A hypothesis is a potential answer to your research question; the research process helps you determine if your hypothesis is true.

Learning Objectives

Explain how hypotheses are used in sociological research and the difference between dependent and independent variables

Key Points

Hypotheses are testable explanations of a problem, phenomenon, or observation.

Both quantitative and qualitative research involve formulating a hypothesis to address the research problem.

Hypotheses that suggest a causal relationship involve at least one independent variable and at least one dependent variable; in other words, one variable which is presumed to affect the other.

An independent variable is one whose value is manipulated by the researcher or experimenter.

A dependent variable is a variable whose values are presumed to change as a result of changes in the independent variable.

Key Terms

dependent variable: In an equation, the variable whose value depends on one or more variables in the equation.

independent variable: In an equation, any variable whose value is not dependent on any other in the equation.

hypothesis: Used loosely, a tentative conjecture explaining an observation, phenomenon, or scientific problem that can be tested by further observation, investigation, or experimentation.

A hypothesis is an assumption or suggested explanation about how two or more variables are related. It is a crucial step in the scientific method and, therefore, a vital aspect of all scientific research. There are no definitive guidelines for the production of new hypotheses. The history of science is filled with stories of scientists claiming a flash of inspiration, or a hunch, which then motivated them to look for evidence to support or refute the idea.

While there is no single way to develop a hypothesis, a useful hypothesis will use deductive reasoning to make predictions that can be experimentally assessed. If results contradict the predictions, then the hypothesis under examination is incorrect or incomplete and must be revised or abandoned. If results confirm the predictions, then the hypothesis might be correct but is still subject to further testing.

Both quantitative and qualitative research involve formulating a hypothesis to address the research problem. A hypothesis will generally provide a causal explanation or propose some association between two variables. Variables are measurable phenomena whose values can change under different conditions. For example, if the hypothesis is a causal explanation, it will involve at least one dependent variable and one independent variable. In research, independent variables are the cause of the change. The dependent variable is the effect, or thing that is changed. In other words, the value of a dependent variable depends on the value of the independent variable. Of course, this assumes that there is an actual relationship between the two variables. If there is no relationship, then the value of the dependent variable does not depend on the value of the independent variable.