How to write a hypothesis

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

Example hypothesis

Daily apple consumption leads to fewer doctor’s visits.

What is a hypothesis?

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 methods (such as experiments, observations and statistical analysis of data).

Variables in hypotheses

In experimental and correlational research, 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.

Daily apple consumption leads to fewer doctor’s visits.

In this example, the independent variable is apple consumption — the assumed cause. The dependent variable is the frequency of doctor’s visits — the assumed effect.

Developing a hypothesis

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.

Do students who attend more lectures get better exam results?

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.

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.

Attending more lectures leads to better exam results.

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

Three ways to phrase a hypothesis

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.

If a first-year student starts attending more lectures, then their exam scores will improve.

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

The number of lectures attended by first-year students has a positive effect on their exam scores.

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

First-year students who attended most lectures will have better exam scores than those who attended few lectures.

Write a null hypothesis

If your research involves statistical 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 H0, while the alternative hypothesis is H1.

H0: The number of lectures attended by first-year students has no effect on their final exam scores.
H1: The number of lectures attended by first-year students has a positive effect on their final exam scores.

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Hypothesis examples

Research questionHypothesisNull hypothesis
What are the health benefits of eating an apple a day?Increasing apple consumption in over-60s will result in decreasing frequency of doctor’s visits.Increasing apple consumption in over-60s will have no effect on frequency of doctor’s visits.
Which airlines have the most delays?Low-cost airlines are more likely to have delays than premium airlines.All airlines are equally likely to have delays.
Can flexible work arrangements improve job satisfaction?Employees who have flexible working hours will report greater job satisfaction than employees who work fixed hours.There is no relationship between working hour flexibility and job satisfaction.
How effective is high school sex education at reducing teen pregnancies?Teenagers who received sex education lessons throughout high school will have lower rates of unplanned pregnancy than teenagers who did not receive any sex education.High school sex education has no effect on teen pregnancy rates.
What effect does daily use of social media have on the attention span of under-16s?There is a negative correlation between time spent on social media and attention span in under-16s.There is no relationship between social media use and attention span in under-16s.
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Shona McCombes

Shona has an MLitt in English Literature and an MA in Gender Studies, so she's an expert at writing a great master's thesis. She has also been an editor and teacher, working with students at all different levels to improve their academic writing.

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