In the quest for logical, supportable and verifiable scientific answers there are two basic methods of reasoning used to approach the subject matter to be studied. These are known as the deductive and the inductive approaches. The two approaches provide quite different lines of attack when attempting to prove or disprove social theories. The information that is gathered is used by social work researchers as supporting evidence to establish connections between theories and empirical data.
Rafael Engel and Russell Schutt, The Practice of Research in Social Work, explain “Theories help us understand how social problems emerge; they guide us in the design of interventions to help individuals, groups or communities”(Rafael. Schutt. 2005. p. 39). In the case of deductive reasoning studies the research is begun from a theoretical basis, focused on a topic, and then narrowed to an; ‘If-Then’ hypotheses that can be tested.
Research is conducted to gather data through observations, to confirm or disprove the hypotheses. Inductive reasoning is in a sense a reverse study, as it is through observations made that have initially picked up on certain trends, or established regularities that the hypotheses or theory is developed. In the field of Social work research it is not at all uncommon to utilize both methods of research, and Engel and Schutt refer to this as the “Research Circle” (2005. p. 45).
Research often involves variables, and hypotheses often must stand up to multiple studies to arrive at a conclusive answer. The authors cite the Sherman and Berk’s, 1984, study of domestic violence “as an example of how the research circle works”(2005. p. 43). They said that first based on data regarding spousal abuse a hypothesis was developed regarding arrest rates. After data was researched that corresponded with the theory, the study was then followed up with inductive research based on the statistics of the data gathered.
As noted often the researchers will go around the circle a number of time, as Sherman and Berk’s study did, adjusting variables and methods, to test a multitude of hypotheses. According to Engel and Schutt the “Inductive research process is more often the strategy used in qualitative methods” (2005. p. 38), and that deductive is “Most often used in quantitative methods” (2005. p. 38).