My Hypothesis

It’s Never Too Early

The first day of class I introduced you to the writing plan for the semester. You will accomplish a 3000-word Research Argument that examines a counterintuitive hypothesis.

  • Proving the hypothesis True, or proving it Untrue, will be considered successful.
  • Proving nothing, but gathering a preponderance of evidence to persuade a reader of the likelihood of Truth or Falsity will be considered successful.
  • Attempting to “present both sides” of the argument to “let readers decide” will be considered failure.

It’s time for you to rise to the challenge of developing a hypothesis worthy of a 3000-word research project. This process begins early because it’s essential to your success that you begin your research with a clearly-identified, arguable, meaningful hypothesis. You’re probably not ready for the job, but you will become ready during the process of fine-tuning your first efforts.

One week from today, MON FEB 10, I need to see the hypothesis that will launch your research (Steps 1 through 6).

Your plan will be preliminary and open to improvement. With any luck, you’ll revise your hypothesis out of necessity when your research provides insights you couldn’t have predicted.


Step 1. Your topic is too broad. Almost certainly. And because it’s too broad, you won’t be able to write anything surprising, insightful, or new about it. Too many commentators have already made broad general comments about:

1. concussions in football

Obviously, you can’t just gather a bunch of material about concussions in football under the title “Concussions in Football” and call it a research paper. A topic that broad would require at the very least a full book, with chapters devoted to:

  • how concussions occur inside the skull
  • clinical evidence of harm to players
  • numbers of concussions in different eras
  • football injuries compared to other sports
  • cumulative effects of repeated injuries
  • depression and suicide among retired players
  • denials by the league
  • lawsuits by the players’ association
  • rules changes to mitigate dangerous hits
  • helmet design to reduce injury
  • rejection of youth football by parents
  • alternatives to equipment and rules changes.

Any one of those narrower topics might still be too broad for a 3000-word essay. So:


Step 2. Narrow your topic by limiting the range of your terms, and by adding elements that focus your attention to specific aspects of your topic.

2. concussions and helmet design in NFL football

You’ve decided to concentrate on the relationship between helmet design and concussions—a significant narrowing of your topic—but we still don’t know how the two are related. So:


Step 3. Create a logical relationship among the elements of your increasingly complicated topic description.

3. the effect of improved helmet design on the number of concussions suffered by players in NFL games

So far, so good. But “the effect” is so vague that it has no real meaning. If I say, “Lighting a fire in the corner had an effect on the temperature in the room,” I’m going out of my way to avoid the very obvious logical connection: The fire raised the temperature in the room. So:


Step 4. Write a complete sentence that makes a bold, clear claim by clarifying the logical relationship between the specific elements in your narrow topic.

head to head

4. Helmet designs that act like shock absorbers to reduce the impact of helmet-to-helmet blows will reduce the number of concussions suffered by players in NFL games.

Now you’re making claims. Your narrowed topic has focused our attention on specific elements: NFL players, helmet-to-helmet blows, design improvements, reduced numbers of concussions. Let’s test it.


Step 5. Share your claim with several classmates. Do they all agree? Will readers automatically concur that your claim is logical, reasonable? If so, your thesis is entirely intuitive, and therefore probably too obvious. Perhaps trivial. Most likely, it’s already been demonstrated by other authors. If not, it will be soon.

This is where the real work begins. Rise to the challenge. Question the essence of the specific claim you have made.

5. Eliminating helmet-to-helmet blows would radically reduce the number of concussions suffered by players in NFL games.

This may look like a step back, but it’s actually a shift to a different perspective. It questions what seemed like a natural and obvious conclusion.

  • Players used to play without helmets.
  • Then they graduated to leather helmets, which mostly prevented split-open scalps.
  • Then they graduated to hard plastic helmets with interior suspension systems that kept skulls from colliding with other skulls and other helmets.
  • But with all that innovation, we still have mounting evidence of widespread lasting damage.
  • Why?
  • It’s not skull-on-skull damage that matters.
  • It’s the collision of delicate brain tissue with the inside of the skull.
  • And no helmet can protect the brain from colliding with the skull.
  • So:

Step 6. Apply counterintuitive thinking to find the unexpected angle.

6. Eliminating helmets from NFL games would reduce concussions more than helmet improvements by making players very reluctant to engage in the most dangerous plays.

It’s a radical hypothesis that may be impossible to prove, but it can certainly be researched. And it makes for a surprising and innovative argument much more likely than the alternatives to result in a rewarding semester of study.

More or Fewer Steps. Your own process may require more than 6 steps, but never fewer. If you start the process with a bold, clear claim that creates a logical relationship among specific elements in an already narrow topic, you’re starting at Step 4. (You didn’t skip the steps; you took them without noticing.)

The Real Work. The most important work begins at Step 5, when you’ve crafted what you think sounds like a good thesis. Further scrutinizing that thesis is painful but essential. We don’t want to abandon our comfortable thesis that seems so provable. But we learn more when we stop trying to prove something and instead research to learn something.

We Research to Test, not to Prove. In the early stages of your research, you’ll search for evidence to prove or disprove the counterintuitive claim you make in Step 6, which is merely a Hypothesis you’ll measure against the academic sources you discover. Almost certainly, you’ll alter your Hypothesis, perhaps several times, during the writing/research process, narrowing or redirecting your claim as you figure out what you can persuasively argue.

The Payoff. A research project that results in a Thesis radically different than your first Hypothesis is doubly rewarding. It indicates that you found a Thesis to prove; more importantly, it demonstrates that you’ve grown academically throughout the course by learning something unexpected.


Task: My Hypothesis

  • Start a My Hypothesis post.
  • Begin by choosing a broad topic that will sustain your interest for the rest of the semester. Identifying that topic will be Step 1.
  • Follow all the steps of the illustration above, refining your topic until it resembles a counterintuitive thesis. Record the steps as you narrow your topic and refine your hypothesis until it resembles the illustration in Step 6.
  • You will not be stuck with what you commit to in this Exercise; however,
  • until you deliberately update your Hypothesis, it will be your research project of record. In other words, I will consider you committed to next Monday’s Hypothesis until you replace it with another.
  • BEGIN THE WORK IN CLASS TODAY.
  • In Step 1, before the end of today’s class, name the broad topic (or topics) of interest that intrigue you enough to hold your attention for 3 months.
  • (If I can be of help narrowing your topic or suggesting hypotheses, I will being that work immediately.)
  • COMPLETE this Task through Step 6 by 11:59pm SUN FEB 09.

A completed task will resemble this model:

My Hypothesis—davidbdale

  1. concussions in football
  2. concussions and helmet design in NFL football
  3. the effect of improved helmet design on the number of concussions suffered by players in NFL games
  4. Helmet designs that act like shock absorbers to reduce the impact of helmet-to-helmet blows will reduce the number of concussions suffered by players in NFL games.
  5. Eliminating helmet-to-helmet blows would radically reduce the number of concussions suffered by players in NFL games.
  6. Eliminating helmets from NFL games would reduce concussions more than helmet improvements by making players very reluctant to engage in the most dangerous plays.

6 Responses to My Hypothesis

  1. j6128 says:

    1. Liberal arts degree from an undergraduate university
    2. Liberal arts degree economic value at an undergraduate university
    3. The impact on earnings of a liberal arts degree, compared to alternative forms of higher education
    4. A liberal arts education is focused on job skills that will lead to better earnings outcomes for students
    5. A liberal arts education/degree is better at providing and improving skills that employers demand, therefore graduates will attain a higher rate of employability success
    6. A liberal arts education/degree is more valuable by providing a broad range of skills that employers demand which will make students more employable than having a STEM education/degree

    • davidbdale says:

      Sorry, I missed seeing this because you haven’t published it as a new post under your username and the My Hypothesis categories, J.

      This seems like a purely statistical argument that will be proved or disproved by a reliable survey. Once you find the survey, will there be anything left to say?

      Or are you planning to make the argument a forecast of the hirability of the next generation of recent college graduates, something we can predict but not yet quantify?

      Fascinating topic. Your thoughts?

  2. stripedsweater21 says:

    1. Mental health awareness
    2. Mental health awareness in school
    3. The effect of recognizing the significance of mental health
    4. Addressing mental health is an educating opportunity similar to learning about physical health and fitness
    5. Adding a mandatory mental health course with healthy methods of coping and dealing with mental illnesses will help students who may be silently struggling.
    6. Adding a mandatory mental health course designed to help students in high school and college would encourage those struggling with mental health to seek help, and encourage students to help others by addressing how severe the result of an unattended mental illness can be and effective methods of coping and support.

  3. killerbeanforever says:

    1. Are psychedelic drugs good for you

    2. Should psychedelic drugs be legal for recreational use

    3. are there benefits to psychedelic drugs

    4. are there any health benefits to psychedelic drugs

    5. Can psychedelic help or even cure anxiety

    6. Can psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin mushrooms or N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) help with anxiety

    • davidbdale says:

      Thank you for leaving this Reply, KillerBeanForever, but it will not show up in the sidebar under your Author name, so it will be easy to lose and very hard to find. Please copy the contents of your Reply into a new post titled “My Hypothesis—KillerBeanForever” and categorized under both your Username and the assignment name, “My Hypothesis.”

      We practiced this technique the first week of classes, when you published your only post so far: https://rowancomp2.com/2020/01/27/first-post-3/

      Ask me here for help if you need it, or get advice from your friend who was my student in the fall. I appreciate your effort here, but it needs to comply with class techniques.

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