What You Should Know About Inductive Argument as a Writer

What is an inductive argument? How is it different from a deductive argument? What is controversial about inductive arguments? Why is there so much interest in inductive reasoning?

Updated: June 18, 2024
inductive argument

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Argumentation pervades academics, science, law, politics, and so many other human enterprises. Argumentation methodologies is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry, involving philosophers, language theorists, legal scholars, cognitive scientists, computer scientists, and political scientists, among many others. A common focus on methodical argument centers on the inductive argument. It’s fair to say that all the major elements of an inductive approach to argument are problematic for the defender of this method.

The very concept of inductive argument is a highly controversial case for philosophical debate and analysis. Induction involves using limited observations or other partial grounding for assertions of broad generalizations. So, naturally, inductive arguments inherently entail uncertain conclusions. That’s unstable ground for the rationales of inductive constructs.

So, understandably, the farthest a user can go is to conclude that the conclusion asserted may be true. Though conclusions to inductive arguments usually assert that the premise is likely true, or probably true, etc., based on the supporting observations or other partial grounding. That may sound like frail logic and, arguably, it is, but the relief in using inductive argument is that its formal role is confined to such expectations.

That may sound like inductive argumentation is pretty useless in pursuits of verifiable truth, but this kind of reasoning is actually very handy and in constant use for much more than everyday purposes. But, why and how?

    What is an Inductive Argument?

    An inductive argument is one in which observations of the regularity of past occurrences are presented to support conclusions about future observations and general principles. For example, since a long-time resident of the Midwest U.S. has observed that every year spring has followed winter, he/she concluds that spring will come every year in the future and that spring always follows winter.

    Inductive arguments are grounded on small-scale observations and lead to large generalizations. The example above, broken down into its constituent parts (below), exhibits support for the conclusion in the premise and in the argument for the conclusion:

    Premise 1:Every year that I have lived in the Midwest, spring has followed winter.
    Argument:There’s no reason to think that the seasons will stop happening.
    Conclusion:Next spring will follow next winter and after every winter in the future.

    Of course, by stricter logic than the practice of inductive argument requires, we do not have a guarantee that spring will happen after the next winter. A wide range of possibilities in nature could disrupt and alter weather patterns and change the climate, including the predicted coming and going of the four seasons.

    Because the argument has a true premise and a conclusion that doesn’t necessarily follow from it, it is an invalid argument, though it is a very persuasive one.


    Types of Inductive Arguments

    The definition of inductive argument covers a range of types. As in any form of argument, the conclusion to an inductive argument should be supported by the logic of the premise and apparent evidence that supports the premise. The evidence is information that is either true or that could, at least, become true. In any case, the truth of the premise supports the potential truth of the conclusion.

    GeneralizationUsing a small specific quantity to form a conclusion about the entire population of the thing in question.Example: This new type of tropical fruit is overripe, so this species must ripen too fast to be shipped long distance.
    Causal InferencePresuming, whether right or wrong, a cause-and-effect relationship between things.Example: This tropical fruit delivered today is overripe, so it must be ripening too fast due to the heat in the long-distance transport trucks.
    AnalogyBasing an inductive inference on a single similarity and thereby concluding that one or more other similarities are shared between the things, though these have not been observed yet.Example: One of these tropical fruit species has spots and another is pink inside, so this third one with both features must be a hybrid of those two.

    Strong and Weak Inductive Arguments

    The inductive argument definition further includes a pair of degrees. Those include strong and weak degrees of inductive reasoning. Instead of being judged as valid or invalid, inductive arguments are held to the much lower standard of strong or weak.

    Strong Inductive Argument

    If the premise is true, the argument is considered stronger, even though the conclusion may be false. In a weak inductive argument, the logic supporting the premises and conclusion is incorrect, reflecting weaker beliefs and possibly a faulty conclusion.

    Premise:All the ducks I’ve seen in my area are white.
    Conclusion:So, there are probably many more white ducks in the area.

    The assertion that there are probably merely more, instead of that there are only white ducks in the area, strengthens the likelihood that the conclusion is correct. Further, whether it is correct, the increased likelihood that it is true due to its more conservative claim is sufficient to make the argument stronger.

    Weak Inductive Argument

    A weak inductive argument may be less cogent and less likely to lead to a true conclusion, even if it has a true premise. For example:

    Premise:All the ducks I’ve seen in my area are white.
    Conclusion:So, the majority of ducks in my area are probably white.

    In this case, for example, the conclusion is false, because there are many species of ducks in a wide range of colors in the area, just not immediately in the vicinity of the observer. But, this example is still understood as a stronger inductive argument than one clarifying that the assertion is about a majority and a probability. The assertion is not that all the ducks in the area are white or that a majority are white.

    NOTE: Both the weak and strong inductive argument definitions hang on quantifiers and other adverbs in premises and/or conclusions.

    Inductive Reasoning Pitfalls to Avoid

    Be aware of inductive reasoning pitfalls that lead to weaker inductive arguments. For example:

    • Overreaching Assertions in Your Conclusion: Consider not concluding that all members of a vast group are behaving according to the pattern you’ve observed in a small subset. Instead, if it’s more appropriate to do so, scale back your assumption to suggest that many more of the group members are likely to be behaving the same way those in your sample do.

    • Underdelivery of Evidence Supporting the Conclusion: Keep in mind that the success of an inductive argument in business, for example, is not dependent on how much you believe it but on whether you can persuade others. Normally, supplying an abundance of evidence supporting your premise offers the most effective persuasive influence.

    (For exercises to strengthen inductive arguments, see helpful logic tutorials published by the University of Hawaii.)

    Inductive vs. Deductive Argument

    Both inductive and deductive arguments require logic and evidential support. Of course, like all arguments, inductive and deductive arguments have premises and conclusions. Deductive arguments are restricted to logic rules. So, a deductive argument is determined to be either valid or invalid. But, inductive arguments are not subject to those logic requirements. An inductive argument can be invalid, but that does not necessarily mean it is irrational.

    Deductive Reasoning

    Deductive reasoning is said to work from the top down to form a conclusion. That means the thinker is making inferences by reasoning from a broad premise to a narrow conclusion. The premise effectively encompasses the conclusion, so that the conclusion is guaranteed to be true. For example:

    Premise 1:All mothers have children.
    Premise 2:Jane is a mother.
    Conclusion:Therefore, Jane has children.

    (This form is called a syllogism. It’s a deductive argument with two premises.)

    Inductive Reasoning

    Inductive reasoning is, in effect, the opposite of the deductive reasoning process. Inductive reasoning is done from the bottom up. That means it reasons from a narrow premise to a broad conclusion — which is the opposite of the deductive method. For example:

    Premise:Joe recently caught a lot of catfish in that creek.
    Conclusion:Most of the fish in that creek must be catfish.

    Why Use Inductive Arguments?

    In pedestrian terms, we all use inductive reasoning routinely to sift through and assess the incoming impressions of people and things that make up the world around us. Much additional thought is often given to those experiential inputs that capture our attention most strongly, which may lead us to structure more complex arguments.

    But, for purposes of initial processing, with limited data, we naturally embark on preliminary efforts to sort/categorize such inputs and make some at least vague sense of them until we can replace problematic impressions with more information.

    In more advanced applications, inductive reasoning is used, for example, in legal examinations, and in treatments of useful inquiries for furthering academic or professional explorations for research papers or industry knowledge development, respectively. For another example, inductive reasoning is used in scientific studies, to turn a premise on all sides in the quest to discover a logical link between the premises and the conclusion.

    This example illustrates how the inductive reasoning process starts with a narrow specific premise to form a broad-ranging conclusion:

    Premise 1:All the ducks I’ve seen in my area are white.
    Conclusion:So, most ducks in this region must be white.

    Common Modern Applications of Inductive Reasoning

    More specifically, the pervasive use of inductive reasoning across all modern contexts proves its core relevance to intuitive logic as we apply it throughout the day. Its applications are more notable in formalized modes of usage in research, AI development, data science, law, academics, medicine, business management, and all other pursuits in high reasoning.

    Science Research: Scientists and researchers collect data and form hypotheses based on it, then test their assumptions to validate or invalidate them. They used inductive argument as a tool of the trade to maneuver through the uncertainties and provide critical structure for analytical examination of their study material and even examination of the applicable value of their queries themselves in terms of how those define outcomes.

    Legal Arguments: Law practitioners continuously employ inductive arguments to provide testimonial evidence. These legal experts are masters of identifying and interpreting the logical connections between discovered facts and rational conclusions. They provide the cases they build to judges or juries for comparative evaluation.

    Marketing Content Writing: Professional writers present current and historical information, statistics, other data, and colloquially shared accounts of events. They work through integrated applications of the world’s most versatile tools for creating compelling stories that resonate with readers and capture their interest. Essential intellectual tools like deductive and inductive reasoning empower content creators to develop better-defined intent-based production strategies.

    Copywriting: Professional copywriters and marketing content creation specialists who understand how to make better inductive arguments can produce more persuasive marketing content. A grasp of the most impactful argumentation methods enhances strategic content planning and improves SEO writing. That deeper understanding enables writers to command the logical argumentation processes they choose with greater intention.

    How can marketing content writers use inductive argument to increase the effectiveness of their formulations of complex rationales?

    • Provide more evidence to make stronger arguments.
    • Cite respected sources to back up the information you assert, as appropriate.
    • Use reliably sourced research statistics and other data to support your case.
    • Impartially examine both sides of an issue to be fair and to keep opposers engaged.
    • Ground your assertions on proven facts and data from the most trusted authorities.

    Advanced Techniques in Inductive Reasoning

    To refine your skills in inductive argument, work on ways to make your reasoning process more fully intentional. For example, to improve your problem-solving effectiveness through inductive reasoning:

    • Ask more questions before asserting your premise.
    • Routinely reflect on the question and ways to gather more and better information.
    • Combine reasoning methods that tend to yield the most new insights for you.
    • Recognize patterns in your experience regarding the subject in question.
    • Focus more on the details of the matter of inquiry.
    • Seek to acquire more experience in applicable areas.

    Best Practices for Constructing Inductive Arguments

    There are good and bad ways to approach building a strong inductive argument. To develop the strongest line of inductive reasoning, follow these quality practices:

    • Present an abundance of evidence.
    • Source your information from the most reputable authorities on the subject.
    • Present objective facts supporting the opposing position as well as your own.
    • Incorporate new insights from updated research into your argument.
    • Critique your premise to ensure that it is not overstated.
    • Repeatedly scrutinize the strength of your inductive argument and conclusion.

    Inductive Argument Case Studies

    Recent examples demonstrate ways that inductive reasoning has driven outcomes for real businesses, research institutions, and individuals in various challenging fields. From scientific studies to market analyses to legal processes, there are countless cases in which the successful application of inductive arguments has yielded exciting results.

    Consider the following cases of small-set data-driven decision-making. These examples show how powerful inductive reasoning among a few professionals in a given field can bring transformative change to the world:

    World-Changing Medical Solutions

    In medical research, it is often concluded that since test drug treatments or surgical solutions work in a relatively small number of laboratory animals, they will also work throughout the vast human population. Decisions to move forward with more costly research are frequently driven by the indicators from this very limited research.

    In many cases, this reasoning succeeds in leading to cures for diseases like Parkinson’s disease, various cancers, substance use disorder, neurological disorders, and other debilitating health conditions.

    Industry-Changing Product Focus Group Influences

    There are numerous published reports and analyses emphasizing the power of small groups to influence the further development of commercial products that end up as disruptive forces in their industries. When we consider how widespread and enduring the effects of so many individual small focus groups have collectively been over the generations, we can get a sense of the actual enormity of the role of inductive reasoning.

    So many transformative products and services that began as development subjects in focus groups, like cell phones, digital games, numerous foods and beverages, fitness equipment models, vehicle designs, household appliances, and so on have collectively altered societal development, subcultures, industrial progress, global economics, and environmental conditions.

    Questions People Also Ask About Inductive Reasoning

    Other common questions people ask about inductive arguments include:

    Why is inductive reasoning so popular, even though it cannot produce definite outcomes on its own?

    The fundamental interpretations we draw from the observations and assumptions we make by inductive reasoning support and lead toward more concrete findings of facts through other modes of inquiry.

    What is a clear example of an inductive statement?

    “Only one of the 250 children in the school ate the broccoli offered at lunch yesterday, therefore almost all children reject broccoli.”

    What is an example of an inductive causal argument?

    “Flowers bloom in our yard each year when there are more sunlight hours, so increased sunlight causes flowers to bloom.”

    Which is best, the inductive or deductive reasoning approach?

    Deductive reasoning is foolproof and ideal if you can satisfy your exploratory requirements by using it. However, when broader inquiries are needed to shape truth-finding processes, some amount of inductive reasoning is likely to become involved.

    Wrapping Up

    Although inductive reasoning may seem too fallible to produce a significant rate of meaningful conclusions, we use it to navigate the world every day. That’s a vast amount of trust we grant to this profoundly flawed but supremely useful logical process. It has brought us immense advancement of knowledge and will help carry us through the future to the very culmination of the species’ body of knowledge.

    Instead of struggling to phase out this manner of reasoning as an outmoded option, we can expect humans to become more efficient at maximizing its use. Our species can be predicted to build at an increasing rate a greater collective stock of experiential knowledge that more strongly supports inductive conclusions. We can further expect to continue to reserve deductive reasoning for its particular role and employ the two common forms of reasoning abundantly throughout the duration of human learning.

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