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Induction, deduction and abduction
  1. David Barrett1,
  2. Ahtisham Younas2,3
  1. 1Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK
  2. 2Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada
  3. 3Swat College of Nursing, Pakistan
  1. Correspondence to Professor David Barrett, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK; david.i.barrett{at}

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Researchers often refer to the type of ‘reasoning’ that they have used to support their analysis and reach conclusions within their study. For example, Krick and colleagues completed a study that supported the development of an outcome framework for measuring the effectiveness of digital nursing technologies.1 They reported completing the analysis through combining ‘an inductive and deductive approach’ (p1), but what do these terms mean? How can these methods of reasoning support nursing practice, and guide the development and appraisal of research evidence?

This article will explore inductive and deductive reasoning and their place in nursing research. We will also explore a third approach to reasoning—abductive reasoning—which is arguably less well-known than induction and deduction, but just as prevalent and important in nursing practice and nursing research.

Inductive reasoning

Induction, or inductive reasoning, involves the identification of cues and the collection of data to develop general theories or hypotheses. For this reason, inductive reasoning is often described as being ‘bottom-up’ reasoning. In the paper by Krick and colleagues mentioned previously, the inductive element of their work was taking findings from individual studies in a scoping review and using these to ‘inductively derive’ a first draft of their digital nursing outcomes framework.1

Inductive reasoning is often linked with qualitative research, where data and observations from individual participants are coded and analysed, and—collectively—help form a general theory regarding the phenomenon being studied.2 So, for example, Alteren and colleagues carried out a qualitative study of nurses’ strategies for coping …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.