Humanities: Testing Research Hypotheses

There are a number of things to consider when testing your research hypothesis in the Humanities discipline.

A hypothesis is:

  • An assertion, conjecture or premise, subject to verification via research
  • The consequence of organizing our questions and other information
  • The expected answers that grow out of the research question

How do you evaluate your hypotheses?

You should ask yourself:

  • Is it a logical, well-focused, internally consistent hypothesis?
  • Does it correspond to the available, relevant source testimony?
  • Does it use the absolute minimum of abstract constructs and unstated assumptions within the hypothesis?
  • Is it testable?
  • Is it falsifiable?

An example of a bad tripartite hypothesis is:

  1. That texts by Woolf, Wharton, and Cather reflect themes of concern to women.
  2. That this represents a feminine contribution to the canon.
  3. That their previous exclusion appears to stem from two biases.

An example of a good tripartite hypothesis is:

  1. That the specific texts by Woolf, Wharton, and Cather to be considered are marked by a sense of female power as the writers self-consciously reconfigure the masculine war novel to reflect themes of concern to women: namely, the effect of war on the community and the family, the preservation of a demolished culture through art, and a critique of patriarchal values and antiquated notions of gender.
  2. That these acts of self-assertion represent a uniquely feminine contribution to Modernist expression and, as such, deserve a place in the canon.
  3. That their previous exclusion appears to stem from two critical biases: the assumption that only men, particularly those who have been soldiers, can depict the War; and that the themes emphasized by women writers trivialize the horror of War, by displacing it onto concerns of lesser importance.

The formulation of the hypothesis can be the most difficult part of the entire thesis process.  Why?

  • It serves as the outline, flow chart, or general recipe for the whole project
  • It must be thorough - but not necessarily immense
  • It must be clear, precise, and succinct
  • It must be defensible on theoretical grounds and logistically feasible
  • It must honestly consider its own shortcomings and limitations

That means substantial research must be completed before it will be possible to construct an initial hypothesis.

You may find:

  • Matters rarely proceed as smoothly as you might like
  • It is possible that data or answers will differ from those you expected
  • Perhaps someone else has already tested your hypothesis or answered your questions
  • Perhaps the hypothesis was based on a misunderstanding or an erroneous assumption
  • Perhaps you discover something unexpected, which completely changes the research situation