Making Inductive & Deductive Inferences About a Text

Instructor: Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

Inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning are two often confused methods that are used to make inferences or assumptions about a text. Read on to find out the difference between these inferences and how they can be used to better understand a written work.

Interior Assumptions

To put it plainly, inductive reasoning is when the reader tries to find what the writer is not saying explicitly. Inductive inferences are assumptions made inside the text--this method is akin to reading between the lines. The author doesn't come right out and say it, but we know it's there.

One example of inductive reasoning is the assumption that Dumbledore favored Harry Potter. Dumbledore never outright states that he favors Harry above the other children at Hogwarts, but through his statements and actions, the reader can see that he puts more time and effort into his relationship with Harry than any of the other students. Most notably, when Dumbledore and Harry are on a dangerous mission in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore says to the 16-year-old, 'I am not worried, Harry. I am with you.' Not many adults would put their faith and trust in a teenager, so it is a logical assumption that Dumbledore, who is regarded as one of the greatest wizards of all time, favored Harry above his peers.

Like Follows Like

Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, is used when the reader deduces or comes to a conclusion through a process of elimination. Because one event happened in the narrative, it is easy to see that a second event also happened, even if it was off-screen.

For example, it is logical to deduce that Lily and James Potter loved one another for several reasons, most notably that: 1. They got married, and 2. James sacrificed himself to save Lily and Harry on the night of the elder Potters' murder. With a cause and effect type of assumption like deductive reasoning, it is not necessary for the author to state the obvious because it naturally allows that an act such as marriage or self-sacrifice follows the love between two people.

Finding the Inferences

Often, using inductive or deductive reasoning is not as simple as reading between between the lines of a Harry Potter novel. To show how a reader might make more complicated assumptions about a text, let's take a look at President Obama's speech on education in Arlington, Virginia on September 8, 2009.

President Obama begins by addressing his audience--the school children to whom he is speaking. He says, 'And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it's your first day in a new school, so it's understandable if you're a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you're in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could've stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.'

Right away, we can use deductive reasoning to make an assumption about the speaker, President Obama: He cares about children and their education. In some ways, using this type of reasoning is easy because all of the clues are already present within the text. It is relatively easy to assume that because President Obama is making a speech about education to children, he cares about the United States educational system.

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