Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning: Differences and How To Improve

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 12 September 2022 | Published 9 August 2021

Updated 12 September 2022

Published 9 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

While you may think of inductive versus deductive reasoning as logical applications in scientific research, these two methods of logic apply in almost any workplace. Whether you're making important decisions, planning business budgets or implementing strategies to boost performance, deductive and inductive reasoning are essential to achieve successful outcomes. You may also use inductive reasoning when forming assessments using deductive logic, as your observations can help you form valid conclusions. In this article, we explore the differences between inductive versus deductive reasoning and how to improve and apply these skills at work.

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What are deductive and inductive reasoning?

Deductive reasoning is the opposite of inductive reasoning because it relies on testing and finding supporting facts for the generalisations you conclude from observations. Deductive reasoning also applies validation through scientific research, study or experimentation. For instance, you may observe a pattern in nature, make a generalised statement and form a hypothesis from the generalisation. Through the process of deduction, you can test the hypothesis following the scientific method to determine whether your observations and hypothesis are correct.

Inductive reasoning is the process of observing specific situations and making broad conclusions from what you observe. This means you create a cause-and-effect solution to explain something you witness, such as when lightning strikes, you hear thunder, therefore, the lightning must cause the sound of thunder. While this is a simple example, the concept of inductive reasoning, or logic, focuses on making many observations, discerning patterns, forming generalised conclusions and creating theories or explanations.

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Inductive vs. deductive reasoning

While both methods of logic involve making observations and forming conclusions, there are several characteristics that distinguish inductive reasoning from deductive reasoning, including:

Observations

One of the biggest differences between deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning is what you do with your observations after making them. With inductive reasoning, you can simply make a generalisation that helps to explain or theorise about why something occurs. Reasoning inductively goes no further than to form hypotheses or perform experiments to test the validity of the conclusions you make from your observations. Deductive reasoning, however, applies the observations you make about a specific event or occurrence to support the development of a hypothesis that you can either prove or disprove.

For instance, using inductive reasoning, you might gather observations that lead you to generalise about the cause of thunder. With deductive reasoning, you can form a hypothesis that lightning's movement through the clouds generates the sound of thunder. Using scientific experimentation, you can then test this hypothesis to determine whether it's true.

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Hypothesis

Another difference between these two reasoning techniques is the formation of a hypothesis. When reasoning inductively, it's unnecessary to form a hypothesis. Instead, you can infer a cause-and-effect generalisation that helps you understand the nature of what you observe. Unlike reasoning inductively, reasoning deductively involves forming a hypothesis with the data you organise from your observations. Because of this difference, deductive reasoning tests the validity behind the logic you use to reason inductively.

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Logic vs. validity

While both forms of cognitive reasoning involve logic, inductive reasoning focuses on using logic to explain something broadly. While the logic behind generalised statements about your observations can hold true, it's deductive reasoning that can help you assess the validity of your statements. Because of this difference, deductive reasoning requires tools and resources that support the evaluation of your hypothesis's validity. For example, experimentation to test a hypothesis about factors causing decreases in revenue can be beneficial to come to accurate conclusions about a company's financial processes.

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Making conclusions

Deductive reasoning provides accurate results because you can test your observations and hypothesis. Because of these processes, concluding at the end of your evaluation can tell you whether you're correct in your initial assumptions. Inductive reasoning, though, forms conclusions based on current observations, perceptions, ideas and intuitive thoughts about an occurrence. This means the conclusions you make from observing events around you can be simple in their explanations. For instance, you might conclude that because an office policy encourages team collaboration, most projects require multiple staff members to complete.

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Deductive and inductive reasoning in the workplace

While it can appear that inductive and deductive reasoning apply only to scientific and technical processes, these two methods of thinking and decision-making are essential in any workplace. Whether it's apparent, you may constantly make inferences and come to conclusions using both reasoning methods, including when developing ideas, collaborating with others and improving outcomes. Consider several more instances when you might use deductive and inductive reasoning in the workplace:

Examples of reasoning inductively:

  • Planning your commute based on travel time and traffic patterns

  • Developing new customer support practices based on customer feedback

  • Modifying incentive plans based on employee surveys

Examples of reasoning deductively:

  • Planning a department budget to maximise return on investment

  • Developing a pricing strategy for a new product launch

  • Implementing marketing strategies to reach target audiences

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How to improve inductive reasoning skills

Use the following list of steps to improve and apply your inductive reasoning skills:

1. Develop your attention to detail

Make observations daily and develop your ability to notice smaller details about situations around you. For instance, you can set a goal to observe specific details in the office, such as the number of staff members who wear watches, to better train yourself to notice information going on around you. As you make more observations and develop your attention to detail more proficiently, you can better develop logical conclusions that can support your career performance and advancement.

2. Ask questions and make inferences

Seek input from colleagues and your superiors and use the feedback to draw conclusions about specific tasks, projects or processes that can help you increase your productivity or improve your performance. Ask questions when you need clarification so you can better understand cause-and-effect relationships in your work environment. For instance, using inductive logic may mean postponing a meeting because multiple team members are absent and unable to attend. The observations you make include absent employees and the inference you can come to is that it's beneficial for the team to delay the meeting.

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3. Improve your knowledge

Expand your knowledge to better form connections between observations and information in your work environment. For instance, attend industry workshops, professional development programmes and other educational events that help you learn new skills, apply new concepts and advance your knowledge. With more awareness of your role and abilities, you can equip yourself more efficiently to take action and achieve successful results at work.

4. Solve smaller parts of complex problems

When making observations and drawing conclusions, try splitting more complex problems or processes into smaller parts. This can help you focus on the most important details necessary to make informed decisions, plan strategies and take action in your work. When you focus on small parts of a larger concept, you will be better able to form logical conclusions that help you achieve goals.

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How to improve deductive reasoning skills

Consider the following list of steps to improve and apply your deductive reasoning skills:

1. Use the elimination process

When testing generalisations or making decisions for the best outcomes, consider applying the elimination method. With this process, you eliminate different options of the scenario or choice that do not support the outcome you're trying to achieve. The method also seeks to eliminate irrelevancy by focusing only on pertinent details and ideas that can help you form accurate conclusions.

2. Form a hypothesis

Take inductive reasoning further and develop a hypothesis from observations that you can test. For example, if you observe colleagues using the same printer when printing financial documents, you can form a hypothesis about the quality of the printing, ink or another aspect of the equipment. Then, you can use the information you gather from your observations to focus on a single hypothesis to test. In this case, you might form a hypothesis about the ink causing changes in the print quality.

3. Be aware of patterns

When making observations and drawing conclusions that can help you form a hypothesis, it's also important to develop your ability to notice patterns in your environment. For instance, observing a species of bird during the same season each year can give you insight into the birds' migratory patterns. Practise forming cause-and-effect relationships and notice when patterns are present in your observations to better develop strategies for testing conclusions and improving your ability to apply deductive reasoning.

4. Focus on relevant details

Observing events and different scenarios in your environment can often mean noticing both relatable and irrelevant details about the inferences you make. Therefore, it's important to focus only on details that can support your logic and methods of evaluation. For example, analysing financial documents to test a hypothesis about the causes of market share increases would not require the number of employees who are currently on the production floor. The more you improve your awareness of relevant details, the more you can improve your deductive reasoning skills.

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