ACM Trans. on Computer-Human Interaction, 29(1), pp. 1-28, 2022

Abstract

Data analysis requires translating higher level questions and hypotheses into computable statistical models. We present a mixed-methods study aimed at identifying the steps, considerations, and challenges involved in operationalizing hypotheses into statistical models, a process we refer to as hypothesis formalization. In a formative content analysis of 50 research papers, we find that researchers highlight decomposing a hypothesis into sub-hypotheses, selecting proxy variables, and formulating statistical models based on data collection design as key steps. In a lab study, we find that analysts fixated on implementation and shaped their analyses to fit familiar approaches, even if sub-optimal. In an analysis of software tools, we find that tools provide inconsistent, low-level abstractions that may limit the statistical models analysts use to formalize hypotheses. Based on these observations, we characterize hypothesis formalization as a dual-search process balancing conceptual and statistical considerations constrained by data and computation and discuss implications for future tools.

Materials