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Is it possible to form a hypothesis in a qualitative research proposal?

1- I am planning to look into the attitude and belief of teacher trainees in a pre-service training
programme meant for language teachers. As the research committee in the university demands a
proposal before allowing a student to pursue research, I wanted to know if it is feasible to come up
with a hypothesis at this stage
2- My general answer is: Yes! Hypothesizing relates to our theories (formalized beliefs) about the
world, and, following Popper, we need to confront these theories with "data" (our beliefs could be
wrong!). Using qualitative methods for generating data is one way of doing that.
3- The problem in this case is that the area I am working on does not have much of literature to allow
me to have hypothesis. Thus, they (what I think) can be, at most, projected as assumptions. Don't you
think so?
4- Good point. Your projected assumptions could provide you with some suggestions for hypotheses
to investigate. You could, in your proposal, call them "working hypotheses". For example, you could
make some thoughts about what exactly "attitudes" and "beliefs" does to the group, you are studying.
Is attitudes/beliefs the object of study (what needs to be explained) or does it produce some effects /
have influence on some other factors (what it explains).

Thinking along these lines may help you with some preliminary thoughts about the mechanisms, you
are to study. I hope I am specific enough. My contention is, though, that for a proposal you will need
to give the reader the feeling that you have thought about how to hypothesize the object under study.
5- If I may add a 'correctors' perspective - Pablo is spot on! If I saw a 'hypothesis' in a qualitative
proposal the first question I would ask you is why you are 'testing' something as opposed to 'building'
theory.
It would indicate to me as a corrector that you need to come to terms more with philosophy of
research - especially deductive and inductive reasoning (maybe - but I don't wish that on anyone!).
Hypothesises are for 'testing' something to confirm it with a certainty - so it tends to be more
quantitative. In a qualitative theory building piece of work you often see a research question written as
a 'problematic' (Creswell) with broad sub-objectives. The problem with writing a problematic for a
proposal is that it's often left too broad. Lessons can be learnt from both ways but mainly in a
qualitative work it's called a 'problematic' as you are aiming to theory build.
6- I agree with Mr. Horan and would like to stick to CYCLICAL DATA ANALYSIS- a process where
data collection is followed by some type of data analysis and hypothesis-formation, leading to
subsequent and more focused rounds of data collection where hypotheses are tested and further
refined, with the process continuing until a rich and full picture of the data is obtained.
7- Dear Conor,

I am not quite sure whether your comment is to me or to Santosh. As I see it, there is no logical
necessity between "working with hypothesis" and the method one adopts for answering the
hypothesis. Hypotheses do not necessarily (in a logical manner) involve quantitative methods.

As I see it, working with hypotheses is simply a way of stating that our formalized ideas about the
world, our theories we may call them, can be wrong. Working with hypotheses is thus not about
"confirming" statements, but putting them to the test. I believe this is the essence of the ideas of one
of greatest thinkers in the 20th century, Karl Popper. I may be wrong. I may then ask: What prevents
research involving qualitative methods from putting widespread beliefs to the test?

I agree with you that "problematiques" are important--but I do not see any logical reason why that
shouldn't count for research done with quantitative methods. Within sociological research in
stratification, one pronounced problematic is that social inequalities in educational attainment is more
or less constant across countries and cohorts. This is an interesting problematic! How do we explain
that? My point here is that this problematic is a consequence of massive quantitative research on the
topic. Now it is up for qualitative researchers to frame theories that may explain why this is so. Why?
Because it is an interesting "problematique".

A final remark. I believe that if Santosh is about to write a research proposal, my general contention is
that it signals rigor and clarity if the proposal involves some kind of working hypotheses. That said,
these hypotheses may be vague--but framing a part of a proposal with working hypotheses is likely to
enhance one's likelihood of "getting the money". So, for strategic reasons (and not logical or scientific)
one may frame the proposal in terms of working hypotheses.

8- HI Kristian,
Yeah my reply was for everyone...not sure if I clicked the incorrect reply button.

There's a number of issues raised in your reply that revolve around 'semantics' in relation to the
argument of quanitative versus qualitative research. Of course when you get deeper into the debate
one realises you can't do one without the other and that there is no delineation between the two.
Some researchers however have exceptionally strong opinions about this. This debate also can be
found in the deudctive versus inductive reasoning debate - which is the theory testing versus theory
building issue I raised above.

The semantical issue is using a 'hypothesis'. Of course to answer ones hypothesis both quantitative
and qualitative data can be used, however when you use that word is that by testing a hypothesis you
want an outcome that is certain, generalisbale and possibly allowing you to predict an answer for the
future through verification/falsification (Popper) etc. Thus the testing and then confirming TENDS to
be more associated with hypothesis (as it's hypothetico-deductive)

You ask - 'What prevents research involving qualitative methods from putting widespread beliefs to
the test?'.. qualitative methods can contribute to answering a tested hypothesis... however doing a
qualitative piece of research around complex widespread beliefs at an exploratory level - it would be
hard to justify using a hypothesis unless you reduce it down to testable assumptions. The all may
contribute to understanding a complex social issue but your epistemological approach assumes a
single answer that has been tested and verified. Each hypothesis reflects a reduced perspective of
the complex social issue. For this reason it tends to be verified quanititatively.

Santosh's proposal could look at a social issue but to use a hypothesis he would need to reduce that
social issue down to testable hypotheses. If he was looking at individuals lived experiences -
subjective realities - I would deduct marks if the word 'hypothesis' was used.

I recommend Burrel & Morgan 1979 Sociological Paradigms and Organisation
9- I get your points now.

I pretty much agree, although, I believe, I have a bit more relaxed reading of Popper (perhaps
because I am a sociologist, and spend more time reading The Poverty of Historicism than The Logic
of Scientific Discovery). I agree with you (and I get that you draw on Burrel and Morgan, the reference
is known to me) that there are certain "connotations" that go with using hypotheses. These are
practical and not logical (as Popper pointed out long ago). By that I mean (and I guess that Burrel and
Morgan would say the same) that qualitative traditions are embedded in different understandings of
theory and ways of "doing research" (as Latour would put it) than quantitative traditions. Their praxis'
differ. The same line of argument is found
here:http://pan.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/14/3/227. However, the connotations are not a
consequence of logical necessity (e.g., hypotheses involve quantification), they are a product of
historical contingencies. Distinquishing between these important, or at least, I believe, Popper thought
so.

Regarding the proposal. I think your right that explorations of (unexplored) lived experiences is difficult
to hypothesize about, and that researchers generally should refrain from it. However, if there is just
some degree of knowledge or formalized beliefs in the research area, including working hypotheses in
a research proposal is, as I see it, an advantage. Once again, I may be wrong ;)

Nice discussion by the way!

Kristian
10- I can see where you're coming from... one issue that we haven't raised is that of causality. If you
look at academic papers with hypotheses...they're usually about measuring a causal link, or looking
for a correlation. The two variables used are often tighly defined i.e. they have been reduced down to
a tight definition (Zikmun - levels of abstract).

On the other hand if you were to take a qualitative approach (and I really don't like the quant v qual
distinction) to the same problem you might not engage in such a rigid form of causality - you might
consider the connections between two constructs (the word variables is again closely connected to
hypotheses and has the connotation of being mesurable). Connections might be found without
recourse to quantification. I'm not implying that causality doesn't exist in qualitative research - it does
just in a different form.

I think explorations come before we start testing. And after testing we revert back to exploration again
and if you follow Kuhn's work he would suggest research goes in waves in and out of 'Normal
Science'.

Personally, my colleagues say I'm a positivist, and in qualitative research I do push my students to
very tightly define their research objectives in their proposals - nearly to the point that they could be
expressed as a hypothesis. I did this myself when I had very unlcear objectives. I would re-write them
in a cause & effect manner to gain clarity. So on you last paragraph I would certianly agree with you!!

...and yes I very much enjoy this conversation - it's certainly making me think!!!
Cheers
Conor