How to Propose a Formal Hypothesis

Research proposals commonly include up to three related hypotheses to be studied.

Students begin learning the basics of scientific research at a young age helping to prepare them for the day when they will be asked to form their own hypothesis for research. While this is realized for people differently and at different levels, the basic process remains the same. A hypothesis is proposed as a testable statement someone wishes to research. The significance of research papers, whether an informal paper, or a student's college thesis or dissertation, are often at the mercy of the hypothesis. This makes proposing the formal hypothesis statement an important part of the overall research project.

Conduct a literature review on the topic you are interested in researching. A hypothesis needs to be theoretically grounded in existing research unless you are researching something for which there is not existing research. A literature review should be comprehensive and include an analysis of varying conclusion and research findings related to your topic.

Write down questions or correlations you find in the literature review that interest you in research. A hypothesis requires a proposed relationship between two variables. Informal questions or correlations can be the basis for a hypothesis. A hypothesis is a statement that predicts a relationship exists or doesn't exist.

Identify the two variables in your question. Label which one is the independent variable and which one is the dependent variable. The independent variable must cause some change in the dependent variable. For example, if you are interested in studying the relationship between soil nutrients and plants, you might propose that your independent variable -- soil nutrients -- causes your dependent variable -- plant growth -- to either grow better or worse. The direction of the relationship between the two variables is determined by which variable is independent and which one is dependent.

Write your hypothesis statement. The statement is a prediction of what you think will happen between the variables. This statement needs to be clear and concise, and written in a fashion that can be tested. The two common types of hypothesis statements are the null hypothesis and the alternative hypothesis. The null hypothesis is used when no relationship is expected. An example of a null hypothesis is, "There is no difference in plant growth between those that do and do not receive soil nutrients." The alternative hypothesis is used when a relationship is expected. An example of an alternative hypothesis is, "Plants who receive soil nutrients will grow better than those that do not."

Ask your peers and faculty for feedback on your hypothesis statement. Make sure it is clearly communicated to others, and make any corrections you feel are warranted after reviewing the feedback.

Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.