A hypothesis for a project, a paper or a larger endeavor is key to guiding you in the right direction as you reach your conclusion. A good hypothesis has a few key characteristics that make it helpful, understandable and provable.
Determine the topic and the application for your hypothesis. Are you interested in bone structure and want to conduct a science experiment? Or are you interested in political theory and want to write a paper? The topic determines what your hypothesis is about, and the application tells you how to word your hypothesis.
Narrow your topic down from general to specific, broad to narrow. You want the particulars of the topic you wish to investigate and you want to bring the topic down to a size you can handle. Whether you are dealing in abstract ideas or with tangible research, you can’t conquer the world all at once. Break it down into one-step-at-a-time sized pieces.
A good hypothesis is your assumption or explanation of why or how something occurs. You are proposing an explanation or defending an argument. In order to determine your answer (your hypothesis), first determine your question. What question do you want to answer by this experiment, research or essay? Let’s take for our purposes this (somewhat facetious) question: “Why do people get bad haircuts?”
Decide what your answer to the question is. Why do people get bad haircuts? Is it because they can’t afford to go to a great salon? Perhaps they don’t know they have bad haircuts? Or is a bad haircut is only a matter of preference? Write down your best answer to the question you have proposed.
A good hypothesis is simple and concise. Look at the answer you have written–that is–your current hypothesis.
Is it wordy? Cluttered up with unnecessary adjectives? Confusing? Wishy washy? Reword as needed to form a statement that is brief and understandable. “People end up with really bad haircuts because they don’t know that they have bad haircuts and don’t know how to get good ones” can become “People have bad haircuts because they don’t recognize good haircuts.”
A good hypothesis take a clear side. Your following research or writing will determine if the side you chose is the right one; at this point, the purpose of your hypothesis is to make your claim boldly. So don’t tiptoe around. Decide what you think, and say it. If your current hypothesis is dancing around the real heart of what you think, trim it up and work it over until it says what you mean to say.
A good hypothesis uses clearly defined terms. If any of the terms you are using in your hypothesis are ambiguous, either reword or include a brief clarification of what you mean by the particular term. “People have bad haircuts (unflattering or unkempt) because they don’t recognize good haircuts.”
A good hypothesis is testable. If there’s no way to go out and test the truth of the statement you are making, it won’t work as a hypothesis. If you can test it, it will work. A testable hypothesis gives you direct guidance for your next steps in completing your project. Once you determine that your hypothesis is testable, you probably know how to test it.
So your next move is to start testing and find out if your good hypothesis is good enough to become a theory.
“If _____[I do this] _____, then _____[this]_____ will happen.”
Sound familiar? It should. This formulaic approach to making a statement about what you “think” will happen is the basis of most science fair projects and much scientific exploration.
Step by Step
You can see from the basic outline of the Scientific Method below that writing your hypothesis comes early in the process:
- Ask a Question
- Do Background Research
- Construct a Hypothesis
- Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
- Communicate Your Results
Following the scientific method. we come up with a question that we want to answer, we do some initial research, and then before we set out to answer the question by performing an experiment and observing what happens, we first clearly identify what we “think” will happen.
We make an “educated guess.”
We write a hypothesis.
We set out to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
What you “think” will happen, of course, should be based on your preliminary research and your understanding of the science and scientific principles involved in your proposed experiment or study. In other words, you don’t simply “guess.” You’re not taking a shot in the dark. You’re not pulling your statement out of thin air. Instead, you make an “educated guess” based on what you already know and what you have already learned from your research.
If you keep in mind the format of a well-constructed hypothesis, you should find that writing your hypothesis is not difficult to do. You’ll also find that in order to write a solid hypothesis, you need to understand what your variables are for your project. It’s all connected!
If I never water my plant, it will dry out and die.
That seems like an obvious statement, right? The above hypothesis is too simplistic for most middle- to upper-grade science projects, however. As you work on deciding what question you will explore, you should be looking for something for which the answer is not already obvious or already known (to you). When you write your hypothesis, it should be based on your “educated guess” not on known data. Similarly, the hypothesis should be written before you begin your experimental proceduresnot after the fact.
Our staff scientists offer the following tips for thinking about and writing good hypotheses.
- The question comes first. Before you make a hypothesis, you have to clearly identify the question you are interested in studying.
- A hypothesis is a statement, not a question. Your hypothesis is not the scientific question in your project. The hypothesis is an educated, testable prediction about what will happen.
- Make it clear. A good hypothesis is written in clear and simple language. Reading your hypothesis should tell a teacher or judge exactly what you thought was going to happen when you started your project.
- Keep the variables in mind. A good hypothesis defines the variables in easy-to-measure terms, like who the participants are, what changes during the testing, and what the effect of the changes will be. (For more information about identifying variables, see: Variables in Your Science Fair Project .)
- Make sure your hypothesis is “testable.” To prove or disprove your hypothesis, you need to be able to do an experiment and take measurements or make observations to see how two things (your variables) are related. You should also be able to repeat your experiment over and over again, if necessary.
To create a “testable” hypothesis make sure you have done all of these things:
- Thought about what experiments you will need to carry out to do the test.
- Identified the variables in the project.
- Included the independent and dependent variables in the hypothesis statement. (This helps ensure that your statement is specific enough.
Putting it in Action
To help demonstrate the above principles and techniques for developing and writing solid, specific, and testable hypotheses, Sandra and Kristin, two of our staff scientists, offer the following good and bad examples.
When there is less oxygen in the water, rainbow trout suffer more lice.
Kristin says: “This hypothesis is good because it is testable, simple, written as a statement, and establishes the participants (trout ), variables (oxygen in water, and numbers of lice ), and predicts effect (as oxygen levels go down, the numbers of lice go up ).”
Our universe is surrounded by another, larger universe, with which we can have absolutely no contact.
Kristin says: “This statement may or may not be true, but it is not a scientific hypothesis. By its very nature, it is not testable. There are no observations that a scientist can make to tell whether or not the hypothesis is correct. This statement is speculation, not a hypothesis.”
Aphid-infected plants that are exposed to ladybugs will have fewer aphids after a week than aphid-infected plants which are left untreated.
Sandra says: “This hypothesis gives a clear indication of what is to be tested (the ability of ladybugs to curb an aphid infestation ), is a manageable size for a single experiment, mentions the independent variable (ladybugs ) and the dependent variable (number of aphids ), and predicts the effect (exposure to ladybugs reduces the number of aphids ).”
Ladybugs are a good natural pesticide for treating aphid infected plants.
Sandra says: “This statement is not ‘bite size.’ Whether or not something is a ‘good natural pesticide’ is too vague for a science fair project. There is no clear indication of what will be measured to evaluate the prediction.”
Hypotheses in History
Throughout history, scientists have posed hypotheses and then set out to prove or disprove them. Staff Scientist Dave reminds that scientific experiments become a dialogue between and among scientists and that hypotheses are rarely (if ever) “eternal.” In other words, even a hypothesis that is proven true may be displaced by the next set of research on a similar topic, whether that research appears a month or a hundred years later.
A look at the work of Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, more than 100 years apart, shows good hypothesis-writing in action.
As Dave explains, “A hypothesis is a possible explanation for something that is observed in nature. For example, it is a common observation that objects that are thrown into the air fall toward the earth. Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) put forth a hypothesis to explain this observation, which might be stated as ‘objects with mass attract each other through a gravitational field.'”
Newton’s hypothesis demonstrates the techniques for writing a good hypothesis: It is testable. It is simple. It is universal. It allows for predictions that will occur in new circumstances. It builds upon previously accumulated knowledge (e.g. Newton’s work explained the observed orbits of the planets).
“As it turns out, despite its incredible explanatory power, Newton’s hypothesis was wrong,” says Dave. “Albert Einstein (1879-1955) provided a hypothesis that is closer to the truth, which can be stated as ‘objects with mass cause space to bend.’ This hypothesis discards the idea of a gravitational field and introduces the concept of space as bendable. Like Newton’s hypothesis, the one offered by Einstein has all of the characteristics of a good hypothesis.”
“Like all scientific ideas and explanations,” says Dave, “hypotheses are all partial and temporary, lasting just until a better one comes along.”
That’s good news for scientists of all ages. There are always questions to answer and educated guesses to make!
If your science fair is over, leave a comment here to let us know what your hypothesis was for your project.
Writing your hypothesis is an important step of your science project. After reading the background material and carefully reviewing the procedure you will be using, what do you think will happen? The hypothesis will take the form of a statement that predicts what will happen to the dependent variable when the independent variable changes. If you click the “Project Guide” tab and select “Hypothesis” from the list, you will find resources and examples that may help you.
Something is wrong with this website everytime I search Steps of the Scientific Questions it allways says Scientific method and im only ten and need examples of questions of scienfific help me. >.
Hi. You can view our resource on “Science Questions” by clicking the “Project Guide” tab on the Science Buddies site (above) and then clicking the “Your Question” link in the list. (It’s near the top.)
Hi,Im doing my science project on “What is the point of boiling?” and I was wondering if this sounds like a good hypothesis? “If I put the water in/on an increasingly hot surface boiling will begin to happen.”