Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research

By: | Tags:

Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research

This article aims to identify and explain some of the differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research. One of the most important issues in research is the research approach. Researchers usually use one of the two widely known research approaches i.e. deductive and inductive. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and impact on many aspects of a study.

What is deductive approach (research)?

According to Gratton and Jones (2009) deductive approach involves testing of a pre-determined theory, explanation or hypothesis. This approach helps researchers ascertain a hypothesis by using existing theories. Existing information is dissected to accept or reject the hypothesis in order to achieve the research aims (Gill and Johnson, 2010).

Advantages of deductive approach (research)

Deductive research is a focused method of testing hypotheses. It offers a possibility to explain causal relationships between the concepts and the variables. This type of research is often quicker to conduct as well.

Disadvantages of deductive approach (research)

Some critics would argue that this approach does not encourage divergent thinking. It may also limit the scope of creativities.

According to Hammond (2016) one of the problems with deductive research is that it is accused of making an assumption that all disciplines in natural science function the same way when they do not.

What is inductive approach (research)?

According to Gratton and Jones (2009) inductive approach generates the explanation from the data collected. It is the opposite of deductive research. It aims at exploring a new theory. It is about moving from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories.

Advantages of inductive approach (research)

Inductive research is flexible as the researcher does not have to follow any pre-determined information. It supports the generation of new theories.

Disadvantages of inductive approach (research)

Critics would argue that if observations are incorrect, the inductive researchers would end up in incorrect conclusions. Conducting research in line with this approach may sometimes be very time-consuming as well.

Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research

There are some differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research. In deductive approach, researchers begin the process by considering past and present theories concerning the topic of the research. This helps them develop some hypothesises. The new hypotheses can then be tested in the process of conducting a new study. The collected data should either confirm or reject the hypotheses.

On the other hand, relevant theories are not considered at the beginning of an inductive research. In this approach, clusters of data or patterns start emerging from the observations or measures conducted by the researchers. From these patterns, the researcher begins to generate new themes.

In terms of aims, there are some differences between the two. For example, the aim of a deductive research is testing an existing theory, while the aim of an inductive research is developing a theory. Likewise, the sample size makes a difference as well. For instance, a deductive approach requires a big sample size to generalise conclusions, unlike an inductive approach.

It should be noted that deductive approach is usually adopted by researchers conducting quantitative research, while inductive approach is usually adopted by researchers conducting qualitative research.

Combining deductive and inductive approaches to research

The discussion so far seems to depict that deductive and inductive approaches to research are entirely different from each other and cannot be combined. However, Saunders et al. (2007) opine that such position is misleading, and researchers can perfectly combine both. However, if researchers do not have enough time and resources, it may be difficult to apply both approaches in their studies.

In a nutshell, both deductive and inductive approaches play an important role in research. Therefore, it is imperative that the researchers make themselves aware of the differences between the two and how they impact on other aspects of research.

We hope this article on the differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research has been useful. You may also like reading Qualitative vs quantitative research and What are the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research?

Other relevant articles for you are:

Research – definition of research

Advantages and disadvantages of convenience sampling

Advantages and disadvantages of focus groups

If you liked this article, feel free share it by clicking on the icons below.

Last update: 09 April 2021


BPP Learning Media (2013) Business Decision Making, London: BPP Learning Media

Gratton, C. And Jones, I. (2009) Research Methods for Sports Studies, 2nd edition, London: Routledge

Hammond, M. (2016) inductive or deductive approaches, available at: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ces/research/current/socialtheory/maps/when/ (accessed 09 April 2021)

Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2000) Research Methods for Business Students, 2nd edition, London: Prentice Hall

Author: Joe David

Joe David has years of teaching experience both in the UK and abroad. He writes regularly online on a variety of topics. He has a keen interest in business, hospitality, and tourism management. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management.