Chapter 2: Where to Start
Hypotheses and Predictions
• Most research studies are attempts to test a hypothesis formulated by the researcher. A
hypothesis is a statement about something that may be true. It is a tentative idea about
how two or more variables relate to each other that is waiting for evidence to support or
refute it. Once the hypothesis is proposed, data must be gathered and evaluated in
terms of whether the evidence is consistent or inconsistent with the hypothesis.
• The researcher would then translate the more general hypothesis into a speciﬁc
prediction concerning the outcome of this particular experiment.
It is important to note that when the results of a study are consistent with a prediction,
the hypothesis is only supported, not proven.
• An important characteristic of all scientiﬁc hypotheses is falsiﬁability, which means that
data can show that a hypothesis is false, if in fact it is false.
Source of Ideas
• To develop an interesting hypothesis a researcher starts with an idea. Let’s consider ﬁve
sources of ideas: common assumptions, observation of the world around us, practical
problems, theories, and past research.
Questioning Common Assumptions
• One source of ideas that can be tested is common assumptions that people make to
explain the world.
• Testing a widely held assumption can be valuable because such notions don’t always
turn out to be correct, or research may show that the real world is much more
complicated than our assumption would have it. For example, despite the common
belief that opposites attract, decades of research have shown that people tend to be
attracted to others who are similar to themselves.
Observation of the World Around Us
• Observations of personal and social events can provide many ideas for research. The
curiosity sparked by your observation and experiences can lead you to ask questions
about all sorts of phenomena.
• Research is also stimulated by practical problems that can have immediate applications
• Much research in the behavioural science test theories of behaviour. A theory consists
of a system of logical ideas proposed to explain a particular phenomenon and its
relationship to other phenomena. Psychologists develop theories about human
behaviour including learning, memory, and personality, for example. Theories serve two
important functions. First, theories organize and explain a variety of speciﬁc facts or
descriptions of behaviour. Such facts and descriptions are not very meaningful by
themselves, and so theories are needed to provide a framework that relates them to
each other in meaningful ways.
• Second, theories generate new knowledge by focusing our thinking so that we notice
new aspects of behaviour. In this way, theories guide our observations of the world. Theories are more general and abstract than hypothesis (which in turn are more general
than predictions). The theory generates many hypotheses about behaviour, and the
researcher conducts studies to test the hypotheses.
• A scientiﬁc theory is grounded in – and helps to explain – actual data from prior
research, and speciﬁes numerous hypotheses that are consistent with the theory. These
hypotheses can then be tested through further research.
• If multiple theories are equally successful at explaining the same phenomenon, the
scientiﬁc principle of parsimony dictates that the least complex theory is most
desirable, because it is easiest to entirely falsify.
Another rich source of ideas is past research. Becoming familiar with a body of research
on a topic is perhaps the best way to generate ideas for new research. Because the
results of research are published, researchers can use the body of past literature on a
topic to continually reﬁne and expand our knowledge. Virtually every study raises
questions that can be addressed in subsequent research. The research may lead to an
attempt to apply the ﬁndings in a different setting, to study the topics with a different
age group, or to use a different methodology to replicate the results.
• Once an idea is developed, researchers transform the idea into a hypothesis, design a
study to test that hypothesis collect data, and evaluate whether the data support that
hypothesis or not
Anatomy of An Empirical Research Article
• For empirical research (which is the focus of most of this book), after a researcher has
developed a hypothesis, has designed at least one study to test it, and has found
support for the hypothesis, it is time to write up the project in a report format.
• The researcher then submits the article for publication in a professional journal. There is
an enormous number of professional journals. In these journals, researchers publish the
results of their research investigations. You can access physical copies of bound
journals by visiting your institution’s library, or – more commonly – you can access
electronic versions online (PsychINFO)
Once the researcher has submitted an article for publication consideration, the journal’s
editors solicits reviews from other scientists in the same ﬁeld, and then decides whether
the report is to be accepted for publication.
• Across all sciences, research articles being submitted for publication typically follow a
consistent format. Research articles being submitted for publication typically follow a
consistent format. Research articles that are reporting the results of studies usually
have ﬁve major sections
1) An abstract summarizes the entire report
2) An introduction explains the problem under investigation and the speciﬁc
hypotheses being tested
3) A discussion section describes in detail the exact procedures used in the study
4) A results section presents the speciﬁc ﬁndings
5) A discussion section concludes the article, in which the researcher may speculate on
the broader implications of the results, propose alternative explanations for the
results, discuss reasons that a particular hypothesis may not have been supported
by the data, and/ or make suggestions for further research on the problem.
• After the ﬁve major sections, the references section lists all the sources that were cited
throughout the article. In psychology all references in this list follow the speciﬁc
formatting rules found in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological
The abstract is a summary of the research report. It typically runs no more than 120
words in length, although the word limit can vary by journal. It includes information
about the hypothesis, the procedure, and the broad pattern of results.
• In the introduction, the researcher outlines the problem that has been investigated.
Past research and theories relevant to the problem are described in detail. In other
words, the investigator introduces the research project by building a logical case that
justiﬁes why this study and the expected results make an important contribution to
• The method section provides information about exactly how the study was conducted,
including any details necessary for the reader to replicate or repeat the study. It is often
divided into subsections, with the number of subsections determined by the author and
dependent on the complexity of the research design.
• Sometimes, the ﬁrst subsection presents an overview of the design to prepare the reader
for the material that follows.