Hypotheses are nothing unusual; we make them all the time. If something happens in our everyday life, we tend to suggest a reason for its occurrence by making rational guesses. These reasonable guesses can be expressed in the form of statements. This is a hypothesis. If, on further examination, a particular hypothesis is found to be supported, i.e. the reasons for its occurrence seem to be correct, we have got a good chance that we can predict what will happen in the same situation in the future, or can devise actions to prevent it happening again. If the investigation shows that the guess was wrong, then it can be rejected as false.
Many of the greatest discoveries in science were based on hypotheses: Newton’s theory of gravity, Einstein’s general theory of relativity and a host of others. A good hypothesis is a very useful aid to organizing the research effort, but it must have certain qualities. It must be a statement that can be put to the test. It must specifically limit the inquiry to the interaction of certain factors (usually called variables) and suggest the methods appropriate for collecting, analysing and interpreting the data, and the resultant confirmation or rejection of the hypothesis through empirical or experimental testing must give a clear indication of the extent of knowledge gained. For example, a statement like this- School exam results are a true test of a student’s intelligence.
The formulation of the hypothesis is usually made on an abstract or conceptual level in order to enable the results of the research to be generalized beyond the specific conditions of the particular study. However, one of the fundamental criteria of a hypothesis is that it is testable but formulated on a conceptual level cannot be directly tested; it is too abstract. It is therefore necessary to convert it to an operational level. This is called operationalization. Often, the first step is to break down the main hypothesis into two or more sub-hypotheses. These represent components or aspects of the main hypothesis and together should add up to its totality. Each sub-hypothesis will intimate a different method of testing and therefore implies different research methods that might be appropriate. This is a similar process to breaking down main research questions into sub-questions. For example: The intelligence of students can be measured. Tests have been devised to accurately measure levels of intelligence. School exams contain suitable tests to measure students’ intelligence. The accuracy of school exams to test intelligence is commensurate with specially devised intelligence tests. The operationalization of the sub-hypotheses follows four steps in the progression from the most abstract to the most concrete expressions by defining concepts, indicators, variables and values.