What Is a Hypothesis? (With Types, Examples and FAQS)

By Jennifer Herrity

Updated August 31, 2022 | Published January 13, 2021

Updated August 31, 2022

Published January 13, 2021

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

a man labels beakers in a laboratory

Many professionals in a range of industries use hypotheses when conducting research. Writing a hypothesis can help you focus your research efforts, determine your variables and decide what type of data to collect and analyze. Knowing more about the various elements and types of hypotheses may allow you to optimize your research and obtain the most relevant and accurate results. 

In this article, we discuss what a hypothesis is, explore various types, provide examples and answer frequently asked questions about these written statements. 

What is a hypothesis?

A hypothesis is a potential explanation for something that happens or that you observe and think to be true. It can also help determine the relationship between two or more variables that you think might relate to each other. Professionals typically write hypotheses as if/then statements, such as if someone eats a lot of sugar, then they will develop cavities in their teeth. These statements identify specific variables and propose results. In this example, the variable is the amount of sugar and the result is developing cavities.

When creating a hypothesis, it's best to make it as strong as possible before conducting experiments or making further observations. You can achieve this by asking questions, brainstorming, being specific in the language you use, being logical and making sure the hypothesis is testable within constraints.

Related: Theory vs. Hypothesis: Differences, Definition and Types

Types of research hypotheses

A scientific hypothesis must be about something that you can prove or disprove through experimentation or observation. This means that hypotheses require extensive research and controlling dependent and independent variables. 

While many professionals use hypotheses in science and other research experiments, they're also helpful in identifying patterns, finding solutions or improving relationships in the workplace. Here are a few different types of hypotheses:

  • Simple hypothesis: A simple hypothesis predicts a relationship between an independent and a dependent variable.

  • Complex hypothesis: A complex hypothesis looks at the relationship between two or more independent variables and two or more dependent variables.

  • Empirical hypothesis: An empirical hypothesis, also called a working hypothesis, is one that professionals accept as a basis for future research in order to formulate a theory for testing.

  • Null hypothesis: A null hypothesis is the default position that assumes variables have no relation to each other.

  • Alternative hypothesis: An alternative hypothesis is created to disprove a null hypothesis and adapts its method and prediction according to its results.

  • Logical hypothesis: A logical hypothesis offers an explanation without extensive evidence.

  • Statistical hypothesis: A statistical hypothesis evaluates a limited portion of a population and uses statistics to assess the results.

Read more: 7 Examples of Hypotheses You Might Use in the Workplace

How to test a hypothesis

Here are five steps for testing a hypothesis:

1. Formulate a hypothesis

To test a hypothesis, it's important to take the necessary steps to form an effective one, including:

  1. Make an observation.

  2. Ask a question based on that observation.

  3. Research possible outcomes of your question.

  4. Consider all variables that impact or relate to your question.

  5. Make sure the hypothesis is testable and one that you can prove or disprove.

Read more: How To Develop a Hypothesis (With Elements, Types and Examples)

2. Identify the null hypothesis

Identify one possible result of the experiment that shows no connection between any variables. Then, write this out as a statement. For example, someone whose original hypothesis is if an office provides snacks, employees will take fewer off-site breaks might reach the null hypothesis that the number of off-site breaks employees take has no relation to the availability of food.

Related: What Is the Scientific Method? 7 Steps to Test Conclusions

3. Specify an alternative hypothesis

Determine the alternative outcome of the null hypothesis that disproves it. The alternative hypothesis differs from both the null hypothesis and the original hypothesis.

Considering the previous example, if the original hypothesis is if an office provides snacks, employees will take fewer off-site breaks and the null hypothesis is the number of off-site breaks employees take has no relation to the availability of snacks, then a potential alternative hypothesis would be: if an office provides snacks, employees will take more off-site breaks to obtain different snacks they prefer.

Related: What Is a Control in an Experiment? (With Definition and Guide)

4. Conduct an experiment

Gather any necessary materials to complete your testing and make a plan for conducting the experiment. Include steps for gathering resources, observing, taking notes and stages of the experiment to track progress. Then, follow that plan closely to ensure that you thoroughly test the hypothesis.

Consider the example hypothesis of if an office provides snacks, employees will take fewer off-site breaks. An experiment for this hypothesis might look like this:

  1. Gather materials, such as snacks for the office, and a pen and paper or computer spreadsheet to keep notes.

  2. Track how many employees take off-site breaks during the first week.

  3. Set up snacks in the office every day for the next week.

  4. Observe and record how many employees choose the provided office snacks and how many still take an off-site break.

Related: A Guide To Understanding Explanatory Research

5. Evaluate results

Review your results and compare them to the predictions you made in your original hypothesis. This helps determine whether the original hypothesis was correct or the experiment proved the null or alternative hypotheses instead. Information from testing a hypothesis can be used to make new observations and perhaps form another hypothesis.

Read more: Defining Hypothesis Testing: Types, Benefits and How To Test

Examples of hypotheses

The following are some examples of hypotheses along with their classifications:

  • If an office provides snacks, employees will take fewer off-site breaks: This is a simple hypothesis, as the independent variable is providing snacks at the office and the dependent variable is whether fewer employees choose to take an off-site break.

  • If the company has a holiday party and everyone in the office attends, then morale will rise and as a result, so will productivity: This is an example of a complex hypothesis, as a high number of variables would be involved in its testing, such as whether the company has a holiday party, how many employees attend, whether attendees experience a rise in morale and how company productivity is later affected.

  • If Susan doesn't like math, she won't want to work in accounting: This is an example of a logical hypothesis, as there may not be much factual evidence to support it. At this point, there's no indication of what kind of math Susan doesn't enjoy or whether accounting will involve that kind of math.

  • The temperature doesn't affect employees in an office: This is an example of a null hypothesis, as it assumes no correlation between the two variables, which are the physical comfort of employees and the temperature of their work environment.

  • If someone is friendly at work, then we can be friends outside of work: This is an example of an if/then statement that is not a hypothesis, as it contains vague language and no strong basis for controlled experimentation.

Related: What Is Empirical Evidence? Definition and Examples

Frequently asked questions

What makes a good hypothesis?
  • Relate your hypothesis to your research

  • Develop a hypothesis that you can test, measure or survey

  • Specify the independent and dependent variables

  • Use precise language to minimize potential confusion

Related: What Are Frederick Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management?

What is falsifiability and how does it relate to hypotheses?

Falsifiability refers to a scientific theory related to hypotheses. The falsifiability principle states that, if it's possible to scientifically test a hypothesis, then it must be possible for the claim to be discovered as a false one. In other words, if a hypothesis is false, then it's possible to demonstrate its falseness.

Related: Q&A: What Are the Main Scientific Fields of Study?

How does a hypothesis fit into the scientific process?

The hypothesis is one of the early steps in the entire scientific process. Scientists form a hypothesis after asking a question and conducting their initial research. Once they made a hypothesis, scientists can then conduct their research or experiment, analyze the results and assess the validity of their hypothesis statement.

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