The Roadrunner's Guide to English: Style, Tone, and Inference
The information on this side of the page will help in your reading - but it's the same kinds of ideas as in writing!
Inference is sometimes a difficult concept. It means to make “an educated guess” or “reading between the lines” or “drawing a conclusion”. These phrases are used because the information you are seeking is not stated. When you were in the fourth or fifth grade, you probably answered such questions as “What countries border Iraq?” or “What is the capital of Vermont?” Those questions had answers that were stated in the text you had just read. Inference, however, requires you to find answers by drawing a conclusion from the material you have read. There are clues in the material to aid you in finding the answer, but the answer is not directly stated, as it is in a literal question. An inferential question in a reading class might be “What would be a good title for the passage you just read? Here are some hints for how you might answer that question.
- What is the topic of the passage? Remember, ask yourself who or what the passage is about. You may also look for words that are used more than once and/or words that describe the same idea, person, or thing.
- What is the author saying about the topic? When you can answer what the author is saying about the topic, you will have the implied main idea, which should permit you to answer a variety of inference questions because you will know the author’s position on his/her topic.
Use these strategies when you are confronted with questions whose answers are not stated in the text. The questions may be more difficult to answer, but you can answer them with a little extra thought.
Just be aware that although most college textbooks use inference to communicate the main idea in the majority of paragraphs, you do not need to use inference to communicate you main idea in English 0098!
Author: Dr. Lydia Postell