Does an Engineering Thesis Need a Hypothesis?

What is the hypothesis?

The hypothesis is all important. It is the foundation of your thesis. It gives coherence and purpose to your thesis. If it is hard to grasp what hypothesis means, these explanations might help:

  • The hypothesis defines the aim or objective of an experiment, that if some likely but unproven proposition were indeed true, we would expect to make certain observations or measurements. [1, p 6]
  • A hypothesis is an imaginative preconception of what might be true in the form of a declaration with verifiable deductive consequences [2, p 18].
  • Hypotheses are the larval forms of theories [2, p 20].
  • ‘In every useful experiment, there must be some point in view, some anticipation of a principle to be established or rejected’; such anticipations are hypotheses [2, John Gregory quoted by Medawar, p22].

Philosophers of science contend [2] that a hypothesis cannot be proved conclusively, but only falsified. We will steer clear of this controversy in this article.

Does an engineering thesis need a hypothesis?

Hypotheses may be relevant to science theses, but are they relevant to engineering theses? Because engineers invent rather than discover, does an engineering thesis need a hypothesis?

Yes, all the more so, because invention is a more tightly directed activity than discovery; and the two are not mutually exclusive anyway! I prefer the word hypothesis: that which underlies a thesis; you may be more familiar or comfortable with aims or objectives. The hypothesis is the electromotive force or emf for your thesis.

Suppose your project involves using Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs), in conjunction with appropriate hardware, to sort good apples from bad. The hypothesis for this project may be, ‘It is possible to sort good apples from bad using ANNs and suitable hardware’.

Note that implicit in your hypothesis is a definition of acceptable levels of accuracy (how do you quantify the words ‘possible’, ‘good’, and ‘bad’ ?).

Suppose that on completing your project, you discovered that the system you had devised works well with green apples, but not with red ones. You would have discovered new knowledge and would be able to suggest a revised hypothesis as the starting point for further investigation. Your own project would have demonstrated  the correctness of a hypothesis like ‘It is possible to sort good green apples from bad green apples, with an accuracy of better than 90%, using ANNs and suitable hardware’.

Never forget that underlying every thesis, there must be a hypothesis. It is what your story is all about. If you keep your hypothesis in view, you will never stray into irrelevance when writing your thesis, which is what we look at next.

Read mre about thesis writing for science and engineering  from here


  1. Chandrasekhar, R. (2002). How to write a thesis: A working guide. The University of Western Australia.
  2. P. B. Medawar, The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and other classic essays on science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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