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Jessie Ball duPont Library

Research Writing

A beginner's guide to creating a research strategy for all of your papers.

Thesis Statements

Need more help writing a thesis statement? Check out this video from East Tennessee Stat University

 

Hypotheses

Hypothesis or Theory?

The terms theory and hypothesis are often used interchangeably in everyday use. However, the difference between them in scholarly research is important, particularly when using an experimental design.

The key distinctions are:

  • A theory predicts events in a broad, general context; a hypothesis makes a specific prediction about a specified set of circumstances.
  • A theory has been extensively tested and is generally accepted among scholars; a hypothesis is a speculative guess that has yet to be tested.

Hypothesis Example

A worker on a fish-farm notices that his trout seem to have more fish lice in the summer, when the water levels are low, and wants to find out why. His research leads him to believe that the amount of oxygen is the reason - fish that are oxygen stressed tend to be more susceptible to disease and parasites.

He proposes a general hypothesis.

“Water levels affect the amount of lice suffered by rainbow trout.”

This is a good general hypothesis, but it gives no guide to how to design the research or experiment. The hypothesis must be refined to give a little direction.

“Rainbow trout suffer more lice when water levels are low.”

Now there is some directionality, but the hypothesis is not really testable, so the final stage is todesign an experiment around which research can be designed, a testable hypothesis.

“Rainbow trout suffer more lice in low water conditions because there is less oxygen in the water.”

This is a testable hypothesis - he has established variables, and by measuring the amount of oxygen in the water, eliminating other controlled variables, such as temperature, he can see if there is acorrelation against the number of lice on the fish.

This is an example of how a gradual focusing of research helps to define how to write a hypothesis.

Material adapted from "Research Methods: Hypothesis" by George A. Spiva Library, Missouri Southern State University