The two types of essay: inductive and deductive


There are two major intellectual processes that usually go on in most essays: deductive and inductive reasoning.

Deductive reasoning starts with making general points, formulating a generalized argument and then looking at the particular. For example, if you were writing an essay on Othello, you might make a statement such as “Jealousy can be very destructive” and then examine the ways in which Othello’s jealousy leads to him killing his wife, Desdemona, because he suspects her of having an affair with another man.

If you were taking an inductive approach, you’d be taking the opposite approach; you’d look at the evidence in the play, and then show that Othello’s jealousy is destructive. Induction starts with the particular and then generalizes having examined it.

Inductive reasoning moves from the particular to the general.

Most essays will shift between the two approaches, but it is important to understand that they are quite different ways of reasoning because they both have strengths and weaknesses.

The deductive approach can risk not finding sufficient evidence to back up its central argument, while the inductive approach can get lost in the “particulars” of a text and then never formulate any generalized points.

English students regularly fall into both traps: some students make too many generalized arguments without any evidence to back them up, while others are so bogged down in analysing a text that they never quite offer an overview.

When asking students to write PEE paragraphs is well worth getting them to think about these two approaches when making a “Point”; is their point the result of inductive or deductive reasoning?


About @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.
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