A hypothesis is a suggested explanation for an observed relationship or a causal prediction about a relationship among several variables.  Every research project is based on a hypothesis, which generally begins with a specific question.  For example, “If people are provided with basic eye care services, will they be more economically productive on an individual basis?” This question is specific enough to be addressed by a research project, however it is not yet a hypothesis.  Next, the researcher must operationalize the terms being used.  Operationalization refers to defining otherwise abstract concepts or terms in a measurable way.  For example, “economically productive” can be operationalized as “dollars earned per day,” “hours worked in a week,” or “number of objects successfully produced at work.”  As we can see, a researcher must be careful to operationalize the measures in such a way that they reflect exactly what the researcher is trying to measure.  Depending on how terms are operationalized, the results of a study can vary widely, so it is critical that a researcher carefully consider how each of the measures are to be operationalized beforeforming a hypothesis and beginning a study.

A hypothesis takes the operationalized definition of the factors to produce a clear prediction of the causal relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable in the statement.  The independent variable is a factor that the researcher can control or manipulate (whether or not a person receives basic eye care services), and a dependent variable is a factor that the researcher cannot manipulate, but instead varies in relation to the independent variable (the economic productivity of the individual).  For example, a hypothesis might be “We predict that if nearsighted participants are provided with corrective lenses that bring their vision to 20/20, they will earn more money per week on average over the course of three months than nearsighted participants who did not receive corrective lenses.”  This statement is a viable hypothesis because it clearly operationalizes what the researcher termed “basic eye care” and “economically productive” such that they can be measured and analyzed in an objective way.

When formulating a hypothesis, it is important not to try to “prove” that the hypothesis is true.  Instead, one should seek to find evidence that it is not true.  In other words, one can never accept a hypothesis; instead one fails to reject the null (posited) hypothesis.  This is especially important when using statistics such as t-tests and p-values to determine significance.


What makes a good research question?

Not all research questions are good ones in other words, not all questions can be answered through qualitative and quantitative research methodology.  A good research question needs to:

  • Make sense:  In other words, you must clearly define your terms using known definitions outlined in the literature. For example, a poor research question would be:  How do people’s lives improve after surgery?  Not only does this research question fail to specify the study population, it contains the vague term improve.  The researcher must specify what he/she means by this term does it involve a physical improvement or rather an improvement in mental state?  The more specific your research question, the better.
  • Address an important and relevant issue:  Scientific research is done to increase knowledge, not simply for a single researchers personal satisfaction.  Whatever question the researcher sets out to solve must have some beneficial implications.  With this in mind, the researcher may continue narrowing the study focus to an area that can be addressed as a single question.  For example, now that the researcher has chosen proper eye care and how it affects individuals, the topic can be further focused to be about “basic eye care and how it affects individual work productivity. A good research question will also always have relevance to the time, place, and population of the study.  For example, a study of Vitamin A deficiency in Southern India would be a poor choice as this is not a particularly significant problem in the area.
  • Not already have been done:  A good research study will be novel.  This means that there will be some new aspect of the study that has never before been examined.  However, this does not mean that you should avoid replicating past research.  In fact, not only is replication a good way to get a research methodology, it is how science is supposed to advance knowledge.  When replicating a pervious study, it is best to add or change one or two things to increase the novelty of the research.
  • Be operationalizable: Oftentimes, beginning researchers pose questions that cannot be operationalized, or assessed methodologically with research instruments.  From the example above, the idea of life improvement could be operationalized by a Quality of Life survey well known and validated research tool. In general, the more abstract the idea, the harder it is to operationalize.
  • Be within a reasonable scope: A good research project will be manageable in depth and breadth.  The scope will depend on the amount of time and the availability of resources you have for your study.  In general, the more focused the research question the more likely it will be a successful project.  For example, a study that seeks to identify the prevalence eye disease in a specific village is more likely to succeed than a comparable study that seeks to identify eye disease prevalence in the world population.

Literature Review

One essential task when undertaking a research study is to review the existing literature on the topic and use it to inform the construction of your own study.  The literature review should be conducted early in the research process, directly after you choose a topic.  A literature review can bring clarity and focus to your research problem and broaden your knowledge base in your research area.  In addition, past studies can improve your methodology and help you to contextualize your findings.  The literature review is crucial because an important responsibility in research is to add to a body of knowledge and to compare your findings with others.  The procedure is simple: search the literature in your area of interest, review the selected studies, and develop a theoretical framework for your own study.



Brainstorming is a process for developing creative solutions to problems. Brainstorming works by focusing on a problem, and then deliberately coming up with as many solutions as possible and by pushing the ideas as far as possible. One of the reasons it is so effective is that the brainstormers not only come up with new ideas in a session, but also spark off from associations with other people’s ideas by developing and refining them. While some research has found brainstorming to be ineffective, this seems more of a problem with the research itself than with the brainstorming tool (Isaksen, 1998). There are four basic rules in brainstorming (Osborn, 1963) intended to reduce social inhibitions among team members, stimulate idea generation, and increase overall creativity:

  • No criticism: Criticism of ideas are withheld during the brainstorming session as the purpose is on generating varied and unusual ideals and extending or adding to these ideas. Criticism is reserved for the evaluation stage of the process. This allows the members to feel comfortable with the idea of generating unusual ideas.
  • Welcome unusual ideas: Unusual ideas are welcomed as it is normally easier to “tame down” than to “tame up” as new ways of thinking and looking at the world may provide better solutions.
  • Quantity Wanted: The greater the number of ideas generated, the greater is the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.
  • Combine and improve ideas: Not only are a variety of ideals wanted, but also ways to combine ideas in order to make them better.



Qualitative and Quantitative Studies

 Not all research projects require study measures.  Some research simply involves observing the results of events in the field and drawing conclusions based on a theoretical framework.  Others may involve analyzing data from clinics or other institutions, using statistics and reasoning to find patterns that may have important implications.  However, many projects involve direct contact with participants, using an operationalized definition of a phenomenon.  These projects require well-designed measures in order to be considered valid. There are two broad categories of research: quantitative and qualitative.

A study is classified as qualitative if the purpose is primarily to describe a situation, phenomenon, problem or event; the information is gathered through the use of variables or measured on qualitative measurement scales, and if analysis is done to establish the variation in the situation or problem without quantifying it.  Qualitative studies tend to be more “in-depth”, focusing on a smaller population but probing deeper into a given problem.  This research is often associated with focus groups, interviews or surveys and seeks to answer open-ended questions. Thematic and content analysis are two methods used to analyze qualitative data.  Disciplines such as anthropology, history, and sociology are more inclined towards a qualitative approach.

On the other hand, quantitative studies often use standardized measures, numerical values, have larger sample sizes, and analyze data using statistical programs. A study is classified as quantitative if the researcher seeks to quantify the variation in a phenomenon and if information is gathered using quantitative variables. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and advantages and disadvantages. Disciplines such as epidemiology, economics and public health are more inclined towards quantitative research.



Choosing a Research Topic

 For a researcher to choose a topic for a project, it is important to consider a broad area of inquiry and interest.  This may be as broad as “global eye health” or “personality psychology,” but it should be an area that is of interest to the researcher.  However, a broad area is useful only at the beginning of a research plan.  Within a broader topic of inquiry, each researcher must begin narrowing the field into a few subtopics that are of greater specificity and detail.  For example, a researcher may be interested in “global eye health,” but could focus more specifically on “proper eye care and how it affects individuals.”  Although this topic is still too broad for a research project, it is more focused and can be further specified into a coherent project.

Oftentimes, students as well as professional researchers discover their topics in a variety of conventional and unconventional ways.  Many researchers find that their personal interests and experiences help to narrow their topic.  For students, previous classes and course material are often the source of research ideas.  Furthermore, current events in politics as well as in academia can inspire topics for research.   Academic journals such as Health Affairs, Health Economics, and the American Journal of Bioethics can provide good material for new studies and E-resources such as Pubmed, Google Scholar and Philosopher’s Index are also good starting places.  Lastly, many research ideas are generated through dialogue—by talking with professors, fellow students and family.


Here’s How to begin with your paper

  1. Before beginning, jot down a list of some of the important points you would like to make. These don’t have to be in any order; just brainstorm topics or arguments you would like to cover in your paper.
  2. Make an outline. It’s hard to start a paper if you don’t know where you’re going. By planning ahead, you’ll known when you’re almost done. Seriously, this is very important.
  3. Never use the word ‘I.’ History papers are supposed to be about the past, not about you.
  4. The first paragraph is the most important one. This introduces the reader to your paper. In it, you should tell the reader the subject of the paper, the topics or arguments you will cover, as well as include a one to two sentence summary of your conclusion.
  5. Don’t be afraid to create paragraphs. Each paragraph should be about a different topic or argument.
  6. You aren’t paying for punctuation! Avoid run-on sentences. Read your sentences out-loud. If you have to take a breath and there is no comma, your sentence needs to be shorter.
  7. Write a conclusion. You’ve written most of your paper – did you come to the same conclusion as the one you wrote in the first paragraph? No new information should be introduced here; it should summarize the main points of your paper.
  8. Make sure you create accurate footnotes or endnotes. These are a common thing to get marked down for. Though many students think them superfluous, they really are an important research tool.
  9. Don’t forget to spell-check your paper. Most teachers and professors will automatically mark you down an entire grade for bad spelling. All you have to do is click on a button.
  10. Once you are done, read your paper out-loud using the punctuation. This means take a breath at a comma and pause at periods. Though this may seem ‘corny,’ listen to the way your paper sounds.
  11. Have a friend read your paper. Sometimes we aren’t as clever as we think we are.
  12. Print it out and turn it in. I hope you get a good grade!



Writing Psychology Papers

The ability to write and communicate well is an important skill for psychology students. There are several specific types of papers that you might be required to write at some point during your academic studies. Learn more about different types of psychology papers and find tips for planning, writing and editing your papers.

Types of Psychology Papers

1. Lab reports describe the events and outcomes of a research project or experiment and have the same          structure as a scholarly journal article. The purpose of the report is to explain how and why you                  performed the experiment, the results of your experiment and your interpretation of the results. Sections      of a lab report include a title page, abstract, introduction, methods, results, references and discussion.

2. Essays in psychology are similar to essays in other subject areas; the purpose of the essay is to clearly        and concisely summarize a topic. A good essay will utilize logical arguments and will have an                      introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

3. A research paper explores a specific theory, concept or topic in depth. The first section should                    summarize the goals of the paper, while the second section presents and summarizes the issues, topics,      or arguments. The final section should critically analyze the information and research that has been            presented and offer a conclusion.

4. A literature review should evaluate and summarize research that is related to a particular concept,              theory or topic. These papers are critical in nature and should present an overview of the field of                research and a specific thesis. Arguments for the thesis should be presented in the main section of the        paper.



Abstract writing style

     You should maintain certain writing standards while drafting your research paper. Your abstract should   be as brief as possible but quite meaningful. Here are some common writing styles for your abstract.

  • Your abstract should be a single paragraph, and concise
  • As a summary of work done, it is always written in past tense
  • An abstract should stand on its own, and not refer to any other part of the paper such as a figure or table
  • Focus on summarizing results – limit background information to a sentence or two, if absolutely necessary
  • What you report in an abstract must be consistent with what you reported in the paper
  • Corrrect spelling, clarity of sentences and phrases, and proper reporting of quantities (proper units, significant figures) are just as important in an abstract as they are anywhere else

Writing an Abstract

Write your summary after the rest of the paper is completed. After all, how can you summarize something that is not yet written? Economy of words is important throughout any paper, but especially in an abstract. However, use complete sentences and do not sacrifice readability for brevity. You can keep it concise by wording sentences so that they serve more than one purpose. For example, “In order to learn the role of protein synthesis in early development of the sea urchin, newly fertilized embryos were pulse-labeled with tritiated leucine, to provide a time course of changes in synthetic rate, as measured by total counts per minute (cpm).” This sentence provides the overall question, methods, and type of analysis, all in one sentence. The writer can now go directly to summarizing the results.

Summarize the study, including the following elements in any abstract. Try to keep the first two items to no more than one sentence each.

  • Purpose of the study – hypothesis, overall question, objective
  • Model organism or system and brief description of the experiment
  • Results, including specific data – if the results are quantitative in nature, report quantitative data; results of any statistical analysis shoud be reported
  • Important conclusions or questions that follow from the experiment(s)