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).
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).