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Have you ever read a book where you’ve predicted the ending? Or how about stories where you thought that one character was the villain when, in fact, he was just a red herring and the true mastermind was lurking in the background?

Whenever we string together clues and hints that a writer leaves behind during a short story or a novel, we’re making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Reading with purpose and meaning: what does drawing conclusions mean?

Throughout the ages, eminent writers ranging from Shakespeare to Ernest Hemingway have used the technique of subtle implication to convince or artfully mislead their audiences. Fictionists who understand the art of drama know that letting readers combine clues enriches the reading experience and creates a unique intimacy and connection.

This is why making inferences and drawing conclusions are valuable reading comprehension skills. Being able to infer meaning from a given set of clues and hints empowers learners and students to have a deeper appreciation of any given or assigned texts.

Reading between the lines: how to draw an inference

When you read between the lines or draw inferences, you go beyond the exterior of the text to search for other meanings that various details may suggest or imply. When the meanings of certain passages or phrases aren’t readily apparent, that means they may be suggested or hinted at.

When the meanings are implied, that also means they can be inferred by using these guidelines on how to draw conclusions through analysis.

Inferencing using a general sense

The meaning of a word can usually be extracted depending on the context.

For example, in this following sentence, we can extract the meaning of the word “euthanized”:

“Dogs that aren’t adopted within two months are usually euthanized at a faster rate than those adopted at an earlier date.”

We can infer the meaning of the word “euthanized” by answering the question: “what happens to dogs that aren’t adopted within two months?” What have you inferred from the sentence?

If you inferred that these dogs are put down, put to sleep permanently, or humanely put to death, then you’ve correctly inferred the meaning of “euthanized.”

Drawing conclusions from examples

There are situations, however, when the meaning of the word can’t be derived from its context. If that’s the case, then another technique that can be used is inferring through examples.

Take this sentence, for instance:

“Introverted people are often reticent during social interactions such as parties and would rather spend time reading books, watching movies, or listening to music alone.”

You may infer the meaning of “reticent” by answering the question “how would you describe people who like to read books and watch films alone?” If you would describe them as being bashful, or shy, perhaps even “reluctant to socialize with others,” then you’ve inferred the correct definition of “reticent.”

How to draw a conclusion from contrasts and similarities

Often, the meaning of a word can’t be inferred through context or examples, we can get definitions by searching for synonyms or antonyms for a specific term. In a sentence, two contrasting words are sometimes joined in thought; if one of the terms is unfamiliar, try to find the contrast between the unknown word and the antonym.

For example:

“Crystal is honest, but her sister, Wanda, is deceitful.”

You may infer the meaning of deceitful by asking, “if Crystal is known for her honesty, but Wanda is very different from her sister in regards to truthfulness, then what term best describes Wanda?”

If you came up with a word such as “dishonest”, “untruthful”, or “treacherous”, then you’ve inferred the meaning of timorous.

Synonyms can also play a similar function to antonyms. For example:

“My father can be very impatient, just like my uncle, who can also be irascible.”

You can infer the meaning of “irascible” by finding the synonyms to the term “impatient.” If your father’s personality is impatient, then what qualities does he share with his brother?

If you answered that your uncle is irritable, restless, or testy, then you’ve correctly surmised the definition of “irascible.” It means someone who doesn’t like waiting around for a task to be completed.

Drawing inferences sometimes involves examining evidence

Even without using complex words, a sophisticated writer often leads the reader to generate conclusions on his or her own using hints, clues, and other types of evidence. By analyzing the details of a sentence, we can infer a certain character’s occupation, motivation, and even personality.

Take these examples, for instance:

“Dorothy has a baby bottle of milk warming on the counter, a soiled diaper in a garbage bag, and a stressed-out expression on her face.”

Without even revealing other, more personal details, we can infer that she’s a mother who’s having a rough time trying to take care of her baby. The child itself isn’t mentioned, but because of the bottle of milk and the soiled diaper, the reader can add the clues together to conclude that Dorothy has at least one infant in the house.

“Peter has a briefcase and keeps looking at his watch while waiting beside an indifferent secretary’s desk. He’s sweating a little bit and he constantly taps his foot on the floor.”

Just by analyzing Peter’s demeanor, we can tell that he’s very nervous. Although it isn’t explicitly stated, we can infer that he’s probably on his way to a job interview for a very important position.

A final caution on drawing inferences

When drawing conclusions or making inferences, it’s important to analyze the evidence at hand before making a final judgment. Keep in mind that good writing is designed to persuade and convince a reader into agreeing with certain statements or points of view. It can also be used to mislead, which is why research that goes beyond reading the text can help discern the ultimate meaning of a piece of writing.

Extracting facts through reading won’t be enough. You must also think and analyze what those facts mean to you personally.