The difference between a research question and a hypothesis

Jan 20, 2019 | Learn about tourism, Research and study skills

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(Last updated on: 06/04/2020)

Once you have selected a suitable research project topic, you need to decide on whether you want to use a research question or a hypothesis. The difference between a research question and a hypothesis is actually very simple, yet it is something that my students will often be unsure of. For most research projects, using either a hypothesis or a research question is fine, although in some circumstances you may feel that one is more appropriate than the other.

What is a research question?

A research question is quite simply a question that your research intends to address. Your research does not necessarily need to answer the question in black or white, but it should explore the question, providing detailed and analytical justifications of how and why it is or isn’t answered.

Good research questions must be:

  • Clear and easy to understand
  • Specific, with a definite focus
  • Answerable – it must be possible to collect the necessary data
  • Substantively relevant to your area of study

What is a hypothesis?

Unlike a research question, a hypothesis is a statement. A hypothesis is essentially a proposition (suggestion) about how something might work or behave. The researcher can develop their own hypothesis on the grounds of informal observation or their own experience if they wish to do so. They may also develop it from an examination of the existing literature.

The intention of your research is to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Similarly to research which is based upon a research question, you do not necessarily need to provide a black and white answer, but you must ensure that you have covered the issue at length and provided critical analysis of the outcomes.

Just like a research question, good hypotheses must be:

  • Clear and easy to understand
  • Specific, with a definite focus
  • Answerable – it must be possible to collect the necessary data
  • Substantively relevant to your area of study

The difference between a research question and a hypothesis

The difference is quite clear. One is a question that you, as a researcher, intend to answer. The other is a statement that you will either prove or disprove.

Many topics lend themselves equally well to either a research question or a hypothesis. Here are some examples:

Topic 1-

Hypothesis: ‘While people may use the internet to search for flights, they prefer to make their reservations or purchases via a travel agent’

Research question: ‘Do people use the internet to collect information about flights but still prefer to use travel agents to make their reservations?’

Topic 2-

Hypothesis- ‘young people are motivated to become pilots because they perceive it as a glamorous job’

Research question- ‘Are young people motivated to join airlines as pilots because they perceive it to be a glamorous job?’

The relevance of your research question or hypothesis

Your research question or hypothesis should be clearly stated in the introduction and referred to again in the conclusion. It should enable you to bring your research together, demonstrating that you have achieved what you set out to and that you have not lost focus throughout the process of your research.

Some people tend to go off on a tangent and lose sight of their research project focus, if this is you then I suggest that you put your research question or hypothesis as a header on your document as you are working through your research project, this way you will have a constant reminder!

You should also refer back to your research question or hypothesis throughout your research project. This is especially important if you are undertaking a large piece of work, such as a PhD. In my research on TEFL Tourism, for example, I started and ended every chapter by explaining how the hypothesis would be addressed/was addressed, along with the project aims and objectives. This reminds the reader of the importance of what they are reading and demonstrates a continued focus on the subject at hand.

For more on this topic, I recommend that you use some of the excellent research methods books available to you- I recommend Social Research Methods by Bryman and Research Methodology: A Step by Step Guide for Beginners by Kumar.

5 Comments
  1. Bonny Ngabirano

    This was very very helpful I was totally not getting what A hypothesis is about! Great stuff!

    Reply
  2. Eden Gebru

    Absolutely clear and simple way of explaining the differences

    Reply
  3. Rajesh Sharma

    This was very very helpful, you have very sound knowledge in the tourism industry.

    Reply
  4. Emmanuel

    I found this material very easy to comprehend. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Aliyi

    Its very good work continue according to this

    Reply

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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