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Academic reading: Making inferences

Making inferences

Distinguishing facts and opinions is a great first step towards reading texts more critically, but there is more. Another important critical reading skills is making inferences. When you make inferences, or infer, you draw conclusions based on evidence from the text or knowledge that you have. Texts contain many explicit details such as dates, names or descriptions, but also implicit information like how the author feels about a topic or whether they agree with someone else. This information is not explicitly stated; you need to ‘read between the lines’ or use certain information to form your own conclusions as a reader. In life, we infer meaning all the time. For example, when someone slams the door, you infer that that person is in a bad mood. Or if you see someone pull a face when trying a food, you infer that they don’t like it.

Being able to infer meaning from a text means that you can develop an understanding of the text that goes beyond the surface level. You will be able to pick up on subtle meanings, the author’s opinions and attitudes and maybe even their biasesor prejudices. To be able to make inferences, you need to combine new information with existing knowledge, interpret the language the author uses, compare what you read against expectations you had before you started reading, and evaluate what the goals and attitudes of the author are. In other words, to infer you need to ask yourself what conclusions you can draw from the text and what evidence from the text and from your own knowledge and expectations you have for those conclusions.


Infer what is happening in these situations:

  1. A man arrives at the home of a woman with red roses and a diamond ring.
  2. Your neighbours’ new car in front of their house in the morning. All four tires are flat.
  3. A colleague tells you “If he died, I wouldn’t go to his funeral.”
  4. You see a man run after a departing bus, frantically waving his briefcase.
  5. You are giving a presentation in class and see that some classmates are laughing behind their hands and pointing to the region below your waist.

(these conclusions are written as facts, even though they are cannot be proved: other inferences may be possible)

  1. The man is going to propose to the woman.
  2. Since the car is new, someone has slashed the tires, because they were angry with your neighbors for some reason.
  3. The colleague is angry or upset with this man for an important reason. After all, hating someone after they die is one of the worst things one can do.
  4. The man is late for work or an important meeting.
  5. You have left your zipper open


The following passages are from the article ‘Millennials in the Workplace: A Communication Perspective on Millennials’ Organizational Relationships and Performance’ by K. Myers (2010). Read the passage and answer the questions using your inferencing skills.

  1. “Stereotypes about Millennials, born between 1979 and 1994, depict them as self-centred, unmotivated, disrespectful, and disloyal, contributing to widespread concern about how communication with Millennials will affect organizations and how they will develop relationships with other organizational members. We review these purported characteristics...”
    1. Does the writer agree with the negative descriptions of millennials presented in the passage?
  2. “Future research in this area will need to shed light on the functionality of newer CITs [computer and information technology] in organizations, the impact of CIT use on older generations, and Millennials’ potential to change the way CITs are used to communicate intra-organizationally, as well as for the strategic advantage of organizations. Research could also examine how Millennials’ attitudes toward CITs change once they have experience in using CITs in the workplace (rather than just socially), and how older generations’ attitudes toward CITs might change as a result of Millennials’ influence in the workplace. Millennials may discover that newer technology is not always the most efficient, nor the best media for developing and maintaining workplace relationships (compared with face-to-face interactions with coworkers and customers).”
    1. Does the author think that communication and information technology is currently used to their fullest extent when companies communicate with each other?
    2. Does the author think that communication over technology is always effective in the workplace?
  3. “A more productive goal may be to focus on what each generation offers to team and organizational performance, and how these qualities affect workplace communication, behaviors, and relationships (McCann and Giles 2006). To date, the lack of such research is sadly noteworthy (McCann and Giles 2006).
    1. How does the author feel about how companies try to integrate millennials into the workplace?
    2. What does the author probably think about doing more research into the effects of differences in professional communication skills between generations?

    1. The use of ‘purported’ indicates that she probably feels that millennials also possess positive qualities and that these negative qualities are given too much attention.
    1. The clause “Millennials’ potential to change the way CITs are used to communicate intra-organizationally” gives the impression that she feels that CITs could be used more or in a different way in this situation and that these are currently not being exploited to their fullest potential.
    2. The sentence “Millennials may discover that newer technology is not always the most efficient, nor the best media for developing and maintaining workplace relationships (compared with face-to-face interactions with coworkers and customers).” indicates that she believes that there are situations in which traditional face-to-face communication is more effective.
    1. She believes that these are less effective as they don’t allow millennials to use their own skills and qualities to the fullest.
    2. She would applaud such research as she writes that it is currently “sadly” lacking.