The myth of induction in qualitative nursing research

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Abstract

In nursing today, it remains unclear what constitutes a good foundation for qualitative scientific inquiry. There is a tendency to define qualitative research as a form of inductive inquiry; deductive practice is seldom discussed, and when it is, this usually occurs in the context of data analysis. We will look at how the terms ‘induction’ and ‘deduction’ are used in qualitative nursing science and by qualitative research theorists, and relate these uses to the traditional definitions of these terms by Popper and other philosophers of science. We will also question the assertion that qualitative research is or should be inductive. The position we defend here is that qualitative research should use deductive methods. We also see a need to understand the difference between the creative process needed to create theory and the justification of a theory. Our position is that misunderstandings regarding the philosophy of science and the role of inductive and deductive logic and science are still harming the development of nursing theory and science. The purpose of this article is to discuss and reflect upon inductive and deductive views of science as well as inductive and deductive analyses in qualitative research. We start by describing inductive and deductive methods and logic from a philosophy of science perspective, and we examine how the concepts of induction and deduction are often described and used in qualitative methods and nursing research. Finally, we attempt to provide a theoretical perspective that reconciles the misunderstandings regarding induction and deduction. Our conclusion is that openness towards deductive thinking and testing hypotheses is needed in qualitative nursing research. We must also realize that strict induction will not create theory; to generate theory, a creative leap is needed.

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