Deductive research – testing existing theories

18.10.21 Inductive vs. Deductive Time to read: 7min

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Research and theory have a reciprocal relationship in that theory informs and structures sociological research and research informs and structures theory. There are two approaches to research – inductive approach and deductive approach. Both have their benefits and drawbacks and affect several aspects of research. This article will discuss the deductive research approach, its applications, and its limitations. By reading this post, you will find out all you need to know about the use of deductive research.

Deductive research - FAQ

This is a type of research that is focused on developing a hypothesis that is based on an existing theory, then coming up with a research strategy to test that hypothesis. It generally means arriving at conclusions from propositions or premises. You collect, analyse, collate, and interpret the data in a particular order in an organized manner.

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This approach is used when there is an existing theory that you or another person has developed. You try to deduct “facts” that can explain the causal relationship between certain variables; therefore, you prove or disprove that theory. Deductive reasoning is used when resources are abundant, a short timeframe to finish the research, and to keep risk to the minimum.

The difference that exists between these two approaches is that the objective of inductive research is to develop a particular theory whereas the objective of deductive reasoning is to test that theory. Inductive reasoning tends to take a set of observations then move from those experiences to wider generalizations regarding those experiences while deductive reasoning reverses that order. However, both are reciprocally related.

It is impossible to conduct this research approach if inductive research is absent. The reason here is that an inductive study has to be done to develop a theory that is to be tested by the researcher. Consequently, the researcher has to conduct a deductive approach to support or invalidate the conclusion from the inductive research.

The main advantage of this type of reasoning is that it offers: a possibility to explain the causal relationship between variables and concepts, a possibility to quantitatively measure concepts, and a possibility to generalize research observations to a particular extent.

Deductive: Definition

Deductive means provable by deducting conclusions by reasoning. In research, it means beginning with a compelling sociological theory and then testing its implications with the use of data obtained from your research.

It is mainly linked to a scientific investigation where the researcher studies what other researchers have done, examines the existing theories of the phenomenon that they’re studying and tests the hypotheses that arise from those theories.

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Deductive research approach

When conducting this approach, you have to begin with a compelling theory which is usually based on the results from inductive research. To reason deductively means that you test out these theories to determine whether they are true or false. It is impossible to conduct deductive reasoning if there is no available theory.

This approach is typically composed of 4 theories namely:

  • Starting with an existing theory.
  • Formulating hypotheses that are based on the existing theory.
  • Collecting data to test the hypotheses.
  • Analysing the results – do you support or reject the hypotheses?
Deductive Start with an existing theory

Start with an existing theory

This process involves deducing a hypothesis from a particular theory proposed from inductive research. For example:

  • People who are over 60 years do not use the internet.
  • Bank robberies are conducted by experienced thieves.
  • All Russians take vodka.
Deductive Formulate a hypothesis

Based on the existing theory, formulate a hypothesis

Here, a hypothesis is formulated in operational terms, and relationships between two variables are proposed. For example:

  • Users of the internet are under the age of 60.
  • If a bank robbery happens, the thieves are experienced.
  • Russians drink no other type of alcohol except vodka.
Deductive Collect data

Collect data to test the hypothesis

Here, the data regarding the formulated hypothesis is collected using scientific techniques. This includes quantitative techniques such as mean, median, and mode, and correlation and regression analysis.

  • Collect data regarding internet users and their age groups.
  • Check the criminal investigations regarding bank robberies.
  • Collect data about the types of alcohol consumed by Russians.
Deductive Analyse the results

Analyse the results: rejected or supported hypothesis?

The outcomes of the test determine if the existing theory should be supported or rejected. For example:

  • Jim Barker is aged 70 years and does not use the internet =Support the hypothesis.
  • 5 out of 20 bank robberies are conducted by first-time thieves = Reject the hypothesis.
  • 25% of Russians take whisky = Reject the hypothesis.
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Limitations of a deductive approach

The problem with deductive approach is that the conclusions can only be true and supported if all the propositions suggested by the inductive research are true and all the terms are clear. For instance:

  • Premise – All Russians take vodka.
  • Premise – Shevchenko is a Russian.
  • Conclusion – Shevchenko takes vodka.

On the basis of the underlying premises, the conclusion has to be true. However, if the first proposition is found to be false, then the conclusion that Russians take vodka is rendered unreliable and therefore rejected.

Therefore, this is a significant weakness in deductive reasoning. Since it heavily depends on the initial propositions being correct, if one or more propositions are incorrect, the theory is considered invalid and unsound. This has led to some critics of this type of research claiming that this approach does not promote divergent thinking and it limits the scope of creativity. It assumes that every discipline in natural science will function in the same manner yet in reality they don’t.

Numerous disciplines in applied science operate around this reasoning, by allocating probabilities to outcomes and events. Although it is not a strict application of the scientific technique, it is quite handy where the results from incorrect deductions might be devastating.

A great application of the deductive approach would be in weather forecasting. Meteorologists usually analyse the weather data and decide on the possible weather for a particular day according to their skills and judgment. They know that particular patterns of their initial conditions often result in a particular type of weather. But they cannot truly say that it will not rain because weather conditions can be very unpredictable, and they can never be certain that their initial assumptions are correct.

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In a Nutshell

  • Deductive reasoning, as opposed to inductive reasoning, moves from a general axiom and arrives at a specific conclusion by employing logic alone.
  • It is conducted when there is an existing sociological theory
  • If the propositions are true and the logic of that theory is valid, then the conclusion is certainly true. It is a top-down type of reasoning and deducts conclusions regarding an existing theory based on more general rules or principles.
  • It comprises of four theories namely: Starting with an existing theory, formulating hypotheses, collecting data to test the hypotheses, and analysing the results.
  • The weakness of deductive approach is that it tends to limit the scope of creativity and fails to promote divergent thinking.