Writing a Strong Hypothesis Statement

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All good theses begins with a good thesis question. However, all great theses begins with a great hypothesis statement. One of the most important steps for writing a thesis is to create a strong hypothesis statement. 

What is a hypothesis statement?

Simply put, a hypothesis statement posits the relationship between two or more variables. It is a prediction of what you think will happen in a research study. A hypothesis statement must be testable. If it cannot be tested, then there is no research to be done. If your thesis question is whether wildfires have effects on the weather, “wildfires create tornadoes” would be your hypothesis. However, a hypothesis needs to have several key elements in order to meet the criteria for a good hypothesis.

In this article, we will learn about what distinguishes a weak hypothesis from a strong one. We will also learn how to phrase your thesis question and frame your variables so that you are able to write a strong hypothesis statement and great thesis.

What is a hypothesis?

As we mentioned above, a hypothesis statement posits, or considers, a relationship between two variables. In our hypothesis statement example above, the two variables are wildfires and tornadoes, and our assumed relationship between the two is a causal one (wildfires cause tornadoes). It is clear from our example above what we will be investigating: the relationship between wildfires and tornadoes.

A strong hypothesis statement should be:

  • Clear
  • A prediction of the relationship between two or more variables
  • Testable

A hypothesis is not just a blind guess. It should build upon existing theories and knowledge. Tornadoes are often observed near wildfires once the fires reach a certain size. In addition, tornadoes are not a normal weather event in many of the areas they have been spotted together with wildfires. This existing knowledge has informed the formulation of our hypothesis.

Depending on the thesis question, your research paper might have multiple hypothesis statements. What is important is that your hypothesis statement or statements are testable through data analysis, observation, experiments, or other methodologies.

Formulating your hypothesis

Now that we know what a hypothesis statement is, let’s walk through how to formulate a strong one. First, you will need a thesis question. Your thesis question should be narrow in scope, answerable, and focused. Once you have your thesis question, it is time to start thinking about your hypothesis statement. You will need to clearly identify the variables involved before you can begin thinking about their relationship.

One of the best ways to form a hypothesis is to think about “if...then” statements. This can also help you easily identify the variables you are working with and refine your hypothesis statement. Let’s take a few examples.

If teenagers are given comprehensive sex education, there will be fewer teen pregnancies.

In this example, the independent variable is whether or not teenagers receive comprehensive sex education (the cause), and the dependent variable is the number of teen pregnancies (the effect).

If a cat is fed a vegan diet, it will die.

Here, our independent variable is the diet of the cat (the cause), and the dependent variable is the cat’s health (the thing impacted by the cause).

If children drink 8oz of milk per day, they will grow taller than children who do not drink any milk.

What are the variables in this hypothesis? If you identified drinking milk as the independent variable and growth as the dependent variable, you are correct. This is because we are guessing that drinking milk causes increased growth in the height of children.

Refining your hypothesis

Do not be afraid to refine your hypothesis throughout the process of formulation. A strong hypothesis statement is clear, testable, and involves a prediction. While “testable” means verifiable or falsifiable, it also means that you are able to perform the necessary experiments without violating any ethical standards. Perhaps once you think about the ethics of possibly harming some cats by testing a vegan diet on them you might abandon the idea of that experiment altogether. However, if you think it is really important to research the relationship between a cat’s diet and a cat’s health, perhaps you could refine your hypothesis to something like this:

If 50% of a cat’s meals are vegan, the cat will not be able to meet its nutritional needs.

Another feature of a strong hypothesis statement is that it can easily be tested with the resources that you have readily available. While it might not be feasible to measure the growth of a cohort of children throughout their whole lives, you may be able to do so for a year. Then, you can adjust your hypothesis to something like this:

If children aged 8 drink 8oz of milk per day for one year, they will grow taller during that year than children who do not drink any milk.

As you work to narrow down and refine your hypothesis to reflect a realistic potential research scope, don’t be afraid to talk to your supervisor about any concerns or questions you might have about what is truly possible to research. 

What makes a hypothesis weak?

We noted above that a strong hypothesis statement is clear, is a prediction of a relationship between two or more variables, and is testable. We also clarified that statements, which are too general or specific are not strong hypotheses. We have looked at some examples of hypotheses that meet the criteria for a strong hypothesis, but before we go any further, let’s look at weak or bad hypothesis statement examples so that you can really see the difference.

Bad hypothesis 1: Diabetes is caused by witchcraft.

While this is fun to think about, it cannot be tested or proven one way or the other with clear evidence, data analysis, or experiments. This bad hypothesis fails to meet the testability requirement.

Bad hypothesis 2: If I change the amount of food I eat, my energy levels will change.

This is quite vague. Am I increasing or decreasing my food intake? What do I expect exactly will happen to my energy levels and why? How am I defining energy level? This bad hypothesis statement fails the clarity requirement.

Bad hypothesis 3: Japanese food is disgusting because Japanese people don’t like tourists.

This hypothesis is unclear about the posited relationship between variables. Are we positing the relationship between the deliciousness of Japanese food and the desire for tourists to visit? or the relationship between the deliciousness of Japanese food and the amount that Japanese people like tourists? There is also the problematic subjectivity of the assessment that Japanese food is “disgusting.” The problems are numerous.

The null hypothesis and the alternative hypothesis

What is the null hypothesis?

The hypothesis posits a relationship between two or more variables. The null hypothesis, quite simply, posits that there is no relationship between the variables. It is often indicated as H0, which is read as “h-oh” or “h-null.” The alternative hypothesis is the opposite of the null hypothesis as it posits that there is some relationship between the variables. The alternative hypothesis is written as Ha or H1.

Let’s take our previous hypothesis statement examples discussed at the start and look at their corresponding null hypothesis.

Ha: If teenagers are given comprehensive sex education, there will be fewer teen pregnancies.

H0: If teenagers are given comprehensive sex education, there will be no change in the number of teen pregnancies.

The null hypothesis assumes that comprehensive sex education will not affect how many teenagers get pregnant. It should be carefully noted that the null hypothesis is not always the opposite of the alternative hypothesis. For example:

If teenagers are given comprehensive sex education, there will be fewer teen pregnancies.

If teenagers are given comprehensive sex education, there will be more teen pregnancies.

These are opposing statements that assume an opposite relationship between the variables: comprehensive sex education increases or decreases the number of teen pregnancies. In fact, these are both alternative hypotheses. This is because they both still assume that there is a relationship between the variables. In other words, both hypothesis statements assume that there is some kind of relationship between sex education and teen pregnancy rates. The alternative hypothesis is also the researcher’s actual predicted outcome, which is why calling it “alternative” can be confusing! However, you can think of it this way: our default assumption is the null hypothesis, and so any possible relationship is an alternative to the default.

Step-by-step sample hypothesis statements

Now that we’ve covered what makes a hypothesis statement strong, how to go about formulating a hypothesis statement, refining your hypothesis statement, and the null hypothesis, let’s put it all together with some examples. The table below shows a breakdown of how we can take a thesis question, identify the variables, create a null hypothesis, and finally create a strong alternative hypothesis.

Thesis Question

Variables

Hypothesis (Alternative Hypothesis)

Null Hypothesis

Does the quality of sex education in public schools impact teen pregnancy rates?
  1. Sex education quality in public schools
  2. Teen pregnancy rates
Comprehensive sex education in public schools will lower teen pregnancy ratesThe quality of sex education in public schools has no effect on teen pregnancy rates
Do wildfires that burn for more than 2 weeks have an impact on local weather systems?
  1. The presence or absence of wildfires that burn for more than 2 weeks
  2. Local weather systems
Wildfires that burn for more than two weeks cause tornadoes because the heat they give off impacts wind patternsWildfires have no impact on local weather systems
Will a cat remain in good health on a vegan diet?
  1. Cat health
  2. Presence or absence of animal products in the diet
A cat’s health will suffer if it is only fed a vegan diet because cats are obligate carnivoresA cat’s diet has no impact on its health
Does walking for 30 minutes a day impact human health?
  1. Walking for 30 minutes a day
  2. Human health
Walking for 30 minutes a day will improve cardiovascular health and brain function in humansWalking for 30 minutes a day will neither improve or harm human health

Once you have formulated a solid thesis question and written a strong hypothesis statement, you are ready to begin your thesis in earnest. Check out our site for more tips on writing a great thesis and information on thesis proofreading and editing services.

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