Hypotheses are the questions scientists ask as they use the scientific method to understand the world. People use the process of formulating then attempting to disprove a hypothesis in their everyday lives as well. The function of the hypothesis is to give structure to the process of understanding how the world works.
A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on the probability of an outcome. Scientists formulate hypotheses after they understand all the current research on their subject. Hypotheses specify the relationship between at least two variables, and are testable. For a hypothesis to function properly, other scientists must be able to reproduce the results that prove or disprove it. Two types of hypotheses exist: a descriptive hypothesis asks a question, and a directional hypothesis makes a statement.
The scientific method is the process by which hypotheses function. Scientists use the scientific method to, over time, form an accurate picture of the world. The scientific method attempts to remove the scientist's bias from the research. The four parts of the scientific method are observation and description, formulation of a hypothesis, use of the hypothesis for prediction and performance of testing of the hypothesis. Scientists use the scientific method to disprove hypotheses, rather than prove them. It they cannot be disproved, the hypotheses over time become accepted theories.
The most important function hypotheses perform is providing the framework for testing and experimentation. Scientists formulate a hypothesis, or ask a question, about a certain phenomenon and how it relates to other aspects of the world. Then they devise ways to try to disprove their theory as to the answer. For instance, if a scientist made a hypothesis that what goes up must come down, he would test it by throwing many items in the air to see if they do come down. Because scientists cannot test every single possible item for this theory, hypotheses are never proven. However, after many scientists have experimented with the hypothesis, it becomes accepted scientific theory.
Scientists make a hypothesis by comparing the phenomenon being studied to another phenomenon. For instance, in the real world, a person might decide that her house is cold because a window is open. She would test this theory by checking the windows. If the windows are closed, then that hypothesis is proven false, and another is formed when the person decides that her house is probably cold because the furnace isn't working properly. The process of forming and disproving hypotheses continues until a person makes a hypothesis that cannot be disproved.
Shaunta Alburger has been a professional writer for 15 years. She's worked on staff at both major Las Vegas newspapers, as well as a rural Nevada weekly. Her first novel was published in 2014.