Discerning Explicit Statements from Inferences in a Text

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In any informational text, there will be information stated explicitly, and information you have to infer. In this lesson, you'll learn about the differences, and some inference issues to watch out for.

Informational Texts

Do you read the newspaper, or magazines? What about articles online? These kinds of text, and any text trying to give you information about something is an informational text, and chances are you come across them pretty regularly. Within any text, especially informational ones, there are different ways you can get information out of it. It might be given to you explicitly, or you might infer it. Texts can also give misleading information, or you might misinterpret some of the information given. However, if you know what to look for, that can be easy to avoid.

Explicit Statements

Some information in a text may be given to you explicitly. That is, it will be directly and clearly stated. This kind of information is easy to gather and interpret. When you're citing explicitly stated information, you can usually grab just one or two quotes to back you up. As an example, we're going to look at a few lines of text from Encyclopedia Britannica on the grasshopper mouse.

The grasshopper mouse lives in burrows
Grasshopper mouse

One piece of information you can draw from this text is that the grasshopper mouse lives in burrows. If someone asked you to back that up, you could cite this quote found in the text: 'Often living in the burrows of prairie dogs, kangaroo rats, and pocket mice, grasshopper mice also construct their own burrows for nesting and food storage.' As you can see, the text clearly tells you about the grasshopper mouse's living preferences.

Inferences

Not all information in a text is directly given to you. Sometimes you have to use the evidence given to draw a conclusion. This type of information (the conclusion you draw) is called an inference. When you're citing an inference, you're actually citing the supporting evidence you used. It typically involves more than one quote, though not always.

Let's say you read the grasshopper mouse article, and inferred that there are no species of grasshopper mice in the rainforest. How would you support that? By using textual evidence. First, the text lists several areas where grasshopper mice live, including grasslands and scrubby desert habitats, and the southwestern US. Second, it states that they prefer arid, or dry climates. Third, you know that rainforests are not arid climates. Once you piece all of this together, it is clear that grasshopper mice would not live in the rainforest.

This example shows that you can infer information that is not stated in the text. After all, it never said that there are no species of grasshopper mice in the rainforest. However, by piecing together evidence from the article, you can reasonably infer that this is still a true statement.

Unsupported Inferences

Not all inferences you might conclude from a text are supported. You have to be careful to differentiate between speculation and actual supported inferences. For example, in the grasshopper text, you saw that they prefer dry and desert-like climates. You might conclude, then, that this species requires less water than other mouse species. However, there is absolutely nothing in the text to support this. It doesn't mention their water needs at all, in fact. Therefore, you can't make this conclusion and call it a supported inference. The text simply doesn't give you enough information to do that.

Fallacious Reasoning

Another issue you have to be careful of is called fallacious reasoning. This is when you take a piece of evidence from the text and extend it beyond where it really applies. It is a more extreme form of unsupported inferences. The Britannica text states that grasshopper mice howl to communicate, much like wolves do. You might extend this to assume that because they communicate like wolves, they also travel in packs like wolves.

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