1.2 Types of problem formulations

Questions eventually become converted into declarative statements where a position or prediction is set up for testing. The question “Why is the rate of death due to suicide so high in Inuit communities in Canada?” is open-ended. It does not state a position or predict a relationship or a possible explanation the way a hypothesis or a thesis does. That is why questions are typically converted into either a hypothesis, such as “High suicide rates among the Inuit are associated with macro-social forces and socio-economic realities” (Stevenson 1996), or a strongly worded thesis such as “Cultural discontinuity and the legacy of colonialism explain the unusually high rates of suicide for the Inuit in Canada.” Note how the hypothesis and the thesis are set up as declarative statements as opposed to open-ended, directionless questions.

Hypotheses and thesis statements contain evident positions or problem statements that provoke investigation. Devising a hypothesis or a thesis takes even the most practised researchers time to develop. 


A hypothesis is usually stated in precise terms, as an educated guess or prediction about the expected behaviour of a variable or a set of variables in a relationship or about differences between groups.

The data are usually in the form of numbers and the intended path to empirically test the data is linear. In contrast to a thesis statement, a hypothesis lends itself more readily to statistical tests. Precisely defined variables measure phenomena in uniform ways to make it easier to process and analyze with data management software. Replication, the practice of repeating the same tests, is assumed. Information about procedures and measures are so specific that they are often regarded as recipes that can be easily replicated by fellow researchers.


A thesis is a declarative statement that is arguable (“not a statement of fact, but a statement about the facts”). In contrast to a hypothesis, a thesis is regarded as more open-ended and interpretive in orientation, with general concepts defining the parameters of the investigation as opposed to pre-set, standardized variables. The expression “working thesis” is often used to describe the ad hoc way that a thesis typically develops. As the researcher becomes more immersed in the field, the thesis becomes more cogent. Generally, the path to gathering, processing and analyzing the data is non-linear.