, we can't prove or disprove it. So, the only way this gets validated is to wait and watch if COVID-19 cases end by 2030.

Finally, How to Write a Hypothesis

Quick-tips-on-how-to-write-a-hypothesis

Quick tips on writing a hypothesis

1.  Be clear about your research question

A hypothesis should instantly address the research question or the problem statement. To do so, you need to ask a question. Understand the constraints of your undertaken research topic and then formulate a simple and topic-centric problem. Only after that can you develop a hypothesis and further test for evidence.

2. Carry out a recce

Once you have your research's foundation laid out, it would be best to conduct preliminary research. Go through previous theories, academic papers, data, and experiments before you start curating your research hypothesis. It will give you an idea of your hypothesis's viability or originality.

Making use of references from relevant research papers helps draft a good research hypothesis. SciSpace Discover offers a repository of over 270 million research papers to browse through and gain a deeper understanding of related studies on a particular topic. Additionally, you can use SciSpace Copilot , your AI research assistant, for reading any lengthy research paper and getting a more summarized context of it. A hypothesis can be formed after evaluating many such summarized research papers. Copilot also offers explanations for theories and equations, explains paper in simplified version, allows you to highlight any text in the paper or clip math equations and tables and provides a deeper, clear understanding of what is being said. This can improve the hypothesis by helping you identify potential research gaps.

3. Create a 3-dimensional hypothesis

Variables are an essential part of any reasonable hypothesis. So, identify your independent and dependent variable(s) and form a correlation between them. The ideal way to do this is to write the hypothetical assumption in the ‘if-then' form. If you use this form, make sure that you state the predefined relationship between the variables.

In another way, you can choose to present your hypothesis as a comparison between two variables. Here, you must specify the difference you expect to observe in the results.

4. Write the first draft

Now that everything is in place, it's time to write your hypothesis. For starters, create the first draft. In this version, write what you expect to find from your research.

Clearly separate your independent and dependent variables and the link between them. Don't fixate on syntax at this stage. The goal is to ensure your hypothesis addresses the issue.

5. Proof your hypothesis

After preparing the first draft of your hypothesis, you need to inspect it thoroughly. It should tick all the boxes, like being concise, straightforward, relevant, and accurate. Your final hypothesis has to be well-structured as well.

Research projects are an exciting and crucial part of being a scholar. And once you have your research question, you need a great hypothesis to begin conducting research. Thus, knowing how to write a hypothesis is very important.

Now that you have a firmer grasp on what a good hypothesis constitutes, the different kinds there are, and what process to follow, you will find it much easier to write your hypothesis, which ultimately helps your research.

Now it's easier than ever to streamline your research workflow with SciSpace Discover . Its integrated, comprehensive end-to-end platform for research allows scholars to easily discover, write and publish their research and fosters collaboration.

It includes everything you need, including a repository of over 270 million research papers across disciplines, SEO-optimized summaries and public profiles to show your expertise and experience.

If you found these tips on writing a research hypothesis useful, head over to our blog on Statistical Hypothesis Testing to learn about the top researchers, papers, and institutions in this domain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. what is the definition of hypothesis.

According to the Oxford dictionary, a hypothesis is defined as “An idea or explanation of something that is based on a few known facts, but that has not yet been proved to be true or correct”.

2. What is an example of hypothesis?

The hypothesis is a statement that proposes a relationship between two or more variables. An example: "If we increase the number of new users who join our platform by 25%, then we will see an increase in revenue."

3. What is an example of null hypothesis?

A null hypothesis is a statement that there is no relationship between two variables. The null hypothesis is written as H0. The null hypothesis states that there is no effect. For example, if you're studying whether or not a particular type of exercise increases strength, your null hypothesis will be "there is no difference in strength between people who exercise and people who don't."

4. What are the types of research?

• Fundamental research

• Applied research

• Qualitative research

• Quantitative research

• Mixed research

• Exploratory research

• Longitudinal research

• Cross-sectional research

• Field research

• Laboratory research

• Fixed research

• Flexible research

• Action research

• Policy research

• Classification research

• Comparative research

• Causal research

• Inductive research

• Deductive research

5. How to write a hypothesis?

• Your hypothesis should be able to predict the relationship and outcome.

• Avoid wordiness by keeping it simple and brief.

• Your hypothesis should contain observable and testable outcomes.

• Your hypothesis should be relevant to the research question.

6. What are the 2 types of hypothesis?

• Null hypotheses are used to test the claim that "there is no difference between two groups of data".

• Alternative hypotheses test the claim that "there is a difference between two data groups".

7. Difference between research question and research hypothesis?

A research question is a broad, open-ended question you will try to answer through your research. A hypothesis is a statement based on prior research or theory that you expect to be true due to your study. Example - Research question: What are the factors that influence the adoption of the new technology? Research hypothesis: There is a positive relationship between age, education and income level with the adoption of the new technology.

8. What is plural for hypothesis?

The plural of hypothesis is hypotheses. Here's an example of how it would be used in a statement, "Numerous well-considered hypotheses are presented in this part, and they are supported by tables and figures that are well-illustrated."

9. What is the red queen hypothesis?

The red queen hypothesis in evolutionary biology states that species must constantly evolve to avoid extinction because if they don't, they will be outcompeted by other species that are evolving. Leigh Van Valen first proposed it in 1973; since then, it has been tested and substantiated many times.

10. Who is known as the father of null hypothesis?

The father of the null hypothesis is Sir Ronald Fisher. He published a paper in 1925 that introduced the concept of null hypothesis testing, and he was also the first to use the term itself.

11. When to reject null hypothesis?

You need to find a significant difference between your two populations to reject the null hypothesis. You can determine that by running statistical tests such as an independent sample t-test or a dependent sample t-test. You should reject the null hypothesis if the p-value is less than 0.05.

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Formulation of Research Question – Stepwise Approach

Simmi k. ratan.

Department of Pediatric Surgery, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India

1 Department of Community Medicine, North Delhi Municipal Corporation Medical College, New Delhi, India

2 Department of Pediatric Surgery, Batra Hospital and Research Centre, New Delhi, India

Formulation of research question (RQ) is an essentiality before starting any research. It aims to explore an existing uncertainty in an area of concern and points to a need for deliberate investigation. It is, therefore, pertinent to formulate a good RQ. The present paper aims to discuss the process of formulation of RQ with stepwise approach. The characteristics of good RQ are expressed by acronym “FINERMAPS” expanded as feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, relevant, manageable, appropriate, potential value, publishability, and systematic. A RQ can address different formats depending on the aspect to be evaluated. Based on this, there can be different types of RQ such as based on the existence of the phenomenon, description and classification, composition, relationship, comparative, and causality. To develop a RQ, one needs to begin by identifying the subject of interest and then do preliminary research on that subject. The researcher then defines what still needs to be known in that particular subject and assesses the implied questions. After narrowing the focus and scope of the research subject, researcher frames a RQ and then evaluates it. Thus, conception to formulation of RQ is very systematic process and has to be performed meticulously as research guided by such question can have wider impact in the field of social and health research by leading to formulation of policies for the benefit of larger population.

I NTRODUCTION

A good research question (RQ) forms backbone of a good research, which in turn is vital in unraveling mysteries of nature and giving insight into a problem.[ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ] RQ identifies the problem to be studied and guides to the methodology. It leads to building up of an appropriate hypothesis (Hs). Hence, RQ aims to explore an existing uncertainty in an area of concern and points to a need for deliberate investigation. A good RQ helps support a focused arguable thesis and construction of a logical argument. Hence, formulation of a good RQ is undoubtedly one of the first critical steps in the research process, especially in the field of social and health research, where the systematic generation of knowledge that can be used to promote, restore, maintain, and/or protect health of individuals and populations.[ 1 , 3 , 4 ] Basically, the research can be classified as action, applied, basic, clinical, empirical, administrative, theoretical, or qualitative or quantitative research, depending on its purpose.[ 2 ]

Research plays an important role in developing clinical practices and instituting new health policies. Hence, there is a need for a logical scientific approach as research has an important goal of generating new claims.[ 1 ]

C HARACTERISTICS OF G OOD R ESEARCH Q UESTION

“The most successful research topics are narrowly focused and carefully defined but are important parts of a broad-ranging, complex problem.”

A good RQ is an asset as it:

  • Details the problem statement
  • Further describes and refines the issue under study
  • Adds focus to the problem statement
  • Guides data collection and analysis
  • Sets context of research.

Hence, while writing RQ, it is important to see if it is relevant to the existing time frame and conditions. For example, the impact of “odd-even” vehicle formula in decreasing the level of air particulate pollution in various districts of Delhi.

A good research is represented by acronym FINERMAPS[ 5 ]

Interesting.

  • Appropriate
  • Potential value and publishability
  • Systematic.

Feasibility means that it is within the ability of the investigator to carry out. It should be backed by an appropriate number of subjects and methodology as well as time and funds to reach the conclusions. One needs to be realistic about the scope and scale of the project. One has to have access to the people, gadgets, documents, statistics, etc. One should be able to relate the concepts of the RQ to the observations, phenomena, indicators, or variables that one can access. One should be clear that the collection of data and the proceedings of project can be completed within the limited time and resources available to the investigator. Sometimes, a RQ appears feasible, but when fieldwork or study gets started, it proves otherwise. In this situation, it is important to write up the problems honestly and to reflect on what has been learned. One should try to discuss with more experienced colleagues or the supervisor so as to develop a contingency plan to anticipate possible problems while working on a RQ and find possible solutions in such situations.

This is essential that one has a real grounded interest in one's RQ and one can explore this and back it up with academic and intellectual debate. This interest will motivate one to keep going with RQ.

The question should not simply copy questions investigated by other workers but should have scope to be investigated. It may aim at confirming or refuting the already established findings, establish new facts, or find new aspects of the established facts. It should show imagination of the researcher. Above all, the question has to be simple and clear. The complexity of a question can frequently hide unclear thoughts and lead to a confused research process. A very elaborate RQ, or a question which is not differentiated into different parts, may hide concepts that are contradictory or not relevant. This needs to be clear and thought-through. Having one key question with several subcomponents will guide your research.

This is the foremost requirement of any RQ and is mandatory to get clearance from appropriate authorities before stating research on the question. Further, the RQ should be such that it minimizes the risk of harm to the participants in the research, protect the privacy and maintain their confidentiality, and provide the participants right to withdraw from research. It should also guide in avoiding deceptive practices in research.

The question should of academic and intellectual interest to people in the field you have chosen to study. The question preferably should arise from issues raised in the current situation, literature, or in practice. It should establish a clear purpose for the research in relation to the chosen field. For example, filling a gap in knowledge, analyzing academic assumptions or professional practice, monitoring a development in practice, comparing different approaches, or testing theories within a specific population are some of the relevant RQs.

Manageable (M): It has the similar essence as of feasibility but mainly means that the following research can be managed by the researcher.

Appropriate (A): RQ should be appropriate logically and scientifically for the community and institution.

Potential value and publishability (P): The study can make significant health impact in clinical and community practices. Therefore, research should aim for significant economic impact to reduce unnecessary or excessive costs. Furthermore, the proposed study should exist within a clinical, consumer, or policy-making context that is amenable to evidence-based change. Above all, a good RQ must address a topic that has clear implications for resolving important dilemmas in health and health-care decisions made by one or more stakeholder groups.

Systematic (S): Research is structured with specified steps to be taken in a specified sequence in accordance with the well-defined set of rules though it does not rule out creative thinking.

Example of RQ: Would the topical skin application of oil as a skin barrier reduces hypothermia in preterm infants? This question fulfills the criteria of a good RQ, that is, feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, and relevant.

Types of research question

A RQ can address different formats depending on the aspect to be evaluated.[ 6 ] For example:

  • Existence: This is designed to uphold the existence of a particular phenomenon or to rule out rival explanation, for example, can neonates perceive pain?
  • Description and classification: This type of question encompasses statement of uniqueness, for example, what are characteristics and types of neuropathic bladders?
  • Composition: It calls for breakdown of whole into components, for example, what are stages of reflux nephropathy?
  • Relationship: Evaluate relation between variables, for example, association between tumor rupture and recurrence rates in Wilm's tumor
  • Descriptive—comparative: Expected that researcher will ensure that all is same between groups except issue in question, for example, Are germ cell tumors occurring in gonads more aggressive than those occurring in extragonadal sites?
  • Causality: Does deletion of p53 leads to worse outcome in patients with neuroblastoma?
  • Causality—comparative: Such questions frequently aim to see effect of two rival treatments, for example, does adding surgical resection improves survival rate outcome in children with neuroblastoma than with chemotherapy alone?
  • Causality–Comparative interactions: Does immunotherapy leads to better survival outcome in neuroblastoma Stage IV S than with chemotherapy in the setting of adverse genetic profile than without it? (Does X cause more changes in Y than those caused by Z under certain condition and not under other conditions).

How to develop a research question

  • Begin by identifying a broader subject of interest that lends itself to investigate, for example, hormone levels among hypospadias
  • Do preliminary research on the general topic to find out what research has already been done and what literature already exists.[ 7 ] Therefore, one should begin with “information gaps” (What do you already know about the problem? For example, studies with results on testosterone levels among hypospadias
  • What do you still need to know? (e.g., levels of other reproductive hormones among hypospadias)
  • What are the implied questions: The need to know about a problem will lead to few implied questions. Each general question should lead to more specific questions (e.g., how hormone levels differ among isolated hypospadias with respect to that in normal population)
  • Narrow the scope and focus of research (e.g., assessment of reproductive hormone levels among isolated hypospadias and hypospadias those with associated anomalies)
  • Is RQ clear? With so much research available on any given topic, RQs must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in helping the writer direct his or her research
  • Is the RQ focused? RQs must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available
  • Is the RQ complex? RQs should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily found facts. They should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer
  • Is the RQ one that is of interest to the researcher and potentially useful to others? Is it a new issue or problem that needs to be solved or is it attempting to shed light on previously researched topic
  • Is the RQ researchable? Consider the available time frame and the required resources. Is the methodology to conduct the research feasible?
  • Is the RQ measurable and will the process produce data that can be supported or contradicted?
  • Is the RQ too broad or too narrow?
  • Create Hs: After formulating RQ, think where research is likely to be progressing? What kind of argument is likely to be made/supported? What would it mean if the research disputed the planned argument? At this step, one can well be on the way to have a focus for the research and construction of a thesis. Hs consists of more specific predictions about the nature and direction of the relationship between two variables. It is a predictive statement about the outcome of the research, dictate the method, and design of the research[ 1 ]
  • Understand implications of your research: This is important for application: whether one achieves to fill gap in knowledge and how the results of the research have practical implications, for example, to develop health policies or improve educational policies.[ 1 , 8 ]

Brainstorm/Concept map for formulating research question

  • First, identify what types of studies have been done in the past?
  • Is there a unique area that is yet to be investigated or is there a particular question that may be worth replicating?
  • Begin to narrow the topic by asking open-ended “how” and “why” questions
  • Evaluate the question
  • Develop a Hypothesis (Hs)
  • Write down the RQ.

Writing down the research question

  • State the question in your own words
  • Write down the RQ as completely as possible.

For example, Evaluation of reproductive hormonal profile in children presenting with isolated hypospadias)

  • Divide your question into concepts. Narrow to two or three concepts (reproductive hormonal profile, isolated hypospadias, compare with normal/not isolated hypospadias–implied)
  • Specify the population to be studied (children with isolated hypospadias)
  • Refer to the exposure or intervention to be investigated, if any
  • Reflect the outcome of interest (hormonal profile).

Another example of a research question

Would the topical skin application of oil as a skin barrier reduces hypothermia in preterm infants? Apart from fulfilling the criteria of a good RQ, that is, feasible, interesting, novel, ethical, and relevant, it also details about the intervention done (topical skin application of oil), rationale of intervention (as a skin barrier), population to be studied (preterm infants), and outcome (reduces hypothermia).

Other important points to be heeded to while framing research question

  • Make reference to a population when a relationship is expected among a certain type of subjects
  • RQs and Hs should be made as specific as possible
  • Avoid words or terms that do not add to the meaning of RQs and Hs
  • Stick to what will be studied, not implications
  • Name the variables in the order in which they occur/will be measured
  • Avoid the words significant/”prove”
  • Avoid using two different terms to refer to the same variable.

Some of the other problems and their possible solutions have been discussed in Table 1 .

Potential problems and solutions while making research question

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Object name is JIAPS-24-15-g001.jpg

G OING B EYOND F ORMULATION OF R ESEARCH Q UESTION–THE P ATH A HEAD

Once RQ is formulated, a Hs can be developed. Hs means transformation of a RQ into an operational analog.[ 1 ] It means a statement as to what prediction one makes about the phenomenon to be examined.[ 4 ] More often, for case–control trial, null Hs is generated which is later accepted or refuted.

A strong Hs should have following characteristics:

  • Give insight into a RQ
  • Are testable and measurable by the proposed experiments
  • Have logical basis
  • Follows the most likely outcome, not the exceptional outcome.

E XAMPLES OF R ESEARCH Q UESTION AND H YPOTHESIS

Research question-1.

  • Does reduced gap between the two segments of the esophagus in patients of esophageal atresia reduces the mortality and morbidity of such patients?

Hypothesis-1

  • Reduced gap between the two segments of the esophagus in patients of esophageal atresia reduces the mortality and morbidity of such patients
  • In pediatric patients with esophageal atresia, gap of <2 cm between two segments of the esophagus and proper mobilization of proximal pouch reduces the morbidity and mortality among such patients.

Research question-2

  • Does application of mitomycin C improves the outcome in patient of corrosive esophageal strictures?

Hypothesis-2

In patients aged 2–9 years with corrosive esophageal strictures, 34 applications of mitomycin C in dosage of 0.4 mg/ml for 5 min over a period of 6 months improve the outcome in terms of symptomatic and radiological relief. Some other examples of good and bad RQs have been shown in Table 2 .

Examples of few bad (left-hand side column) and few good (right-hand side) research questions

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Object name is JIAPS-24-15-g002.jpg

R ESEARCH Q UESTION AND S TUDY D ESIGN

RQ determines study design, for example, the question aimed to find the incidence of a disease in population will lead to conducting a survey; to find risk factors for a disease will need case–control study or a cohort study. RQ may also culminate into clinical trial.[ 9 , 10 ] For example, effect of administration of folic acid tablet in the perinatal period in decreasing incidence of neural tube defect. Accordingly, Hs is framed.

Appropriate statistical calculations are instituted to generate sample size. The subject inclusion, exclusion criteria and time frame of research are carefully defined. The detailed subject information sheet and pro forma are carefully defined. Moreover, research is set off few examples of research methodology guided by RQ:

  • Incidence of anorectal malformations among adolescent females (hospital-based survey)
  • Risk factors for the development of spontaneous pneumoperitoneum in pediatric patients (case–control design and cohort study)
  • Effect of technique of extramucosal ureteric reimplantation without the creation of submucosal tunnel for the preservation of upper tract in bladder exstrophy (clinical trial).

The results of the research are then be available for wider applications for health and social life

C ONCLUSION

A good RQ needs thorough literature search and deep insight into the specific area/problem to be investigated. A RQ has to be focused yet simple. Research guided by such question can have wider impact in the field of social and health research by leading to formulation of policies for the benefit of larger population.

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How to Write a Great Hypothesis

Hypothesis Format, Examples, and Tips

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

hypothesis formulation dissertation

Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.

hypothesis formulation dissertation

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

  • The Scientific Method

Hypothesis Format

Falsifiability of a hypothesis, operational definitions, types of hypotheses, hypotheses examples.

  • Collecting Data

Frequently Asked Questions

A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship between two or more  variables. It is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in a study.

One hypothesis example would be a study designed to look at the relationship between sleep deprivation and test performance might have a hypothesis that states: "This study is designed to assess the hypothesis that sleep-deprived people will perform worse on a test than individuals who are not sleep-deprived."

This article explores how a hypothesis is used in psychology research, how to write a good hypothesis, and the different types of hypotheses you might use.

The Hypothesis in the Scientific Method

In the scientific method , whether it involves research in psychology, biology, or some other area, a hypothesis represents what the researchers think will happen in an experiment. The scientific method involves the following steps:

  • Forming a question
  • Performing background research
  • Creating a hypothesis
  • Designing an experiment
  • Collecting data
  • Analyzing the results
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Communicating the results

The hypothesis is a prediction, but it involves more than a guess. Most of the time, the hypothesis begins with a question which is then explored through background research. It is only at this point that researchers begin to develop a testable hypothesis. Unless you are creating an exploratory study, your hypothesis should always explain what you  expect  to happen.

In a study exploring the effects of a particular drug, the hypothesis might be that researchers expect the drug to have some type of effect on the symptoms of a specific illness. In psychology, the hypothesis might focus on how a certain aspect of the environment might influence a particular behavior.

Remember, a hypothesis does not have to be correct. While the hypothesis predicts what the researchers expect to see, the goal of the research is to determine whether this guess is right or wrong. When conducting an experiment, researchers might explore a number of factors to determine which ones might contribute to the ultimate outcome.

In many cases, researchers may find that the results of an experiment  do not  support the original hypothesis. When writing up these results, the researchers might suggest other options that should be explored in future studies.

In many cases, researchers might draw a hypothesis from a specific theory or build on previous research. For example, prior research has shown that stress can impact the immune system. So a researcher might hypothesize: "People with high-stress levels will be more likely to contract a common cold after being exposed to the virus than people who have low-stress levels."

In other instances, researchers might look at commonly held beliefs or folk wisdom. "Birds of a feather flock together" is one example of folk wisdom that a psychologist might try to investigate. The researcher might pose a specific hypothesis that "People tend to select romantic partners who are similar to them in interests and educational level."

Elements of a Good Hypothesis

So how do you write a good hypothesis? When trying to come up with a hypothesis for your research or experiments, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your hypothesis based on your research on a topic?
  • Can your hypothesis be tested?
  • Does your hypothesis include independent and dependent variables?

Before you come up with a specific hypothesis, spend some time doing background research. Once you have completed a literature review, start thinking about potential questions you still have. Pay attention to the discussion section in the  journal articles you read . Many authors will suggest questions that still need to be explored.

To form a hypothesis, you should take these steps:

  • Collect as many observations about a topic or problem as you can.
  • Evaluate these observations and look for possible causes of the problem.
  • Create a list of possible explanations that you might want to explore.
  • After you have developed some possible hypotheses, think of ways that you could confirm or disprove each hypothesis through experimentation. This is known as falsifiability.

In the scientific method ,  falsifiability is an important part of any valid hypothesis.   In order to test a claim scientifically, it must be possible that the claim could be proven false.

Students sometimes confuse the idea of falsifiability with the idea that it means that something is false, which is not the case. What falsifiability means is that  if  something was false, then it is possible to demonstrate that it is false.

One of the hallmarks of pseudoscience is that it makes claims that cannot be refuted or proven false.

A variable is a factor or element that can be changed and manipulated in ways that are observable and measurable. However, the researcher must also define how the variable will be manipulated and measured in the study.

For example, a researcher might operationally define the variable " test anxiety " as the results of a self-report measure of anxiety experienced during an exam. A "study habits" variable might be defined by the amount of studying that actually occurs as measured by time.

These precise descriptions are important because many things can be measured in a number of different ways. One of the basic principles of any type of scientific research is that the results must be replicable.   By clearly detailing the specifics of how the variables were measured and manipulated, other researchers can better understand the results and repeat the study if needed.

Some variables are more difficult than others to define. How would you operationally define a variable such as aggression ? For obvious ethical reasons, researchers cannot create a situation in which a person behaves aggressively toward others.

In order to measure this variable, the researcher must devise a measurement that assesses aggressive behavior without harming other people. In this situation, the researcher might utilize a simulated task to measure aggressiveness.

Hypothesis Checklist

  • Does your hypothesis focus on something that you can actually test?
  • Does your hypothesis include both an independent and dependent variable?
  • Can you manipulate the variables?
  • Can your hypothesis be tested without violating ethical standards?

The hypothesis you use will depend on what you are investigating and hoping to find. Some of the main types of hypotheses that you might use include:

  • Simple hypothesis : This type of hypothesis suggests that there is a relationship between one independent variable and one dependent variable.
  • Complex hypothesis : This type of hypothesis suggests a relationship between three or more variables, such as two independent variables and a dependent variable.
  • Null hypothesis : This hypothesis suggests no relationship exists between two or more variables.
  • Alternative hypothesis : This hypothesis states the opposite of the null hypothesis.
  • Statistical hypothesis : This hypothesis uses statistical analysis to evaluate a representative sample of the population and then generalizes the findings to the larger group.
  • Logical hypothesis : This hypothesis assumes a relationship between variables without collecting data or evidence.

A hypothesis often follows a basic format of "If {this happens} then {this will happen}." One way to structure your hypothesis is to describe what will happen to the  dependent variable  if you change the  independent variable .

The basic format might be: "If {these changes are made to a certain independent variable}, then we will observe {a change in a specific dependent variable}."

A few examples of simple hypotheses:

  • "Students who eat breakfast will perform better on a math exam than students who do not eat breakfast."
  • Complex hypothesis: "Students who experience test anxiety before an English exam will get lower scores than students who do not experience test anxiety."​
  • "Motorists who talk on the phone while driving will be more likely to make errors on a driving course than those who do not talk on the phone."

Examples of a complex hypothesis include:

  • "People with high-sugar diets and sedentary activity levels are more likely to develop depression."
  • "Younger people who are regularly exposed to green, outdoor areas have better subjective well-being than older adults who have limited exposure to green spaces."

Examples of a null hypothesis include:

  • "Children who receive a new reading intervention will have scores different than students who do not receive the intervention."
  • "There will be no difference in scores on a memory recall task between children and adults."

Examples of an alternative hypothesis:

  • "Children who receive a new reading intervention will perform better than students who did not receive the intervention."
  • "Adults will perform better on a memory task than children." 

Collecting Data on Your Hypothesis

Once a researcher has formed a testable hypothesis, the next step is to select a research design and start collecting data. The research method depends largely on exactly what they are studying. There are two basic types of research methods: descriptive research and experimental research.

Descriptive Research Methods

Descriptive research such as  case studies ,  naturalistic observations , and surveys are often used when it would be impossible or difficult to  conduct an experiment . These methods are best used to describe different aspects of a behavior or psychological phenomenon.

Once a researcher has collected data using descriptive methods, a correlational study can then be used to look at how the variables are related. This type of research method might be used to investigate a hypothesis that is difficult to test experimentally.

Experimental Research Methods

Experimental methods  are used to demonstrate causal relationships between variables. In an experiment, the researcher systematically manipulates a variable of interest (known as the independent variable) and measures the effect on another variable (known as the dependent variable).

Unlike correlational studies, which can only be used to determine if there is a relationship between two variables, experimental methods can be used to determine the actual nature of the relationship—whether changes in one variable actually  cause  another to change.

A Word From Verywell

The hypothesis is a critical part of any scientific exploration. It represents what researchers expect to find in a study or experiment. In situations where the hypothesis is unsupported by the research, the research still has value. Such research helps us better understand how different aspects of the natural world relate to one another. It also helps us develop new hypotheses that can then be tested in the future.

Some examples of how to write a hypothesis include:

  • "Staying up late will lead to worse test performance the next day."
  • "People who consume one apple each day will visit the doctor fewer times each year."
  • "Breaking study sessions up into three 20-minute sessions will lead to better test results than a single 60-minute study session."

The four parts of a hypothesis are:

  • The research question
  • The independent variable (IV)
  • The dependent variable (DV)
  • The proposed relationship between the IV and DV

Castillo M. The scientific method: a need for something better? . AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2013;34(9):1669-71. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A3401

Nevid J. Psychology: Concepts and Applications. Wadworth, 2013.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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Research Method

Home » What is a Hypothesis – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

What is a Hypothesis – Types, Examples and Writing Guide

Table of Contents

What is a Hypothesis

Definition:

Hypothesis is an educated guess or proposed explanation for a phenomenon, based on some initial observations or data. It is a tentative statement that can be tested and potentially proven or disproven through further investigation and experimentation.

Hypothesis is often used in scientific research to guide the design of experiments and the collection and analysis of data. It is an essential element of the scientific method, as it allows researchers to make predictions about the outcome of their experiments and to test those predictions to determine their accuracy.

Types of Hypothesis

Types of Hypothesis are as follows:

Research Hypothesis

A research hypothesis is a statement that predicts a relationship between variables. It is usually formulated as a specific statement that can be tested through research, and it is often used in scientific research to guide the design of experiments.

Null Hypothesis

The null hypothesis is a statement that assumes there is no significant difference or relationship between variables. It is often used as a starting point for testing the research hypothesis, and if the results of the study reject the null hypothesis, it suggests that there is a significant difference or relationship between variables.

Alternative Hypothesis

An alternative hypothesis is a statement that assumes there is a significant difference or relationship between variables. It is often used as an alternative to the null hypothesis and is tested against the null hypothesis to determine which statement is more accurate.

Directional Hypothesis

A directional hypothesis is a statement that predicts the direction of the relationship between variables. For example, a researcher might predict that increasing the amount of exercise will result in a decrease in body weight.

Non-directional Hypothesis

A non-directional hypothesis is a statement that predicts the relationship between variables but does not specify the direction. For example, a researcher might predict that there is a relationship between the amount of exercise and body weight, but they do not specify whether increasing or decreasing exercise will affect body weight.

Statistical Hypothesis

A statistical hypothesis is a statement that assumes a particular statistical model or distribution for the data. It is often used in statistical analysis to test the significance of a particular result.

Composite Hypothesis

A composite hypothesis is a statement that assumes more than one condition or outcome. It can be divided into several sub-hypotheses, each of which represents a different possible outcome.

Empirical Hypothesis

An empirical hypothesis is a statement that is based on observed phenomena or data. It is often used in scientific research to develop theories or models that explain the observed phenomena.

Simple Hypothesis

A simple hypothesis is a statement that assumes only one outcome or condition. It is often used in scientific research to test a single variable or factor.

Complex Hypothesis

A complex hypothesis is a statement that assumes multiple outcomes or conditions. It is often used in scientific research to test the effects of multiple variables or factors on a particular outcome.

Applications of Hypothesis

Hypotheses are used in various fields to guide research and make predictions about the outcomes of experiments or observations. Here are some examples of how hypotheses are applied in different fields:

  • Science : In scientific research, hypotheses are used to test the validity of theories and models that explain natural phenomena. For example, a hypothesis might be formulated to test the effects of a particular variable on a natural system, such as the effects of climate change on an ecosystem.
  • Medicine : In medical research, hypotheses are used to test the effectiveness of treatments and therapies for specific conditions. For example, a hypothesis might be formulated to test the effects of a new drug on a particular disease.
  • Psychology : In psychology, hypotheses are used to test theories and models of human behavior and cognition. For example, a hypothesis might be formulated to test the effects of a particular stimulus on the brain or behavior.
  • Sociology : In sociology, hypotheses are used to test theories and models of social phenomena, such as the effects of social structures or institutions on human behavior. For example, a hypothesis might be formulated to test the effects of income inequality on crime rates.
  • Business : In business research, hypotheses are used to test the validity of theories and models that explain business phenomena, such as consumer behavior or market trends. For example, a hypothesis might be formulated to test the effects of a new marketing campaign on consumer buying behavior.
  • Engineering : In engineering, hypotheses are used to test the effectiveness of new technologies or designs. For example, a hypothesis might be formulated to test the efficiency of a new solar panel design.

How to write a Hypothesis

Here are the steps to follow when writing a hypothesis:

Identify the Research Question

The first step is to identify the research question that you want to answer through your study. This question should be clear, specific, and focused. It should be something that can be investigated empirically and that has some relevance or significance in the field.

Conduct a Literature Review

Before writing your hypothesis, it’s essential to conduct a thorough literature review to understand what is already known about the topic. This will help you to identify the research gap and formulate a hypothesis that builds on existing knowledge.

Determine the Variables

The next step is to identify the variables involved in the research question. A variable is any characteristic or factor that can vary or change. There are two types of variables: independent and dependent. The independent variable is the one that is manipulated or changed by the researcher, while the dependent variable is the one that is measured or observed as a result of the independent variable.

Formulate the Hypothesis

Based on the research question and the variables involved, you can now formulate your hypothesis. A hypothesis should be a clear and concise statement that predicts the relationship between the variables. It should be testable through empirical research and based on existing theory or evidence.

Write the Null Hypothesis

The null hypothesis is the opposite of the alternative hypothesis, which is the hypothesis that you are testing. The null hypothesis states that there is no significant difference or relationship between the variables. It is important to write the null hypothesis because it allows you to compare your results with what would be expected by chance.

Refine the Hypothesis

After formulating the hypothesis, it’s important to refine it and make it more precise. This may involve clarifying the variables, specifying the direction of the relationship, or making the hypothesis more testable.

Examples of Hypothesis

Here are a few examples of hypotheses in different fields:

  • Psychology : “Increased exposure to violent video games leads to increased aggressive behavior in adolescents.”
  • Biology : “Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to increased plant growth.”
  • Sociology : “Individuals who grow up in households with higher socioeconomic status will have higher levels of education and income as adults.”
  • Education : “Implementing a new teaching method will result in higher student achievement scores.”
  • Marketing : “Customers who receive a personalized email will be more likely to make a purchase than those who receive a generic email.”
  • Physics : “An increase in temperature will cause an increase in the volume of a gas, assuming all other variables remain constant.”
  • Medicine : “Consuming a diet high in saturated fats will increase the risk of developing heart disease.”

Purpose of Hypothesis

The purpose of a hypothesis is to provide a testable explanation for an observed phenomenon or a prediction of a future outcome based on existing knowledge or theories. A hypothesis is an essential part of the scientific method and helps to guide the research process by providing a clear focus for investigation. It enables scientists to design experiments or studies to gather evidence and data that can support or refute the proposed explanation or prediction.

The formulation of a hypothesis is based on existing knowledge, observations, and theories, and it should be specific, testable, and falsifiable. A specific hypothesis helps to define the research question, which is important in the research process as it guides the selection of an appropriate research design and methodology. Testability of the hypothesis means that it can be proven or disproven through empirical data collection and analysis. Falsifiability means that the hypothesis should be formulated in such a way that it can be proven wrong if it is incorrect.

In addition to guiding the research process, the testing of hypotheses can lead to new discoveries and advancements in scientific knowledge. When a hypothesis is supported by the data, it can be used to develop new theories or models to explain the observed phenomenon. When a hypothesis is not supported by the data, it can help to refine existing theories or prompt the development of new hypotheses to explain the phenomenon.

When to use Hypothesis

Here are some common situations in which hypotheses are used:

  • In scientific research , hypotheses are used to guide the design of experiments and to help researchers make predictions about the outcomes of those experiments.
  • In social science research , hypotheses are used to test theories about human behavior, social relationships, and other phenomena.
  • I n business , hypotheses can be used to guide decisions about marketing, product development, and other areas. For example, a hypothesis might be that a new product will sell well in a particular market, and this hypothesis can be tested through market research.

Characteristics of Hypothesis

Here are some common characteristics of a hypothesis:

  • Testable : A hypothesis must be able to be tested through observation or experimentation. This means that it must be possible to collect data that will either support or refute the hypothesis.
  • Falsifiable : A hypothesis must be able to be proven false if it is not supported by the data. If a hypothesis cannot be falsified, then it is not a scientific hypothesis.
  • Clear and concise : A hypothesis should be stated in a clear and concise manner so that it can be easily understood and tested.
  • Based on existing knowledge : A hypothesis should be based on existing knowledge and research in the field. It should not be based on personal beliefs or opinions.
  • Specific : A hypothesis should be specific in terms of the variables being tested and the predicted outcome. This will help to ensure that the research is focused and well-designed.
  • Tentative: A hypothesis is a tentative statement or assumption that requires further testing and evidence to be confirmed or refuted. It is not a final conclusion or assertion.
  • Relevant : A hypothesis should be relevant to the research question or problem being studied. It should address a gap in knowledge or provide a new perspective on the issue.

Advantages of Hypothesis

Hypotheses have several advantages in scientific research and experimentation:

  • Guides research: A hypothesis provides a clear and specific direction for research. It helps to focus the research question, select appropriate methods and variables, and interpret the results.
  • Predictive powe r: A hypothesis makes predictions about the outcome of research, which can be tested through experimentation. This allows researchers to evaluate the validity of the hypothesis and make new discoveries.
  • Facilitates communication: A hypothesis provides a common language and framework for scientists to communicate with one another about their research. This helps to facilitate the exchange of ideas and promotes collaboration.
  • Efficient use of resources: A hypothesis helps researchers to use their time, resources, and funding efficiently by directing them towards specific research questions and methods that are most likely to yield results.
  • Provides a basis for further research: A hypothesis that is supported by data provides a basis for further research and exploration. It can lead to new hypotheses, theories, and discoveries.
  • Increases objectivity: A hypothesis can help to increase objectivity in research by providing a clear and specific framework for testing and interpreting results. This can reduce bias and increase the reliability of research findings.

Limitations of Hypothesis

Some Limitations of the Hypothesis are as follows:

  • Limited to observable phenomena: Hypotheses are limited to observable phenomena and cannot account for unobservable or intangible factors. This means that some research questions may not be amenable to hypothesis testing.
  • May be inaccurate or incomplete: Hypotheses are based on existing knowledge and research, which may be incomplete or inaccurate. This can lead to flawed hypotheses and erroneous conclusions.
  • May be biased: Hypotheses may be biased by the researcher’s own beliefs, values, or assumptions. This can lead to selective interpretation of data and a lack of objectivity in research.
  • Cannot prove causation: A hypothesis can only show a correlation between variables, but it cannot prove causation. This requires further experimentation and analysis.
  • Limited to specific contexts: Hypotheses are limited to specific contexts and may not be generalizable to other situations or populations. This means that results may not be applicable in other contexts or may require further testing.
  • May be affected by chance : Hypotheses may be affected by chance or random variation, which can obscure or distort the true relationship between variables.

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