A hypothesis is a preliminary assumption about the result you expect from your study.
In everyday language, hypothesis and thesis are often used interchangeably. There is a tendency to use the word thesis in degree programmes on the humanities and hypothesis on social and natural sciences degree programmes. However, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, there is a significant difference.
A thesis is defined as: “a statement or an opinion that is discussed in a logical way and presented with evidence in order to prove that it is true”, whereas a hypothesis is defined as “an idea or explanation of something that is based on a few known facts but that has not yet been proved to be true or correct”.
If you are uncertain which of the two words to use on your particular course or degree programme, ask your supervisor.
Before commencing a study, you often have a general idea about the results you expect to get out of it, and in this case, you can formulate a hypothesis to be presented in your introduction. The hypothesis can replace the question-oriented problem statement entirely, or it can be formulated together with your problem statement.
For example, a hypothesis could be:
No matter what your hypothesis is about, it should always be based on something – a hypothesis is not just a set of random ideas that fall from the sky in a moment of inspiration. For example, a hypothesis can be an assumption based on the theories or methods of the course, or it can stem from other people’s, or your own, previous academic studies or observations.
As in all scientific studies, it is important to be critical of your own study. Note that adding more nuances or discussing the limitations of your hypothesis can be a positive outcome. You may also end up rejecting the hypothesis completely in your conclusion.
The most important thing is that a hypothesis is not a claim until you have completed your study and presented arguments supporting that the hypothesis holds true (and in which cases). Read more about the claim as part of an argument here.
Hypotheses are most common on social sciences and natural sciences programmes, but they are also used in the humanities. The following example, which is a translation of the original, is from dramaturgy:
"The assignment will demonstrate that relationships of trust in a theatre production process are crucial for its capacity to adapt continuously, and thus for the final product."
(From En kort vejledning til problemformuleringer by Thomas Rosendal Nielsen and John Andreassen, School of Communication and Culture - Aesthetic and Culture , AU)
In this example, there is no question, but the author of the assignment explains what he wants to demonstrate – i.e. show – with his study. If formulated as a research question, the wording could have been: “Which internal factors are important for a theatre production process and its capacity to adapt continuously – and thus for the final product?". However, writing a hypothesis instead of a research question enables the author to conduct a more focused study, because he is already tuned in on searching for the answer in relationships of trust, as opposed to all sorts of other factors.