Difference Between Hypothesis and Theory

Difference Between Hypothesis and Theory

If you’ve studied science, or you’re currently doing so, you’ve probably asked yourself a hundred questions about the difference between terms. You would have asked the difference between law and principle, about how compounds and mixtures are varied. You would have questioned the distinction between weight and mass. Science, admittedly, is a complex subject because it encompasses the entire universe. The universe is without a doubt the most complex and varied topic we can discuss, and science helps us understand it better and better as we study the field.

One comparison you may have made is about the difference between theory and hypothesis. What’s the disparity between the two? What do these concepts mean? In this article, we will define each term and lay down their characteristics, so you could easily tell their variances. If you’re a student, having a clear grasp of these two terms will make you appreciate the theories and hypotheses better.

Definition of Theory

You may have seen a hundred theories and wondered what the dictionary definition of theory is or what the difference between hypothesis and theory is. A theory is a profound thought and rationalization to come up with a general statement about an event or occurrence. The term theory can be used both in scientific and non-scientific subjects. However, it is more often used in the academic world.

In order to come up with a theory, scientists employ the scientific method. That is, they identify the problem, gather data, come up with a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, and come up with a conclusion. From that conclusion and through repeated research, a theory can be formulated. Usually, it needs acceptance by the scientific community before it can formally be accepted globally and be taught in schools.

Contrary to the popular belief, the word “theory” does not refer to an unvalidated stipulation or untested conclusion. A scientist goes through a long process and a lot of criticism until his/her theory is tagged as accurate. One of the most well-renowned theories known to men is the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin, which explained the origin of men. To date, the theory is not yet widely accepted because of its religious implications.

If a theory is supposedly experimented, validated, and confirmed, what, then, is the difference between a theory and a hypothesis? Let’s define a hypothesis to find out.

Definition of Hypothesis

A hypothesis is less often used in regular conversations than a theory. It is more often associated with scientific work than the latter. By definition, it is a proposed rationalization of an event or occurrence. As mentioned in the previous section, it is part of the scientific method. When a scientist or a researcher comes up with a scientific question, he/she gathers data and formulates a hypothesis or an educated guess based on the collected information.

If he/she would like to transform that hypothesis into a theory, he/she would have to perform the rest of the steps in the scientific method. Only by proving or disproving the hypothesis will a theory be possible. Therefore, a theory differs from a hypothesis in that a theory is already confirmed scientifically, whereas a hypothesis has yet to undergo the confirmation process.

A hypothesis can be classified into the following: null, working, and alternative. A working hypothesis has been conditionally or provisionally accepted to be the basis of continued research on the matter. Null and alternative hypotheses are more often used in statistical research, the ultimate goal being to reject the null hypothesis and confirm a relationship between the factors to which it is compared. Do you now get what’s the difference between hypothesis and theory?

Hypothesis vs Theory Comparison Table

To further classify the difference between a theory and hypothesis, here’s a table with the main differences between them.

Basis of ComparisonTheory Hypothesis
Definition Extrapolation about a phenomenon An educated guess about the explanation of a phenomenon
Level of confirmation Validated and confirmed Has to be validated
Derived from A validated hypothesis An educated guess of a problem
Basis Repeated experiments Collected data

Conclusion of Main Difference Between Hypothesis vs Theory

Do you now clearly understand what is the difference between theory and hypothesis? The best way to explain what is the difference between hypothesis and theory is to go through the scientific method. If you know these steps by heart, you’d know which comes first. Before you can produce a good and acceptable theory, you must go through the scientific method several times, testing and retesting until you get a conclusive and valid result. Statistics and literature can help you validate your results. It will also be helpful if you’d be able to consult experts in the field. Just remember that a hypothesis comes prior a theory.