What Is the Difference Between Inductive Research and Deductive Research?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Apr 11, 2020 8:28:04 PM ET

Deductive research aims to test an existing theory while inductive research aims to generate new theories from observed data. Deductive research works from the more general to the more specific, and inductive research works from more specific observations to more general theories.

Deductive reasoning uses a top-down approach. It typically begins with selecting a pre-existing theory about a certain topic of interest. The theory is then narrowed down into more specific hypotheses that can be tested. Next, observations are collected to address the hypotheses. This ultimately leads to the ability to test the hypotheses with specific data and confirm or deny the original theory.

Inductive reasoning works in the other direction, and it relies heavily on a bottom-up approach. Inductive reasoning begins by detecting patterns and regularities within specific observations and measures. From these patterns, a tentative hypothesis is formulated that can be explored. Finally, some general conclusions or theories are developed from the results found when testing the hypothesis.

Inductive reasoning is more open-ended and exploratory, especially at the beginning. Deductive reasoning is more narrow and concerned with testing or confirming hypotheses. In practice, most research projects involve using both inductive and deductive approaches at different stages of study.