Making Inferences

Learning Objectives

  • Use analytical thinking to make inferences

Let’s start by talking about what an inference is. When you make an inference, you come to a conclusion based on evidence and reasoning. Sometimes we need to infer the main idea of a passage, or figure out an implied thesis by carefully “reading between the lines.” This may be necessary if the main idea is not clearly stated, if the reading begins with a question that has no direct answer, when the text compares or contrasts various things, or if the reading is satirical. A satire is a type of humorous writing that relies on exaggeration to make its points, and the effectiveness of this strategy depends on the reader recognizing the details being scrutinized by the writer. This means that the reader will need to read analytically and pay close attention to specific parts of the text.

Watch It

Some thesis statements are explicit—stated directly in the text itself. Others are implicit—implied by the content but not written in one distinct sentence. The following video describes these terms and introduces the excellent idea of the reading voice and the thinking voice that strong readers use as they work through a text.

To help keep you on your toes, the author of this video challenges you to find her spelling mistake in one of her cards along the way!

You can view the transcript for “explicit v implicit” here (download).

When you are left to make inferences, you can check whether your inference is logical or not by asking these questions:

  • Is it based on words and sentences in the text?
  • Is it based more on the author’s words than on your point of view?
  • Does it manage to avoid contradicting other statements made in the text?
  • Does it align with the author’s attitude or tone about the topic?
  • Could it function as the thesis or topic sentence?

The video below offers several examples that show how we make inferences in different situations based on the available evidence. Pay close attention to the details that might lead us to a particular interpretation of meanings that are not directly stated. Also be sure to answer the two multiple choice questions that accompany the examples, and to listen carefully to the explanation for how we can arrive at an accurate understanding based on inference.


implicit: a perspective that is implied without being stated directly in a single sentence

explicit: a perspective that is directly stated in a single locatable sentence