Hypothesis: Functions, Problems, Types, Characteristics, Examples

Basic Elements of the Scientific Method: Hypotheses

The Function of the Hypotheses

A hypothesis states what one is looking for in an experiment. When facts are assembled, ordered, and seen in a relationship, they build up to become a theory. This theory needs to be deduced for further confirmation of the facts, this formulation of the deductions constitutes of a hypothesis. As a theory states a logical relationship between facts and from this, the propositions which are deduced should be true. Hence, these deduced prepositions are called hypotheses.

Problems in Formulating the Hypothesis

As difficult as the process may be, it is very essential to understand the need of a hypothesis. The research would be much unfocused and a random empirical wandering without it. The hypothesis provides a necessary link between the theory and investigation which often leads to the discovery of additions to knowledge.

There are three major difficulties in the formulation of a hypothesis, they are as follows:

  1. Absence of a clear theoretical framework
  2. Lack of ability to utilize that theoretical framework logically
  3. Failure to be acquainted with available research techniques so as to phrase the hypothesis properly.

Sometimes the deduction of a hypothesis may be difficult as there would be many variables and the necessity to take them all into consideration becomes a challenge. For instance, observing two cases:

  1. Principle: A socially recognized relationship with built-in strains also governed by the institutional controls has to ensure conformity of the participants with implicit or explicit norms.

Deduction: This situation holds much more sense to the people who are in professions such as psychotherapy, psychiatry and law to some extent. They possess a very intimate relationship with their clients, thus are more susceptible to issues regarding emotional strains in the client-practitioner relationship and more implicit and explicit controls over both participants in comparison to other professions.

The above-mentioned case has variable hypotheses, so the need is to break them down into sub hypotheses, they are as follows:

  • Specification of the degree of difference
  • Specification of profession and problem
  • Specification of kinds of controls.

2. Principle: Extensive but relatively systematized data show the correlation between members of the upper occupational class and less unhappiness and worry. Also, they are subjected to more formal controls than members of the lower strata.

Deduction: There can numerous ways to approach this principle, one could go with the comparison applying to martial relationships of the members and further argue that such differential pressures could be observed through divorce rates. This hypothesis would show inverse correlations between class position and divorce rates. There would be a very strong need to define the terms carefully to show the deduction from the principle problem.

The reference of these examples showcases a major issue in the hypothesis formulations procedures. One needs to keep the lines set for the deductions and one should be focusing on having a hypothesis at the beginning of the experiment, that hypothesis may be subject to change in the later stages and it is referred to as a „working hypothesis. Hence, the devising and utilization of a hypothesis is essential for the success of the experiment.

Types of Hypothesis

There are many ways to classify hypotheses, but it seems adequate to distinguish to separate them on the basis of their level of abstraction. They can be divided into three broad levels which will be increasing in abstractness.

  1. The existence of empirical uniformities: These hypotheses are made from problems which usually have a very high percentage of representing scientific examination of common–sense proportions. These studies may show a variety of things such as the distribution of business establishments in a city, behavior patterns of specific groups, etc. and they tend to show no irregularities in their data collection or review. There have been arguments which say that these aren’t hypothesis as they represent what everyone knows. This can be counter argued on the basis of two things that, “what everyone knows” isn’t always in coherence with the framework of science and it may also be incorrect. Hence, testing these hypotheses is necessary too.
  2. Complex ideal types: These hypotheses aim at testing the existence of logically derived relationships between empirical uniformities. This can be understood with an example, to observe ecology one should take in many factors and see the relationship between and how they affect the greater issue. A theory by Ernest W. Burgess gave out the statement that concentric growth circles are the one which characterize the city. Hence, all issues such as land values, industrial growth, ethnic groups, etc. are needed to be analyzed for forming a correct and reasonable hypothesis.
  3. Relations of analytic variables: These hypotheses are a bit more complex as they focus on they lead to the formulation of a relationship between the changes in one property with respect to another. For instance, taking the example of human fertility in diverse regions, religions, wealth gap, etc. may not always affect the end result but it doesn’t mean that the variables need not be accounted for. This level of hypothesizing is one of the most effective and sophisticated and thus is only limited by theory itself.

Science and Hypothesis

“The general culture in which a science develops furnishes many of its basic hypotheses” holds true as science has developed more in the West and is no accident that it is a function of culture itself. This is quite evident with the culture of the West as they read for morals, science and happiness. After the examination of a bunch of variables, it is quite easy to say that the cultural emphasis upon happiness has been productive of an almost limitless range.

The hypotheses originate from science; a key example in the form of “socialization” may be taken. The socialization process in learning science involves a feedback mechanism between the scientist and the student. The student learns from the scientist and then tests for results with his own experience, and the scientist in turn has to do the same with his colleagues.

Analogies are a source of useful hypotheses but not without its dangers as all variables may not be accounted for it as no civilization has a perfect system.

Hypotheses are also the consequence of personal, idiosyncratic experience as the manner in which the individual reacts to the hypotheses is also important and should be accounted for in the experiment.

The Characteristics for Usable Hypotheses

The criteria for judging a hypothesis as mentioned below:

  1. Complete Clarity: A good hypothesis should have two main elements, the concepts should be clearly defined and they should be definitions which are communicable and accepted by a larger section of the public. A lot of sources may be used and fellow associates may be used to help with the cause.
  2. Empirical Referents: A great hypothesis should have scientific concepts with the ultimate empirical referent. It can‟t be based on moral judgment though it can explore them but the goal should be separated from moral preachment and the acceptance of values. A good start could be analyzing the concepts which express attitudes rather than describing or referring to empirical phenomena.
  3. Specific Goal: The goal and procedure of the hypothesis should be tangible as grand experiments are harder to carry out. All operations and predictions should be mapped and in turn the possibility of testing the hypothesis increases. This not only enables the conceptual clarity but also the description of any indexes used. These indexes are used as variables for testing hypotheses on a larger scale. A general prediction isn’t as reliable as a specific prediction as the specific prediction provides a better result.
  4. Relation to Available Techniques: The technique with which a hypothesis is tested is of the utmost importance and so thorough research should be carried out before the experiment in order to find the best possible way to go about it. The example of Karl Marx may be given regarding his renowned theories; he formulated his hypothesis by observing individuals and thus proving his hypothesis. So, finding the right technique may be the key to a successful test.
  5. Relation to a Body of Theory: Theories on social relations can never be developed in isolation but they are a further extension of already developed or developing theories. For instance, if the “intelligence quotient” of a member of the society is to be measured, certain variables such as caste, ethnicity, nationality, etc. are chosen thus deductions are made from time to time to eventually find out what is the factor that influences intelligence.

The Conclusion

The formulation of a hypothesis is probably the most necessary step in good research practice and it is very essential to get the thought process started. It helps the researcher to have a specific goal in mind and deduce the end result of an experiment with ease and efficiency. History is evident that asking the right questions always works out fine.

Also Read: Research Methods – Basics


Goode, W. E. and P. K. Hatt. 1952. Methods in Social Research.New York: McGraw Hill.
Chapters 5 and 6. Pp. 41-73

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Kartik is studying BA in International Relations at Amity and Dropped out of engineering from NIT Hamirpur and he lived in over 5 different countries.