Software and Qualitative Analysis

5. Logic of Qualitative Research

Inductive vs Deductive

You may have heard or read the position taken that quantitative methods are for deductive research, while qualitative methods are for inductive research. While this is often the way these methods are used, it is by no means the case that these methods are or should always be linked with those logical approaches.

Deductive logic
Reasoning from the general to the specific. In this approach, you begin by specifying a theory. From the theory, you generate hypotheses about what should happen in specific circumstances. If you wish to test the theory, you can collect data to see whether what you hypothesize happens. If it does, the specific data you examine provide support for your theory. The direction of reasoning is often thought of as “top down,” from theory (the general) to data (the specific).

Inductive logic
Reasoning from the specific to the general. In this approach, you begin by examining concrete events or phenomena—your data. From the data, you attempt to identify larger categories of phenomena (or constructs, or variables), and to understand the relationships among them. In other words, you use the data to build theory. The direction of reasoning is often thought of as “bottom up,” from the data (the specific) to theory (the general).

Certainly, quantitative methods lend themselves well to deductive research. Statistical techniques and the laws of probability provide an excellent framework for testing hypotheses and making specific statements about the level of certainty we can have about the generalizability of our findings. Likewise, qualitative methods lend themselves well to inductive research. When we are exploring a new domain and do not yet know what the important factors are, qualitative methods provide an excellent framework for unearthing unknown or unexpected phenomena. However, neither of these is exclusive. Descriptive statistics, crosstabs, correlations, clustering techniques, factor analysis and the like are often used to great advantage in exploratory (or inductive) studies. Many qualitative studies operate in a deductive mode, beginning with a theory, and collecting and examining data in systematic ways to see whether the theory is supported or should be rejected or modified.