Inductive and deductive approaches to research

The main difference between inductive and deductive approaches to research is that whilst a deductive approach is aimed and testing theory, an inductive approach is concerned with the generation of new theory emerging from the data.

A deductive approach usually begins with a hypothesis, whilst an inductive approach will usually use research questions to narrow the scope of the study.

For deductive approaches the emphasis is generally on causality, whilst for inductive approaches the aim is usually focused on exploring new phenomena or looking at previously researched phenomena from a different perspective.

Inductive approaches are generally associated with qualitative research, whilst deductive approaches are more commonly associated with quantitative research. However, there are no set rules and some qualitative studies may have a deductive orientation.

One specific inductive approach that is frequently referred to in research literature is grounded theory, pioneered by Glaser and Strauss.

This approach necessitates the researcher beginning with a completely open mind without any preconceived ideas of what will be found. The aim is to generate a new theory based on the data.

Once the data analysis has been completed the researcher must examine existing theories in order to position their new theory within the discipline.

Grounded theory is not an approach to be used lightly. It requires extensive and repeated sifting through the data and analysing and re-analysing multiple times in order to identify new theory. It is an approach best suited to research projects where there the phenomena to be investigated has not been previously explored.

The most important point to bear in mind when considering whether to use an inductive or deductive approach is firstly the purpose of your research; and secondly the methods that are best suited to either test a hypothesis, explore a new or emerging area within the discipline, or to answer specific research questions.

 Has this post helped you? If so then please leave a comment!  

See also: Using Conceptual Frameworks in Qualitative Research

Follow me on
Like It? Share It!Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInDigg thisPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Reddit


  1. Pingback: Methods and methodology | Deborah Gabriel

  2. Pingback: PhD research: qualitative data analysis | Deborah Gabriel

  3. Chantal

    Hi, yes the explanation was helpful because it was simple to read and pretty much, straight to the point. It has given me a brief understanding for what I needs.
    Thanks — Chantal

  4. johnmsinde

    Deborah, thanks for this elaboration. but I am asking is it possible to conduct a deductive inclined research and also generate a theory, or add to the theory. I have been asked by my supervisor whether I am just testing hypothesi or my aim is to contribute/generate a theory. my studies is more of a quantitative nature. Thanks

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Deductive research is more aimed towards testing a hypothesis and therefore is an approach more suited to working with quantitative data. The process normally involves reproducing a previous study and seeing if the same results are produced. This does not lend itself to generating new theories since that is not the object of the research. Between inductive and deductive approaches there is also a third approach which I will write a post on shortly – abdductive.

    1. Lambawi Tairo

      Exactly, your work is simple and clear, that there are two research approaches, Inductive and deductive.Qualitative and Quantative approaches
      You gave clear differences in a balance, simple to understand, I suppose you are a teacher by profession.
      This is how we share knowledge,and you become more knowledgable

  5. Rasol mudenda

    I am very thankful for this information, madam you are just good. If you are believer, allow me to say, May God bless you with more knowledge and good health.

      1. Baba

        Dear Deborah 

        I am currently doing Btech in forensic with Unisa would you be so kind and help with this question below and may I use your services while Iam doing this degree Please 

        Hi I have question that goes like these "If the reseacher wanted to conduct reseach in a specific context to see whether it supports an establisblished theory" the reseacher would be conducting 

        1. case study 

        2. deductive research 

        3. exploratory resarch 

        4. inductive methods 

        please help me to choose the right one 

        Yours Faithfully 

        Baba Temba 

  6. Badu Albert Tuffour

    In fact this has been very usefull information for me in my research,. It's very clear and easy to understand looking at the choice of language ,etc God bless you!!

  7. bridget diana

    Thanks for that good work Deborah. It has taken me quite a short time to read and understand. Kindly please help me understand what am required to write in this case where my teacher gave me this question: "Explain the process of deduction and induction research approaches".

  8. Pascale

    Thank you so much!! The distinction between the two approaches is clear and concise. Most other websites tend to go into long discussions without really getting to the point. This was very helpful. 

  9. Tamer

    It is a very fruitful post. I would like to ask if the objective of my research is to develop an extended process from the existing processes. And I am going to use qualitative and quantitative research methods, because my research phenomenon requires to study the individual meanings and perceptions and then uses the findings from the qualitative study and also the theoretical study as inputs for the quantitative study. Finally, I will use the findings of the theoretical study and the quantitative study in developing the extended process. So, which approach to follow in this case?

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Dear Tamer, Your question is too hypothetical for me to offer a response. But in any event, you are the only one who can decide whether an inductive or deductive approach is appropriate for your research project. This is where methodology comes in – which is about determining what research methods will be most effective in answering your research questions and which are in sync with your approach (e.g. critical, feminist etc). 

  10. Saeid

    Thanks much! 

    What do you think about the approach with quantitative analyses that start with data to generate theories? Typically data mining techniques fit into my example. 

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      This is a question of methodology – research methods must be selected based on the discipline, research questions and approach to the study. For example, If you are seeking to ascertain how many people read the news on their smartphones then a quantitiative method is most appropriate. On the other hand. if you are seeking to delve into why some people read the news on their smartphones, then clearly a qualitative method is required.

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      The question of inductive or deductive approaches arise only in relation to ‘primary’ research – that is when you are undertaking your own study. In your own study, secondary sources would appear under a Literature Review. However, if you are doing a dissertation, say for an undergraduate degree where you are not undertaking primary research then inductive or deductive approaches are not applicable. I hope this clarifies.

  11. Ola

    The last paragraph stated ‘The most important point to bear in mind when considering whether to use an inductive or deductive approach is firstly the purpose of your research; and secondly the methods that are best suited to either test a hypothesis, explore a new or emerging area within the discipline, or to answer specific research questions. However my question is if my research is about answering specific research questions in a qualitative research. Am I to use the inductive or the deductive or the mixture of the two?

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Hi Ola, if your research questions are qualitatively focused – that is seeking to find out the whys and the hows as opposed to ‘what’ and ‘how many’ then certainly an inductive approach is most appropriate. This is because inductive aims to find new theories emerging from the data whereas deductive is centred on testing a hypothesis rather than exploring research questions.

  12. Sania

    Thank you so much, this was something I was never able to grasp so well! I found this site while searching the difference between the two on Google. I am a PHD Scholar, now it seems I will be visiting this site frequently and seeking your help 🙂

  13. Zilla

    Hi Deborah. Thank you for the input.It clearly exemplifies the difference. In your response to one of the questions, you have highlighted a lot of 'what'  will qualify the research as quantitative. I have developed 4 research questions, 3 are on 'what's and 1 'why'. The what is because my sample of analysis is multimodal text. Will my study still fall under qualitative? Thank you in advance, Deborah. I appreciate it very much. 

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Hi Zilla, It is hard to provide a definitive answer without knowing what your research questions are (although time does not permit me to provide individual responses). So I will reiterate that the question of whether to adopt an inductive or deductive approach to a research project is relevant for ‘primary’ research – that is, research that you undertake yourself. Factors that influence your decision should rest on whether you are seeking to explore the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of human experience, generating new levels or understanding or simply wish to test a hypothesis or use a large sample in order to generalise results to the wider population. You say that your sample is multimodal text – that is simply text plus media such as videos, pictures etc. My question to you is whether this multimodal text has been generated from primary research – i.e interviews you conducted, photos you took and/or videos that you filmed of research subjects? If that is the case then I would presume that this would be a qualitative research project that would lend itself to an inductive approach,since I cannot imagine that you would be able to work with a very large sample of multimodal text. If the multimodal text is not generated from your own primary resesarch then this is secondary research that might be included in your literature review but would fall outside the scope of your analysis.

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Dear Aliyu, time does not permit me to provide responses on your individual projects. Therefore, my aim is to equip you with the understanding of different approaches so that you have both the confidence and competence to make appropriate decisions on the most suitable methodological approaches to your research.

  14. Grace

    I am gathering quantitative data to develop a model to represent the behavior of a material using an existing model. I subsequently used this model to simulate the material behavior with a computer program. this is a reversal approach to previour reaeasch in these area. usually the computer simulation is used to obtain quantitative data without experiment. Could you please kindly let me know what is my reasearch method Thanks

  15. Aliyu Ahmad

    Dr, your explanation about inductive research and deductive, is meaningful to postgraduate students. What is your suggestion on my research topic: use of handset by primary six pupils for games, rather for home works and readings, what is the research approach that will be suitable?

  16. Ridwan

    It has actually helped – a similar question was asked last year in my schools,that prompted me to search for it while preparing for my exam. Today the same question appeared and I used your explanation as my response to the question. Thanks.

  17. Gul

    Hi Deborah, your explanations are comprehensible. I understand this topic thanks to you. May I ask you question? What are  the similarities between inductive and deductive reasoning?

  18. Selam

    Can I ask one question? I am going to research how technology is changing the hotel industry particularly at the hotel front desk so is that inductive or deductive approach? I believe deductive approach because the aim of my research is to investigate current used technology at hotel front desk. So what do you think please let me know Thank you very much indeed.

  19. Jay Caron

    Thank you so much Deborah. I am currently doing my dissertation and most of my lecturers have recommeded us to use Research Methods for Business Students by Mark Saunders, Philip Lewis and Adrian Thornhill. I have found the book very hard to understand especially when I'm wrtiting up the methodology section as I have to talk about deductive and inductive approaches.  You have simplified it and explained it well. Also you have made it so so easy to understand. Everyone should be reading this. Thank you so so, so much.

  20. Madhu BK

    Hi Deborah, i just went through the abductive approach which is combination of inductive and deductive Approach. I found it a little confusing when I tried to know by my own from e sources. But after going through the conversation in this page helped me a lot. Thank u very much. If u can share your email I can share my report made for my pre PhD comprehensive viva. My profession is teaching and my area of research is International HRM. Title is Knowledge and Learning Model among effective repatriation. If anybody is doing reserach in the same area, plse feel free to reach me at Thank u all again

  21. Thuba

    Hi Deborah Thank you very much for the article. it is informative. My question is what approach am i supposed to take if i am doing a research that is both qualitative and quantitative. I am doing research on the feasibility of establishing renewable energy systems in a developing country. I am using a simulation software to generate a model to analyse the technical and economic data (Quantitative) but i have to use interviews to capture social and polical views from industry experts (Qualitative). So which approach is best in such a scenario? Thank you

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Hi Thuba,

      In a mixed methods study, the quanitiative dimension of the study usually functions to capture preliminary data, with the qualitative dimension being the primary method that answers the research questions. In any case, in a mixed methods study you must peform both quantitative and qualitative data analysis – separately. In reference to your specifc study you need to refer back to your reearch questions and the aims and objectives of your study. Is your primary objective to develop a model for a renewable energy system or is it to determine whether industry experts see the viability of the model? If it is the latter then the approach should be inductive. I would advise you to consult your supervisor or someone in your discipline, as I am not an engineer.


  22. Almaz Debru

    Hi Debrah , It is really interesting to get valuable points from your statments about deductive reasoning. However it seems short . It will be helpful for us if you write more. Thanks

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Dear Almaz, thank you for your feedback. The post was only intended to provide a brief overview of the subject – to better understand inductive and deductive approaches to research I strongly recommend immersing yourself in the available literature. 

  23. Oluwamayowa

    Perhaps, you can suggest 1 or 2 widely cited scholars (to read) that argue that deductive approaches can also be used in a qualitative methodology which is interpretive/subjective in nature.

    Thank you once again!

  24. Iftikhar Ahmed Khan

    Hi Deborah. I am Iftikhar from United Arab Emirates (UAE).  I am conducting a research on learning preferences of Generation Z youth, and one of my research questions is "What are the learning preferences of UAE Gen Z youth and how matching of L&D program delivery with these learning preferences affect Gen Z interest in organizational L&D programs?"  Now as for existing literature, a lot has already been written on this but in the West; there is practically no formal research literature available on this topic in UAE.  Therefore, I am taking the Western literature outcomes and applying these in UAE context to see the results. My questions are: a. Will this research be treated as "Deductive' or "Inductive"? b.  Should I choose 'Quantitative" or "Qualitative' approach? Wishing you all the best.  

  25. Sharon Mupwanyiwa

    Thanks Deborah. but I'm confused. You said deductive approach is used in quantitative research and it test a theory and inductive approach is used in qualitative research to generate a theory. So what is grounded theory?

  26. Michael

    This has been troubling me for a while. It is often said that the interpretive paradigm typically goes with inductive approaches and methods involving observation, interviews and research into archives. But then if concepts are to emerge from the data without theoretical preconceptions, how come it is often said that the research design, choice of case studies, and initial coding in thematic analysis can be theory driven? Wouldn’t that make the approach deductive (i.e. about testing theory). Or, how does theory coming before the research design fit with an inductive approach? In my experience so far authors seem to evade this point.

  27. Erfan

    Hi Dr.Gabriel, I am doing a research to apply a theory into service industry which is more commonly practiced in manufacturing industry ( known as Lean approach), my aim is to apply this approach into banking operation, the objective is to find the elements/processes in the bank operation that actually increase the cost or decrease the service quality. If I want to conduct a research to find those elements in a bank operation. should I use Inductive approach? what is your advise?  Thanks 

  28. Alina

    Hi Deborah, Thank you for a great article! It made it very clear the differenece between deductive and inductive.  I'd like to ask you the following: – Is possible to have inductive study with hypotheses and use semi-structured interviews to answer these hypotheses and research questions?   thank you very much for your reply!   Alina

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Hi Alina, I’m glad my post has been useful for you. In answer to your question, I think maybe you are confusing research questions with hypotheses. Research questions guide the overall study and ensure that when designing interview questions – they are structured in the most effective way to elicit responses that address the research questions. Hypotheses are linked to deductive studies where researchers aim to test presumptions/predictions about phenomenon – this is not the same as research questions.

  29. Hakimu Sseviiri

    Hi Deborah Thanks for an intersting piece of work presented. Am kindly inquiring how i can get along with literature review and conceptual framemework on the topic 'IDPs and Solid Waste Management' and objectives; exploring everyday practice around solid waste management; finding out how social networks move and merge into new spaces for waste management and establish connections between waste management and social lfestyle. Thanks Hakimu

  30. amna

    Hi Deborah thank you for a great article . I have a question for you I am doing my research work and I have some issue about theory construction. Basically I am a beginner in social research – I have no idea about constructing new theory. Please let me know about theory construction and what is a procedure  – how can I construct theory and also about steps of this method? I hope you will understand my words. Thank you.

    1. Deborah Gabriel

      Dear Amna, Welcome to the world of research – we all have to start somewhere! If you're new to social research I would recommend you join the Social Research Association (SRA) who provide training and a wealth of resources for researchers. With regards to theory – unless you are researching new phenomena that has never been researched before or are developing a completely new approach (unlikely) you will not be creating 'new' theory with your research project. You will be using existing theory in your approach and embed theoretical perspectives into your methodology. You will also likely use relevant theories when analysing your data. However, before you think about theory you need to develop your methodology – see my other post: methods and methodology.

  31. nadia

    Hi Deborah, Thank you for the precise and helpful information .. I need your help as I feel a little bit confused. i am doing a case study of airline corporate image. it is the newest crisis scenario in my country related to our regional carrier. I think, i among the pioneers doing the case study research for this airline company. I used the conceptual framework from other previous conducted study. It was conducted in quantitative manner. If i used the conceptual framework as my guidance for my literature review and interview question construction, is that okay if i do not use inductive for the case study because i do not build a new theory. If i just compare and argue with the previous finding and the model used, is it consider as deductive approach in case study? Based on my reading, i found some researchers used deductive approach in their case study. they tested the hypotheses..but i just compare my finding with the model used from the previous research. For your information, i did documentation, direct observation and interview (trigulation) with ex-passengers and aviation expert. What do you think? .Please help me..i am stuck. Thank you

  32. Ibrahim

    Thank you Doctor, it’s straightforward valuable piece of knowledge. It may require a little bit of referencing. Furthermore, adding citation line below will be useful for academic use.

    Thank you very much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please leave these two fields as-is: