What is inductive reasoning and where does it help?

What is inductive reasoning and where does it help?

Suppose you need to find out why your colleagues, managers, supervisors or teammates behave the way they do. Why do they draw the conclusions they do? And, how are they doing it? There’s this great thing called inductive reasoning. That’s what we use to draw conclusions; and it works somewhat like a pattern recognition system.

Now, there are a few different kinds of inductive reasoning to help understand how things work. And, we’ll discuss them in this article. But, first things first; let’s define inductive reasoning.

What is inductive reasoning? 

Inductive reasoning is a method we — mostly inadvertently — use to draw conclusions, about anything. Starting with specific observations — based on evidence we collect —  we synthesize — or come up with — a general principle that provides us with a high probability of something being valid.

For example, coming into a new work environment, if we happen to observe that, the past couple of Fridays, all of our new colleagues leave the office 30’ earlier than other days, we’ll identify a pattern. We’ll assume that this probably happens every Friday; and we might adopt this behavior, ourselves. So, from the specific, to generalization; that’s a great example of inductive reasoning.

How it works in research

As might be obvious, by now, the ability to recognise patterns, described by inductive reasoning, is something we absolutely need, to be able to understand the world around us. But, sometimes, a piece of linear thought that would help us understand a circumstance is not enough to evaluate the truth of a premise. That’s where research comes in; that goes to say, we use inductive reasoning somewhat differently, in research.

In research, we consciously make observations, gathering data — as opposed to the subconscious effort in our personal lives. After a statistically significant sample of data is collected, we need to take a step back, look at the data and look for patterns. Some patterns may be less obvious than others, but they do emerge. The process might need to be repeated, depending on the clarity of results; but, once the observed patterns are validated, we can draw our conclusions, generalizing our findings and using them to prove a theory.

How does inductive reasoning differ from deductive reasoning?

Inductive reasoning gets from a specific observation to a general principle. Deductive reasoning works in quite the opposite way. We use deduction to derive a specific, sensibly logical  conclusion, from a general statement. 

The scientific method is one to use deduction — induction, aside — to test any hypotheses or theories, as to their validity. In fact, it goes through several premises before reaching an inference — which is a conclusion, based on reasoning and real evidence. Essentially, it goes from a general statement to a theory, to a specific statement, to a set of observations; and, finally, to a logical conclusion. 

What are the types of inductive reasoning?

As mentioned, we use inductive reasoning in our everyday lives, to understand the world around us. And, we mostly do it subconsciously, as part of an instinctive process, completely devoid of any formality. There are 6 different types of inductive reasoning we use.

1. Analogical induction

Analogical induction describes the process of inferring a conclusion about something, based on its similarities to something else. That is, we draw an analogy between the two. Through that analogy, we conclude that other attributes of one thing must also be true for the other.

2. Statistical generalization

Statistical generalization refers to the use of statistics, on a statistically significant, sufficiently randomized data set, to quantify our findings. This helps verify a hypothesis or theory with the use of numbers.

3. Bayesian reasoning

This is a spinoff method, relevant to statistical generalization. The Bayesian approach involves adapting new and additional statistical data to an existing analysis, to derive a more precise estimate of the final numbers to support our hypothesis or theory.

4. Causal inference or Sign reasoning

Causal inference supports a causal link between a premise and the conclusion. This means that the specific premise is a direct cause of the result we’re attempting to measure or have measured.

5. Generalized reasoning or Inductive generalization

As per its title, generalized reasoning uses a premise or set of premises about a singular element to draw a conclusion about an aggregate. For example, hypothesizing and drawing a conclusion about an individual, and then generalizing it to the entire population.

6. Predictive induction

Predictions, we know. Take the weather forecast, for example. We use predictive induction to take a sample of past weather-related circumstances, and draw conclusions about future weather. This is, by no means, an exact science. But, in some cases, it doesn’t really matter; even a ballpark figure will help us make our daily decisions.

How do we use inductive reasoning?

As discussed, we use inductive reasoning to understand the world around us. But, inductive reasoning is also a part of the scientific method and is widely used to form and test new hypotheses and theories. This forming of new hypotheses is, in essence, an inductive inference. So, needless to say, inductive reasoning is a big part of how things are done in academia.

But, all things aside, inductive reasoning is a great tool to try and understand people. Take the recruitment process for new employees, for example. An HR manager is bound to use their skills in inductive reasoning to evaluate candidates for any job position. This is especially useful if they have more than a few résumés in their hands and too little time to go through them and meet with every candidate.

Current software solutions, like TraitForward, can automate much of the recruitment process, to ensure the most able and fit candidates make it to the shortlist. Now, traditional recruitment tactics are also useful. Besides, automated services should augment the human intellect, not replace it. The HR manager can use their inductive reasoning skills to draw their final conclusions about the abilities and cultural fitness of each candidate, making well-educated decisions about whom to make the final employment offer to.

What are the benefits and limitations of inductive reasoning?

Statistics and probability are hard to tackle. You can easily make an infinite number of assumptions from any data and evidence you have in your hands. There is no visible beginning or end to data and evidence. Inductive reasoning steps in to offer:

  • A starting point, which can help target — hence, narrow down — your assumptions, based on specific patterns identified. And, that’s how you can use it to reach informed conclusions, without suffering from analysis paralysis.
  • Diversity; remembering the old adage “no problem has only one solution”, inductive reasoning allows you to develop a variety of solutions to the same issue. As a bonus you can use the different theorized solutions to evaluate all the different hypotheses, gather knowledge from results, compare it to past experiences and draw more accurate conclusions as to which solution will work the best in the given situation.

How does one develop inductive reasoning? 

For the most part, inductive reasoning is built into human intelligence. However, one can hone their inductive reasoning skills, for better results. Here are a few thoughts on what particular abilities help develop inductive reasoning.

Pay attention to detail

The devil’s in the details, they say. And, without them, our understanding of a situation is less than ideal. Attention to detail is cardinal to our ability to develop inductive reasoning.

In recruiting new people for our business, not only do we need to notice the small details about them; we probably also, invariably, need them to be able to pay attention to detail in their work, for increased quality of deliverables and for better interaction with their peers and teams, down the line.

Commit information to memory — short or long term

To use inductive reasoning, one must be able to recall past experiences and events, whether recent or not. Good memory can be worked on; it’s like a muscle. Until then, keeping notes of important events or decisions can help evaluate and verify future observations for validity.

Of course, in recruiting new employees, the HR manager needs to make sure that at least anyone who works in a team has this ability, to help with their day to day activities. Notekeeping will not suffice, in this case.

Identify patterns in behaviors or information

While identifying patterns in behaviors and information is one of our innate abilities, as humans, conscious effort to analyze situations makes for quicker responses. We’ll be more adept at observing how certain behaviors, events or objects line up towards a certain type of outcome. This ability gives us the power to be proactive and take early action to avoid pitfalls.

Of course, pattern recognition is an ability that is fundamental to problem solving; especially in the workplace.

Use emotional intelligence

While the term “emotional intelligence” is, arguably, little more than a gimmick, we can use our observations on people’s emotions and how they’re related to their actions. Let’s call that ability of ours “emotional intelligence”.

Emotional intelligence is particularly important in managerial positions, since people with that ability are more understanding and are best suited to analyze issues in human interactions, reaching the correct conclusions.

Make predictions

Using pattern recognition and emotional intelligence, people can predict how certain decisions will affect their outcomes. While, this would be an ability pertinent to managerial or leadership skills, it’s also pertinent to daily workflows that affect future decisions, affecting business bottom lines. Financial projections and testing assumptions with the scientific method are only some of the practical applications of this ability.

Then, there’s also abductive reasoning

Apart from inductive and deductive reasoning, the scientific method often incorporates a third type of reasoning; namely, abductive reasoning. Even though the conclusions inferred from its use can be substantially unreliable, it allows one to develop a theory that they — or others — can go on to test for validity, down the line. Truth be told, it’s based on true premises; but it only seeks the most likely explanation for them, drawing “provisional” conclusions. Sort of like an educated guess.

In most cases, scientific fields apart, abductive reasoning is not really a prerequisite for a job candidate. That said, it’s not a useless ability to have if one is trying to solve a problem in financial reports adding up to the sum, or debugging a complex piece of software code.


Inductive reasoning is probably the quintessential method for us to understand the world around us. The inner workings of contemporary communities and the individual behaviors of the people in them, are quite complex. That’s why we need to be able to observe, analyze, identify patterns and extrapolate conclusions as to how everything works.
While in a large scale, this is done academically and scientifically, modern businesses are, in essence, really scaled down models of contemporary communities. So, as with large scale studies, we can use inductive reasoning to identify patterns in behaviors and fundamental abilities in people we work with. And, of course, this is also — and especially — true with job candidates, during the recruitment process. Inductive reasoning can function both as a really efficient filter for us to identify the right candidates to hire and as a set of criteria — as per its different types — to identify their abilities and behavioral traits.