How to Build a Strong Argument, Part 3: Inductive Reasoning

We are in our last installment of a 3-part series on argumentation. On Monday, we examined Stephan Toulmin’s model of argument. Wednesday, we looked at how to use deductive argument. Today, we’ll end our series by exploring inductive reasoning.

Livescience explains it well, saying “Inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations. Basically, there is data, then conclusions are drawn from the data.” So where deductive reasoning starts with broad, general principles and moves toward the specific, inductive reasoning does the opposite.

If I had to pick a favorite child of argument construction, it would be inductive reasoning. I think I like it best because it starts out with something that is known to be highly important for communication. It starts out with a specific case or story, and stories move people. As quoted in Psychology Today, Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA says,

“Research shows that we remember details of things much more effectively when they are embedded in a story. Telling and being moved to action by them is in our DNA.”

When you use a specific case or story to help the audience grasp larger principles, you are using inductive reasoning. It works well for a couple reasons. First, it puts your audience up close to the problem or issue you are addressing. Second, it gives real-life proof of the problem by means of specific data or examples. For instance, if you were asked to give a presentation on the Holocaust to a class of middle schoolers, you’d realize the scope of that tragedy is hard to grasp. However, if you start with story most people know, the story of Anne Frank, you can enter into the message in a way that will resonate with your audience.

But how do you decide if inductive or deductive reasoning will work better for your message? I use two criteria to help me decide.

Opening Shot

When deciding how to structure my message, I like to imagine I am directing a movie about my presentation. Then I think about my opening shot. Researchers tell us the first 7 seconds are the most crucial. Should I start with a close-up shot and pan out (an inductive argument), or should I begin with a wide shot and move in closer (a deductive argument)? If I can verbalize and visualize what I want my audience to experience for my opening shot, I can usually discern whether an inductive or deductive pattern would work best for my message.

Begin With the End

Writer Stephen Covey reminds us to “begin with the end in mind.” For structuring my argument, I look to the end. If the goal I’m hoping to accomplish is one that my audience will have trouble accepting or might initially disagree with, I use the funnel format of deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning starts with commonly accepted principles and then moves increasingly closer to a narrowed conclusion. However, if the conclusion I’m hoping to have my audience reach is not one that they will disagree with, but rather, is one that is hard to understand or grasp, I use inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning functions like a handle, giving the audience something specific to cling to.

We covered three different organizational patterns this week, but there are many, many more. We’d love the chance to help you craft your specific message for your specific purpose and your specific audience. For more information, check out our online presentation skills course now.

The post How to Build a Strong Argument, Part 3: Inductive Reasoning appeared first on Presentation Mentor.

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