What Is Inductive Reasoning? Definitions, Types and Examples

Jennifer Herrity

Updated October 11, 2022

Published May 7, 2019

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach

Inductive reasoning is a logical process that involves using specific experiences, observations or facts to evaluate a situation. This is an essential tool in statistics, research, probability and day-to-day decision-making. This means that, regardless of your profession, learning about inductive reasoning and how to use it can help you identify patterns and make better decisions in the workplace. 

In this article, we define inductive reasoning and its key types, provide examples of it, compare it with deductive reasoning, review pros and cons of this logical strategy and explain how to demonstrate your inductive reasoning skills.

What is inductive reasoning?

Inductive reasoning is a method of logical thinking that combines observations with experiential information to reach a conclusion. When you use a specific set of data or existing knowledge from past experiences to make decisions, you're using inductive reasoning.

For example, if you review the population information of a city for the past 15 years, you may observe a consistent rate of population increase. If you want to predict what the population might be in five years, you can use the evidence or information you have to make an estimate. This is inductive reasoning.

Related: 7 Types of Reasoning (With Definitions and Examples)

Types of inductive reasoning

There are various ways to use inductive reasoning depending on the situation. Here are the three most commonly used types of inductive reasoning:

Inductive generalization

This type of inductive reasoning involves considering evidence from past similar situations to create a conclusion. You could use evidence like the following to support an inductive generalization:

  • Large samples 

  • Random sampling

  • Counterexamples 

Example: For the past three years, the company has exceeded its revenue goal in Q3. Based on this information, the company is likely to exceed its revenue goal in Q3 this year.

Statistical induction

This type of inductive reasoning utilizes statistical data to draw conclusions. Statistical induction, or statistical generalization, is a type of inductive generalization. While this type of reasoning provides context an assumption, it's important to remain open to new evidence that might alter your theory.

Example: 90% of the sales team met their quota last month. Pat is on the sales team. Pat likely met his sales quota last month.

Casual reasoning

This type of thinking involves making a logical connection between a cause and a likely effect. For the casual reasoning to be effective, it's helpful for it to involve a strong relationship between the starting situation and the resulting inference. Observable evidence is also crucial for this type of reasoning. 

Example: Joe consistently gets a stomachache after eating pears. He doesn't get a stomachache consistently after eating any other type of fruit. Eating the pears might cause Joe's stomachache.

Induction by confirmation

Induction by confirmation allows you to reach a conclusion by accepting specific assumptions. Police officers and detectives might use this type of reasoning to develop a theory for investigations. They may then work to collect evidence to support their theory. 

Example: Anybody who breaks into a building may have opportunity, motive and means. Renee was in the area, dislikes the homeowner and has lock picks in his bag. Renee likely broke into the building.

Related: The Best Ways To Strengthen Your Logical Thinking Skills

Examples of inductive reasoning in the workplace

Inductive reasoning can be highly beneficial in the workplace because identify patterns in positive business outcomes can help you can inform future efforts and recreate your success. Here are a few examples of how you might apply the inductive reasoning process in a professional environment:

  • After analyzing high-performing and successful employees in the marketing department, a recruiter recognizes they all graduated with a degree in business, marketing or journalism. She decides to focus on future recruiting efforts on candidates with a degree in one of those three disciplines.

  • A salesperson notices when they share testimonials from current and past clients with their prospects, they're 75 percent more likely to make a sale. Now, they share testimonials with all prospects to improve their close rate.

  • Taking time to review comments from past customers is always beneficial. In addition to a positive customer review you can share with future clients, it can also inform you of any problems past customers may be experiencing.

  • After noticing assisted living center residents' moods improve when young children visit, an activities leader develops a volunteer initiative with local schools to pair students with center residents.

Related: 10 Top Critical Thinking Skills (And How to Improve Them)

Inductive vs. deductive reasoning

Both inductive and deductive reasoning bring valuable benefits to the workplace. Here are how the definitions differ from each other:

  • Inductive reasoning: Inductive thinking uses experience and proven observations to guess the outcome. The goal is to predict a likely outcome.

  • Deductive reasoning: Deductive reasoning uses theories and beliefs to rationalize and prove a specific conclusion. The goal is to prove a fact.

Here are some examples of each to help further clarify the difference:

  • Inductive example: I get tired if I don't drink coffee. Coffee is addictive. I'm addicted to coffee.

  • Deductive example: Human beings need to breathe to live. You're a human. You need to breathe to live.

Related: Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning

Inductive vs. Deductive
Image description

Inductive vs. deductive:
Inductive reasoning is the act of making generalized conclusions based on specific scenarios.
Deductive reasoning is the act of backing up a generalized statement with specific scenarios.

Inductive vs. abductive reasoning

Like inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning involves analyzing information or observations to predict outcomes. Unlike inductive reasoning, abductive reasoning involves using information that may be incomplete. While abductive reasoning allows for more freedom than inductive or deductive reasoning, it can also result in several incorrect conclusions before you uncover the true answer.

The medical field often uses abductive reasoning when making diagnoses in the absence of information such as test results. For example, when a patient presents symptoms, medical professionals work to develop a logical answer or a diagnosis based on the minimal information they have to develop a conclusion.

Related: A Complete Guide to Types of Reasoning

Inductive reasoning pros and cons

Here are the pros and cons of using this decision-making method:

Pros of inductive reasoning

Here are some benefits of inductive reasoning:

  • It allows you to work with a wide range of probabilities. 

  • It presents you with a starting point so you can narrow down your assumptions and reach an informed conclusion.

  • It helps you to develop multiple solutions to one issue and utilize your research to evaluate another hypothesis. 

  • It allows you to leverage knowledge gathered from past experiences to form judgments and make decisions in new situations.

Cons of inductive reasoning

Here are some limitations of inductive reasoning:

  • It may lead you to create a theory with limitations based on the evidence or knowledge you have. This can sometimes lead you to an incorrect conclusion. 

  • It requires data and evidence to back up your claim or judgment, but there's still a chance that new facts or evidence may emerge and prove your theory wrong. 

These limitations make it important to learn to use inductive reasoning skills along with other types of reasoning.

Related: 4 Ways To Use and Improve Your Logical Reasoning Skills

How to demonstrate your inductive reasoning skills

Reasoning skills are important soft skills that employers may seek in potential candidates. Some employers specifically like to see inductive reasoning on applications because it highlights the candidate's aptitude for critical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. For this reason, it may be helpful to focus on this skill throughout the job search and hiring process. Here are some steps you may follow to do so:

1. Learn the STAR method

The STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result) technique is an effective method for communicating. Once you learn it, you can use it to explain your inductive reasoning skills to potential employers clearly and concisely. Here are the steps for using the STAR method:

  1. Describe the situation.

  2. Describe the task.

  3. Explain in detail the action you took.

  4. Share the result.

Understanding inductive reasoning and how to apply this logical thinking process in your work environment is essential to success in any position. Using the STAR method to explain situations in which this method was useful to you or your team can help you highlight them during your job search and make a positive impression on potential employers.

Related: How To Improve Your Deductive Reasoning Skills (With Examples and Tips)

2. Include inductive reasoning skills on your resume and cover letter

You can list inductive reasoning along with other soft skills in the skill section of your resume. This may be especially important if an employer specifically mentions inductive reasoning or critical thinking skills in the job listing or description. Consider providing a specific example of a time when you used inductive reasoning skills in the workplace in your cover letter. This can give context to your claim and help impress the hiring manager. 

3. Mention inductive reasoning in an interview

During a job interview, you might mention inductive reasoning when an employer asks about your decision-making process. Take time to think about specific instances when you used inductive reasoning, especially when it resulted in a positive outcome. Providing a clear example can help prove to employers you're able to make insightful observations, retain information and apply your knowledge to make well-informed decisions on the job.

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