Stating A Hypothesis In Research Paper

By Science Buddies on February 23, 2010 9:23 AM


"If _____[I do this] _____, then _____[this]_____ will happen."


Sound familiar? It should. This formulaic approach to making a statement about what you "think" will happen is the basis of most science fair projects and much scientific exploration.

Step by Step
You can see from the basic outline of the Scientific Method below that writing your hypothesis comes early in the process:
  1. Ask a Question
  2. Do Background Research
  3. Construct a Hypothesis
  4. Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  5. Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  6. Communicate Your Results

Following the scientific method, we come up with a question that we want to answer, we do some initial research, and then before we set out to answer the question by performing an experiment and observing what happens, we first clearly identify what we "think" will happen.

We make an "educated guess."

We write a hypothesis.

We set out to prove or disprove the hypothesis.

What you "think" will happen, of course, should be based on your preliminary research and your understanding of the science and scientific principles involved in your proposed experiment or study. In other words, you don't simply "guess." You're not taking a shot in the dark. You're not pulling your statement out of thin air. Instead, you make an "educated guess" based on what you already know and what you have already learned from your research.

If you keep in mind the format of a well-constructed hypothesis, you should find that writing your hypothesis is not difficult to do. You'll also find that in order to write a solid hypothesis, you need to understand what your variables are for your project. It's all connected!

If I never water my plant, it will dry out and die.

That seems like an obvious statement, right? The above hypothesis is too simplistic for most middle- to upper-grade science projects, however. As you work on deciding what question you will explore, you should be looking for something for which the answer is not already obvious or already known (to you). When you write your hypothesis, it should be based on your "educated guess" not on known data. Similarly, the hypothesis should be written before you begin your experimental procedures—not after the fact.



Hypotheses Tips

Our staff scientists offer the following tips for thinking about and writing good hypotheses.

  • The question comes first. Before you make a hypothesis, you have to clearly identify the question you are interested in studying.
  • A hypothesis is a statement, not a question. Your hypothesis is not the scientific question in your project. The hypothesis is an educated, testable prediction about what will happen.
  • Make it clear. A good hypothesis is written in clear and simple language. Reading your hypothesis should tell a teacher or judge exactly what you thought was going to happen when you started your project.
  • Keep the variables in mind. A good hypothesis defines the variables in easy-to-measure terms, like who the participants are, what changes during the testing, and what the effect of the changes will be. (For more information about identifying variables, see: Variables in Your Science Fair Project.)
  • Make sure your hypothesis is "testable." To prove or disprove your hypothesis, you need to be able to do an experiment and take measurements or make observations to see how two things (your variables) are related. You should also be able to repeat your experiment over and over again, if necessary.

    To create a "testable" hypothesis make sure you have done all of these things:

    • Thought about what experiments you will need to carry out to do the test.
    • Identified the variables in the project.
    • Included the independent and dependent variables in the hypothesis statement. (This helps ensure that your statement is specific enough.
  • Do your research. You may find many studies similar to yours have already been conducted. What you learn from available research and data can help you shape your project and hypothesis.
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew! Answering some scientific questions can involve more than one experiment, each with its own hypothesis. Make sure your hypothesis is a specific statement relating to a single experiment.


Putting it in Action

To help demonstrate the above principles and techniques for developing and writing solid, specific, and testable hypotheses, Sandra and Kristin, two of our staff scientists, offer the following good and bad examples.

Good HypothesisPoor Hypothesis
When there is less oxygen in the water, rainbow trout suffer more lice.

Kristin says: "This hypothesis is good because it is testable, simple, written as a statement, and establishes the participants (trout), variables (oxygen in water, and numbers of lice), and predicts effect (as oxygen levels go down, the numbers of lice go up)."

Our universe is surrounded by another, larger universe, with which we can have absolutely no contact.

Kristin says: "This statement may or may not be true, but it is not a scientific hypothesis. By its very nature, it is not testable. There are no observations that a scientist can make to tell whether or not the hypothesis is correct. This statement is speculation, not a hypothesis."

Aphid-infected plants that are exposed to ladybugs will have fewer aphids after a week than aphid-infected plants which are left untreated.

Sandra says: "This hypothesis gives a clear indication of what is to be tested (the ability of ladybugs to curb an aphid infestation), is a manageable size for a single experiment, mentions the independent variable (ladybugs) and the dependent variable (number of aphids), and predicts the effect (exposure to ladybugs reduces the number of aphids)."

Ladybugs are a good natural pesticide for treating aphid infected plants.

Sandra says: "This statement is not 'bite size.' Whether or not something is a 'good natural pesticide' is too vague for a science fair project. There is no clear indication of what will be measured to evaluate the prediction."



Hypotheses in History

Throughout history, scientists have posed hypotheses and then set out to prove or disprove them. Staff Scientist Dave reminds that scientific experiments become a dialogue between and among scientists and that hypotheses are rarely (if ever) "eternal." In other words, even a hypothesis that is proven true may be displaced by the next set of research on a similar topic, whether that research appears a month or a hundred years later.

A look at the work of Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, more than 100 years apart, shows good hypothesis-writing in action.

As Dave explains, "A hypothesis is a possible explanation for something that is observed in nature. For example, it is a common observation that objects that are thrown into the air fall toward the earth. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) put forth a hypothesis to explain this observation, which might be stated as 'objects with mass attract each other through a gravitational field.'"

Newton's hypothesis demonstrates the techniques for writing a good hypothesis: It is testable. It is simple. It is universal. It allows for predictions that will occur in new circumstances. It builds upon previously accumulated knowledge (e.g., Newton's work explained the observed orbits of the planets).

"As it turns out, despite its incredible explanatory power, Newton's hypothesis was wrong," says Dave. "Albert Einstein (1879-1955) provided a hypothesis that is closer to the truth, which can be stated as 'objects with mass cause space to bend.' This hypothesis discards the idea of a gravitational field and introduces the concept of space as bendable. Like Newton's hypothesis, the one offered by Einstein has all of the characteristics of a good hypothesis."

"Like all scientific ideas and explanations," says Dave, "hypotheses are all partial and temporary, lasting just until a better one comes along."

That's good news for scientists of all ages. There are always questions to answer and educated guesses to make!



If your science fair is over, leave a comment here to let us know what your hypothesis was for your project.


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Hypothesis:(noun) a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

Yikes! That sounds pretty serious (and a little intimidating too).

Don’t let it scare you, though. In simpler terms, a hypothesis is an idea of what you think will happen in your experiment or study. You’ll make this prediction after you’ve completed some research but before you’ve conducted your study or experiment.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Learning how to write a hypothesis for your badass research paper isn’t that bad, either. Here’s what to do.

How to Write a Hypothesis for a Badass Research Paper in 3 Steps

Before you start writing, you’ll need to choose a topic.

It’s a given that, if you’re allowed to choose your topic, then you should choose something you’re interested in. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this topic, after all. So don’t research the water quality of a local river if your true passion is soils and sediments.

Have a topic in mind? Fabulous! If not, read How to Choose a Research Paper Topic That Wins Big.

After you’ve decided on a topic, you can start the process of writing your hypothesis. Let’s get to the those 3 steps showing how to write a hypothesis for a badass research paper.

Step #1: Read and analyze the current literature

Read the current literature

No, I don’t mean literature as in Romeo and Juliet. I mean literature as in studies and scholarly writings (such as professional journals and books) about your subject.

Before you can write intelligently about the topic, you need to know as much as possible about it. Become an expert in your subject by reading what others have already written about it.

Remember, this is scientific and scholarly stuff we’re talking about, so don’t think Google will have everything you need. If you insist on using Google, opt for Google Scholar. Better yet, use your school’s databases to research your topic.

Read 5 Best Resources to Help with Writing a Research Paper to learn more about research resources. Just need help assessing the credibility of your sources? Read How to Apply the CRAAP Test to Your Essay Sources.

BONUS RESEARCH TIPS

  • When you ultimately write your research paper, you’ll need to have a complete list of sources you’ve consulted. Keep track of your sources by printing or saving documents as you research. That way, it’s easy for you to list them in your bibliography. (Hint: Note-taking is also a great strategy for staying organized!)
  • Keep in mind that you might need both a bibliography and a reference page, or simply a reference page. Because you’re writing a scientific paper, you’ll likely need to cite all information in APA  format. (Check with your professor to make sure APA is the preferred citation style for your project.)
  • Sometimes even a bibliography and a reference page aren’t enough. Your professor might ask for an annotated bibliography before you write your paper. This is essentially a formal list of sources with annotations to summarize and evaluate each source. Learn more about how to write an annotated bibliography by reading How to Write an Annotated Bibliography That Works.

Analyze the current literature

As you read through the literature, take note of what types of experiments and studies have already been completed.

You don’t want to duplicate previous research (unless, of course, you feel the study was somehow completed incorrectly or it failed to analyze specific information).

Look for fresh angles on the topic to see where you might add to the current studies or create something completely new.

For instance, let’s say you’re studying sleep patterns. You decide to focus on the correlation between electronic devices and sleep patterns. If all of the current literature focuses on teens and adults, but you can’t find any research on children under the age of 10, this could be your chance to develop an entirely new study.

Step #2: Develop questions and look for answers

With a general idea of your research study in place, start asking questions about your subject. These will be questions that aren’t likely already answered in the literature you’ve just read. They’re questions you want to (hopefully) find the answers to.

These questions will be your research questions.

Here’s a quick example. If all of the information you’ve read states that teens and adults who use electronic devices immediately before bedtime have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or getting restful sleep, you might wonder whether the same is true for young children.

Based on this information, you might ask the following research question:

  • Do children under 10 have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or getting restful sleep if they use electronic devices immediately before bedtime?

This research question is simple yet effective, for a few reasons:

  • It examines a new group of people that has not been studied.
  • It’s relevant to children, parents, and society at large.
  • It can be tested.

Step #3: Write the hypothesis

The hypothesis is essentially your prediction based on what you’ve already learned from your research. It’s also what you’ll test as part of your study.

A hypothesis often follows an “if/then” format. If this happens, then that may happen.

If you don’t write your research paper, then you will fail the class.

Here’s another example based on the topic of using electronic devices before bedtime.

If the literature states:

  • Teens and adults who use electronic devices immediately before bedtime have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or getting restful sleep.

And if your research question asks:

  • Do children under 10 have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or getting restful sleep if they use electronic devices immediately before bedtime?

Then your hypothesis might read:

  • If children under 10 use electronic devices immediately before bedtime, then they will have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or getting restful sleep.

Keep in mind that your hypothesis might end up being wrong. In this case, it’s okay to be wrong.

If you discover that kids who spend an hour on their tablets immediately before bed are likely to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, great! Parents everywhere will be thanking you for finding a way to get their kids to go to sleep.

Remember, the goal is not to prove you’re right. The goal is to test your hypothesis. If you’re wrong, the next step is to begin the research process again by creating new research questions, a new hypothesis, and another study.  (But we’ll worry about that another time.)

Writing the Badass Research Paper

Writing a badass hypothesis is one thing, but writing a badass research paper is another.

Now that you’ve learned how to write a hypothesis, then what? What do you do after you’ve written your hypothesis?

Start creating your study. You might need to set up experiments or write survey questions and then figure out the best way to complete the study.

If you need to write survey questions, read 2 Types of Sample Survey Questions for Your Research Paper and How to Write Perfect Survey Questions for Your Paper.

After the study is complete, you’ll need to write the paper. Here a few resources to help you along the way:

Remember: IF you need help with revision and editing, THEN you should certainly send your paper to a Kibin editor to make sure that it truly is badass!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

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