Sherlock Holmes, the iconic fictional detective, is known for his “science of deduction” skills. However, it’s a common misconception that he relies solely on his powers of deduction to solve cases.

Several studies have shown that both inductive and deductive reasoning are at work when a decision is taken.

What seems like a superpower is actually a skill anyone can develop over time. What’s more, these skills can be applied to various situations and are highly valued by employers. Let’s look at the difference between a deductive and an inductive approach and see how they can help us in our everyday lives.

The Differences Between Inductive And Deductive Reasoning

To understand the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning abilities, let’s first examine the two independently.

  • What is inductive reasoning?

Inductive reasoning uses a bottom-up approach for reaching conclusions. It’s also referred to as cause-and-effect reasoning because generalized conclusions are made by evaluating particular scenarios. For example, you may avoid leaving work at 5.30 pm because you’ve been getting stuck in rush-hour traffic at that time for the past couple of days.

  • What is deductive reasoning?

Deductive reasoning uses a top-down approach to make observations and reach conclusions. In layperson terms, it’s a method through which you can make generalized statements backed by specific instances of information. You can understand it by using this simple formula: X=Y and Y=Z, therefore X must be equal to Z. For example, doing secondary research and developing a marketing plan that’ll be effective for a particular demographic.

The primary difference between inductive and deductive methods is that the former leads to developing a theory while the latter leads to testing an existing theory. Let’s delve deeper and understand the nuances of the deductive and inductive approach with the following workplace instances of logical reasoning.

The Inductive Approach

It’s common to use inductive reasoning when there’s little to no information available. The inductive method can be better understood through its three stages:

  • Observation: 

You raise a complaint at your workplace stating that you’re overworked.

  • Observe A Pattern: 

Your coworkers raise complaints about being overworked at the workplace.

  • Develop A Theory: 

Everyone in your office is overworked.

However, the inductive approach comes with its own set of limitations. Even though your coworkers and you are overworked, you can never fully prove that every single employee is feeling the same. Nonetheless, the bigger your data set is, the more reliable your observations and conclusions can be.

The Deductive Approach

The deductive approach relies on testing theories to reach conclusions. You can’t use deductive reasoning without a premise. The approach consists of four stages:

  • Start With An Existing Theory: 

Every employee finds it difficult to maintain a work-life balance.

  • Formulate A Hypothesis:

Your coworkers find it difficult to maintain a work-life balance.

  • Test Your Hypothesis: 

You circulated a feedback survey in your office to collect data about work-life balance.

  • Analyze The Results:

Ten out of 50 responses suggested that they didn’t find it difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Therefore, you reject your hypothesis because your theory proved otherwise for 10 employees.

The deductive method has its limitations. Its conclusions can be true only when all the premises or observations completely support your conclusion. In short, the premises should be a hundred-percent true for the deduction to be true.

Are Inductive Reasoning And Deductive Reasoning Complementary?

Time and again, people have focused on establishing the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. The two approaches may seem quite different, but they actually complement each other. Researchers also frequently include components of deductive and inductive approach in their studies. In most cases, researchers begin with one approach and later discover that the other approach is more helpful and, therefore, change their approach or sometimes include both approaches simultaneously.

The next time you make important decisions in life or at the workplace, use the elements of both inductive and deductive reasoning. Harappa Education’s Reasoning Logically course is designed to help you learn about the different ways in which you can become a strategic thinker. You’ll learn about the two ways of thinking, processing and responding to information using the systems of thinking framework. You will also learn how to make logical and informed decisions by putting your inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning abilities to their best use.

As Sherlock Holmes said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” So, don’t limit yourself to a single method of thinking or reasoning, embrace the best of both worlds. Sign up for the Reasoning Logically course and hone your thinking skills.


Explore topics & skills such as the Cognitive SkillsWhat is Logical ReasoningTypes of ReasoningDeductive Reasoning & Inductive Reasoning from our Harappa Diaries blog section.

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