Author Topic: hypothesis vs. theory  (Read 526 times)

Offline Natalia

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hypothesis vs. theory
« on: January 01, 2017, 02:00:19 PM »
Can I use theory instead of hypothesis in academic writing to mean      "an idea that is suggested as an explanation for something, but that has not yet been proved to be true" ?

Can these terms be used interchangeably?

Offline Daniel

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Re: hypothesis vs. theory
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2017, 04:54:40 PM »
The terms are not interchangeable, but there are also no rules about when you can "officially" use one or the other. (It's not about the quality of your work or whether it's correct or whether you are famous, or anything like that.)

A theory is a model of a system that is similar to the real-world phenomenon you are studying. In a sense, we could say that a theory is science's current answer to a question. "How does gravity work?" > we get the "theory of gravity". Generally theories are tested and have some evidence to support them. (But because we can never prove a theory/hypothesis, theories never become facts. They can only be falsified, never proven.) Generally theories are slowly revised over time based on more and more data.

A hypothesis is much "smaller": it is a specific prediction about what you expect to find, usually in the context of a single experiment (or series of experiments), usually before you have data. In other words, this is like the expected answer to a research question. Your research could still be valuable if your hypothesis is wrong, and you could present a theory of why that may be the case.

Typically a hypothesis is presented in an experimental paper, and in many fields it is standard (or even required) to create your hypothesis BEFORE finding the results of your experiment. Then you see if the statistical results (or other results) match up to your expectations.

The theory is what is presented after you complete your research. A hypothesis is a prediction about what you think will be the results.

More technically a hypothesis is often not about the real world, but about your data, while a theory is about the real world, but they're also sometimes used loosely.

As very general advice, I would suggest using "theory" in most cases. Use "hypothesis" only if you are using an experimental method in your paper. As usual, you can look at what is normal in your field, or in the journals you want to publish in, etc. Some journals may require something like APA (American Psychological Association) formatting, which I believe at least in some cases requires a section about your hypothesis, because most work in psychology involves experiments.
Here's someone blogging about that:
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Offline Natalia

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Re: hypothesis vs. theory
« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2017, 02:18:36 AM »
Thank you very much for your clarification.