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What is a Hypothesis?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A hypothesis is an explanation for a phenomenon that can be tested in some way that ideally either proves or disproves it. For the duration of testing, the hypothesis is taken to be true, and the goal of the researcher is to rigorously test its terms. The concept is a very important part of the scientific method, and it also holds true in other disciplines as well. For example, some historians have put forward the hypothesis that the Salem Witch Trials were brought about by the consumption of grains contaminated with ergot, resulting in a mass hysteria.

When someone formulates a hypothesis, he or she does so with the intention of testing it, and he or she should not know the outcome of potential tests before the hypothesis is made. When formulating a hypothesis, the ideals of the scientific method are often kept in mind, so it is designed to be testable in a way that could be replicated by other people. It is also kept clear and simple, and the hypothesis relies on known information and reasoning.

A hypothesis does not have to be right or wrong, but the person formulating it does have to be prepared to test the theory to its limits. If someone hypothesizes that exposure to X causes Y in lab rats, for example, he or she must see if exposure to other things also causes Y. When scientists publish results which support a hypothesis, they often detail the steps they took to try to disprove it as well as the steps that confirmed it, to make the case that much stronger.

In some instances, a hypothesis turns out to be wrong, and this is considered perfectly acceptable, because it still furthers the cause of science. In the example above, for instance, by showing that exposure to X does not cause Y, a scientist can illustrate that further research on Y is needed. In this example, the fact that the hypothesis is wrong does not necessarily mean that substance X is safe, because substance X could still cause something else.

It is also possible for a hypothesis to turn out to be inconclusive after testing. This can be because a scientist lacks the necessary tools for the testing, suggesting that advanced scientific techniques could be used in the future to test the idea. It can also be the result of not having enough information, or a hypothesis that is simply poorly formed and hard to test.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Munirahmadmughal Mughal — On Nov 10, 2011

The article is informative, lucid and easy to understand. I have quoted it in my own lecture while explaining theories of arrest and detention.

By anon208851 — On Aug 24, 2011

I need the hypothesis of the influence of mother tongue on academics performance urgently.

By anon160474 — On Mar 15, 2011

thanks but not very clear and should also be a little in-depth. In an academic writing or a long essay, how does a hypothesis come?

Very good piece but i think should include examples.

By anon152135 — On Feb 13, 2011

great, straightforward definition. very useful

By anon109347 — On Sep 07, 2010

Thanks for the help as stated, clear and direct.

By anon99321 — On Jul 26, 2010

thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is. Thanks again.

By anon92439 — On Jun 28, 2010

Good and to the point explanation. Thanks.

By anon91647 — On Jun 23, 2010

I did not get about the name of the technique involving the testing of a hypothesis but the information given is very useful.

By anon88935 — On Jun 07, 2010

gosh that really helped. I am doing a really hard science test review and I'm really anxious so thanks so much. i cannot fully express my appreciation!

By anon81680 — On May 03, 2010

Thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is. i got much knowledge about it.

By anon77187 — On Apr 13, 2010

Thanks for helping me. it's related to my thesis.

By anon73730 — On Mar 29, 2010

thanks dudes.

By anon68007 — On Feb 28, 2010

thanks guys. I really needed this! appreciate it.

By anon67878 — On Feb 27, 2010

thanks guys. I'm doing a science project that's due this monday and i had no clue what hypothesis meant. I appreciate it! much love XD

By anon67431 — On Feb 24, 2010

I'm doing a science fair project. Could you tell me where the hypothesis goes, like before or after the ingredients?

By anon64899 — On Feb 10, 2010

Thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is. Great!

By anon63052 — On Jan 30, 2010

Very good explanation. Thanks a lot

By anon62548 — On Jan 27, 2010

Thanks for posting this. I really need it for my ICT homework. I don't have a clue why it's used in ICT though. I suppose I'll have to wait and see. I'm only in Year 7, that's probably why I don't know yet. Thanks again.

By anon61339 — On Jan 19, 2010

Thanks for your help. I was too lazy to go read through my notes.

By anon60569 — On Jan 14, 2010

thanks. I am doing a project and i need this meaning.

By anon55499 — On Dec 07, 2009

thank you for this. english is my second language so every time, i forget what hypothesis means.

By anon51856 — On Nov 09, 2009

Thanks, it helps me a lot.

By anon51310 — On Nov 04, 2009

thanks i needed this info for a science project.

By anon49208 — On Oct 18, 2009

thank you, very clear and easy to comprehend. :)

By anon48955 — On Oct 16, 2009

very helpful. cheers. x :)

By anon46152 — On Sep 23, 2009

Thanky ou for explaining that to me. I am at school and needed help for a big test tomorrow so thanks. =]

By anon45552 — On Sep 17, 2009

why are people afraid of doing experiments? you learn about everything. i don't know why people are so upright sometimes.

By anon45532 — On Sep 17, 2009

thanks for telling that. i'm only 10 and i needed help for science class. i have to do a report on a running experiment.

By anon39780 — On Aug 04, 2009

Very clear and simple explanation of what "hypothesis" means. Thanks.

By anon38588 — On Jul 27, 2009

I am studying nvq level 3 from home in psychology and this helped a huge amount. thank you x

By anon33975 — On Jun 15, 2009

This is a very good and illustrative article, I think that it contains the proper words to make the point clear. Very useful to me. Congratulations and thanks to the author.

By anon25057 — On Jan 22, 2009

thank you for telling me what a hypothesis is cause i'm only 10 and i needed this help for my science fair so thx again.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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