We engage in inductive reasoning every day, often without even noticing it. Put simply, inductive reasoning is the act of forming a generalization based on a set of specific observations.1 It begins with a premise, such as “all the Anatomy majors I know want to study medicine,” which leads to a conclusion, such as “all Anatomy majors want to attend medical school.” This, of course, is not necessarily the case; perhaps an Anatomy major wants to pursue a career in academia, or change their field of study altogether. The conclusion could be made stronger by removing the absolute and amending the line of reasoning to be: everyone I know majoring in Anatomy wants to study medicine, therefore, most Anatomy majors want to study medicine.
Inductive reasoning is a tool we use every day in order to make sense of the world around us. However, it also underlies the scientific method, which is the basis for how research is conducted. Researchers collect data – specific observations – from which they form hypotheses – generalizations – that inform further research.2
It is important to make the distinction between inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning. While inductive reasoning is referred to as “bottom-up reasoning,” because it starts with specific observations that lead to a generalization, deductive reasoning is known as “top-down reasoning,” because it begins with general principles that lead to specific conclusions.3 An example of deductive reasoning is: all students within the Faculty of Science must take an introductory Biology course, and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology is within the Faculty of Science. Therefore, all Anatomy majors must take an introductory Biology course.