When it comes to scientific research, the terms “theory” and “hypothesis” are often used interchangeably. However, they actually have distinct meanings and play different roles in the scientific method. In this article, we will explore how a scientific theory differs from a hypothesis.

The Scientific Method

Before we dive into the differences between theories and hypotheses, let’s first review the scientific method. The scientific method is a systematic approach to research that involves several steps:

Now that we’ve reviewed the scientific method, let’s move on to defining theories and hypotheses.


A hypothesis is an educated guess or tentative explanation for an observation or phenomenon. Hypotheses are developed based on existing knowledge and are typically tested through experimentation or further observation. A good hypothesis should be testable, falsifiable, and supported by existing evidence.

For example, if a researcher observes that plants grow taller when exposed to more sunlight, they might develop a hypothesis that states: “Plants grow taller when exposed to more sunlight.” This hypothesis can be tested by exposing one group of plants to more sunlight and another group to less sunlight, and then measuring the height of each group.


A theory is a well-established explanation for an observation or phenomenon that has been extensively tested and supported by a large body of evidence. Theories are broader in scope than hypotheses and are often used to explain multiple related phenomena.

For example, the theory of evolution is a well-established explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. It explains how species change over time through the processes of natural selection and genetic drift, and is supported by a vast array of evidence from fields such as paleontology, genetics, and comparative anatomy.

Differences Between Hypotheses and Theories

The main differences between hypotheses and theories can be summarized as follows:


In summary, while both hypotheses and theories play important roles in scientific research, they differ in terms of their scope, level of support from evidence, and testability. Hypotheses are educated guesses that serve as starting points for further research, while theories are well-established explanations that have been extensively tested over time. Understanding these differences can help researchers better evaluate scientific claims and communicate their findings to others.