Inductive research

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Inductive research is an established qualitative research method, which is generally conducted in the exploratory or discovery phase of any research project. It begins with the simple collection of data, or sets of observations to be reproduced and interpreted to formulate theories. Unlike deductive research, which bases its logical methodology upon codified laws, rules and accepted principles, inductive frameworks tend to be based instead upon observations of human behaviour, giving it a distinct social-sciences bias.

For example, in induction we observe that the sex workers are featured prominently within South-East Asian tourist precincts. We can therefore conclude that such cities exist, in part at least, for sex tourism purposes.


In the biological sphere, much of our present-day knowledge about how the human brain functions began with psychologists and neurologists collating data about the changes that occurred when brains were either stimulated or damaged, leading to the formulation of various theorem. In 1967, the first practices of inductive research were reported and attributed to sociologists Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss. However, inductive research has many shared procedures that are used in other kinds of research, i.e. analytic induction, pattern matching, critical theory and interpretive phenomenology, making its origins difficult to pinpoint exactly. In any case, the past forty years has since seen an explosion in both inductive theory and practice - most notably through the proliferation of the grounded theory - a trend that is likely to persist as we plunge further into the new millennium.

Research Method

Grounded theory

Grounded theory is perhaps the most illuminating mode of inductive research, deriving its sociological basis from the experiences 'ground' in everyday life. Essentially, the foundations of grounded theory place a theoretical emphasis upon human interaction and communication, and the complex dynamics at play within them. Grounded theory is also an iterative process, by which the analysts themselves become more and more grounded in their own data, and are thus able to grasp more deeply the topics or subjects of their study. This data may be collected in a number of ways, including:

  • Observing and recording interactions
  • Examining written documentation and literature
  • Obtaining perspectives from the parties involved in a particular social interaction

Through these techniques - which deal explicitly in handling subjective points of view - grounded theory can inform several key understandings within social work, such as theories of human development and change, as well as the identification of social forces that affect human capacities for interaction.


In short, inductive research and its associated research methods aim to build upon, rather than test exisiting, theories and practices. Its techniques have proven particularly useful within the fields of psychology, public health, criminology, communications and management styles. Specifically, the grounded theory research approach provides analysts with strategies to build theories in areas previously unexplored or under explored, cultivating a sociology-driven continuum of innovation and discovery. However, despite giving greater freedom and scope for strategic data analyses among practitioners, credible scholarship must combine philosophy, methodology, and research techniques if it is to be regarded as successful.


  • Aqil-Burney, S. (2008) "Inductive and Deductive Research Approach", Seminar given 6-Mar-2008, University of Karachi PK
  • Gilgun, J. (2001) "Grounded Theory and Other Inductive Research Methods", The handbook of social work research methods (ed: Thayer, B.), first edition, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA, pp.345-364
  • Hayes, N. (2000) "Doing psychological research: Gathering and analysing data", first edition, Open University Press, Philadephia
  • Russell-Bernard, H. (2000) "Social research methods: qualitative and quantitative approaches". Illustrated edition, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA
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