Research Questions & Hypotheses
Philosophy of Science
An empirical approach to knowledge sits within a positivistic view of
the world, which assumes:
- The world is made up of bits of data
- This data can be systematically ‘measured’, ‘recorded’ and
- Interpretation can lead to valid and useful insights about how
people think, feel and behave
An empirical research approaches should be distinguished from:
Some quotes about the positivistic, empirical approach to
- "If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out
how the world works, that it is good to find out what the realities
are, that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest
possible power to control the world... It is not possible to be a
scientist unless you believe that the knowledge of the world, and the
power which this gives, is a thing which is of intrinsic value to
humanity, and that you are using it to help in the spread of
knowledge, and are willing to take the consequences."
- J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967)
- “What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the
facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget "what
the stars fortell", avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think,
never mind the unguessable "verdict of history“ - what are the facts,
and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown
future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”
- the notebooks of Lazarus Long, Robert Heinlein “Time Enough for
- "I believe there is no philosophical high-road in science, with
epistemological signposts. No, we are in a jungle and find our way by
trial and error, building our road behind us as we proceed."
- Max Born (1882-1970)
This is an iterative (cyclical) model of the research process:
- Need for information/research
- Define research problem -> Establish Research Question
- Define target constructs
- Establish Hypotheses
- Operationalise constructs (minimise measurement error)
- identify target population & sampling frame
- choose sampling technique (minimise sampling error)
- Collect data (mode of administration)
- Analyse -> interpret -> write report / feedback
- Should be stated as a question, e.g., "Is there a relationship
between a person's age and their favourite day of the week?"
- Should involve the relationship or difference between two or more
variables (i.e., an independent and a dependent variable), e.g., IV =
age, DV = favourite day of the week.
- In the Introduction, you should clearly define each of the target constructs
(IVs and DVs) and in the Method explain how each of them is operationalised
- Introduce the RQ within the first two pages of the Introduction,
then go on to review relevant theoretical and research literature, and then
restate/justify the RQ towards the end of the
introduction and use this to lead in to the statement of hypotheses.
- Should relate to the research literature and a
problem/issue to be solved.
- Serves to provide an overall focus the study - it is the study's
- Leads into specific, testable hypotheses.
- Follows on from the overall RQ(s).
- A clear, testable statement, not a question.
- Concise and to the point.
- Is readily understood by others.
- States specific predictions.
- Usually in future tense.
- Each hypothesis should be able to be tested via one analysis (or
one set of related analyses).
- Identifies specific relationships between variables.
- Can be:
(e.g., It is predicted
that female participants will nominate their favourite sense as smell
more frequently than male participants.) or
It is predicted that female and male participants will differ in the
frequency with which they nominate smell as their favourite sense).
- Technically, each hypothesis should be stated using:
- null (H0)
- alternative hypotheses (H1)
- In practice, social science researchers often just state H1.
- Number or letter each of your hypotheses (e.g., 1, 2, 3; 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b)
use this as organising device for your Results and Discussion.
- For the lab report, you should have at one hypothesis for each of the
major analyses you undertake (and more likely several hypotheses for
each of the ANOVA and MLR analyes).
- Sometimes, e.g., for exploratory research or qualitative research,
a RQ may not lend itself to having an accompanying hypothesis - in
this case, just ask a RQ.
Your lab report should probably be based around one or two central research
questions (RQs). To start off with, caste a wide net and generate at
least half a dozen possible RQs. You may want to write down all the
variables in the study.
You may be able to generate useful questions simply by looking at the
variables, the questionnaire and possibly the data itself (but watch out for
data snooping!), but it is recommended that you start off by familiarising
yourself with the topics pursued in the readings on the motivation and
satisfaction of university students. It would also be helpful to become
familiar with the factor structure of the instrument. Your brainstormed
RQs could then emerge from:
- What you've observed/experienced/heard
- Theory (lit review)
- Research (lit review)
Also try to develop some possible hypotheses for each of your RQs - this
could be revealing - you might find that its difficult to establish hypotheses
for some of your RQs.
Whittle the questions down, e.g., consider:
- Is it an important/useful question?
- Am I interested in the question?
- Will the available data allow me to tackle this question?
- Will the questions lead to hypotheses which can be tackled via
MLR, Advanced ANOVA, and qualitative analysis?
It is recommended that you show your RQ to your tutor before finally
deciding. Your tutor might ask questions like:
- What is/are the DV(s)?
- What is/are the IVs(s)?
- Define each of the DVs and IVs.
- What are your hypotheses?
- What analyses will you conduct?
- What type of research are you conducting? e.g.,
- Information gathering
- Theory building/testing
- What is the level of measurement for each of the variables? (Will
any recoding be required?)
Interesting questions tend to:
- Test a novel relationship, e.g.
- “is time spent studying for exams associated with increased
incidence of brain cancer?”
- “is hemline length related to the Dow Jones index?” (.85)
- Avoid simply showing an expected relationship, e.g.
- “is time spent studying studying for exams associated with
higher exam marks?”
- “is time related to the Dow Jones index?”
- "What is the effect of sport involvement on adolescents’ physical
- "What personal and social factors are associated with successful
attempts at major life change?"
- "H1: Older people will
report more positive attitudes towards smoking than younger people.”
- “H1: There will be a
positive linear relationship between attitudes to smoking & age, such
that as age increases attitudes become more positive.” [correlational]
- “H1: It is predicted that
there will be a positive relationship between self-esteem and academic
performance, such that as self-esteem increases academic performance
will also increase.” [correlational]