As readers construct meaning from text, they make inferences about ideas or information not explicitly stated.100 Making inferences allows readers to move beyond the surface of texts and to resolve the gaps in meaning that often occur in texts. Some of these inferences are straightforward in that they are based primarily on information that is contained in one place in the text—readers may merely need to connect two or more ideas or pieces of information. The ideas themselves may be explicitly stated, but the connection between them is not, and thus must be inferred. Furthermore, despite the inference not being explicitly stated in the text, the meaning of the text remains relatively clear.
Skilled readers often make these kinds of inferences automatically.101 They may immediately connect two or more pieces of information, recognizing a relationship even though it is not stated in the text. In many cases, the author has constructed a text to lead readers to an obvious or straightforward inference. For example, the action(s) of a character at a point in the story may clearly point to a particular character trait, and most readers would arrive at the same conclusion about that character’s personality or viewpoint.
With this type of processing, readers typically focus on more than just word-, phrase-, or sentence-level meaning, but the focus is on local meaning residing within one part of the text. As noted above, there are some instances especially in online reading, when readers may need to use macro-processing and then micro-processing to find information across a website or a text. Using the processes together with success often involves making some inferences about the best approaches to use in searching for information.
Online reading requires a considerable amount of inferencing, beginning with identifying those websites and webpages most likely to contain the information of interest. Readers also may infer whether it is necessary or useful to follow a link to another page.
When classifying items, if the item stem and correct response use paraphrases of the original phrases or sentences in text then the item is classified as “Straightforward Inferencing.” This can mean that new vocabulary is introduced in either the stem or multiple-choice responses, but the items still are considered inference items. Also, if the correct answers to the item are located in several places within the text but the item stem and the correct response both use exact words from the text, then the item is classified as inferencing.
Reading tasks that may exemplify this type of text processing include the following:
- Inferring that one event caused another event;
- Giving the reason for a character’s action;
- Describing the relationship between two characters; and
- Identifying which section of the text or website would help for a particular purpose.