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Inferences: Research and Resources

Inferences: Research and Resources

Drawing a logical conclusion from premises, evidence and sometimes assumptions.


The English Companion

Though it uses examples from the English classroom, the graphic organizers on this page can help students in any discipline gather and organize evidence to support their conclusions.

Inference: The Process -

This website describes the process of inference in a few pages and details its relationship to evidence, analysis and language.


Browne, N.M. & Keeley, S.M. (2010). Asking the right questions: A guide to critical thinking (9th Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

A compact and concise critical thinking classic, with two chapters directly relevant to inferences:

  • Chapter 3 - What are the issues and the conclusion? (pp.19-27)
  • Chapter 4 - What are the reasons? (pp.28-36)

Halpern, D.F. (2003). Thought and knowledge: An introduction to critical thinking (4th Edition). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

This substantial book contains three chapters relevant to inferences:

  • Chapter 4 - Reasoning: The drawing of deductively valid conclusions (pp.137-181)
  • Chapter 6 - Thinking as hypothesis testing (pp.231-263)
  • Chapter 7 - Likelihood and uncertainty: Understanding probabilities (pp.264-307)

Nelson, John. (2005). Cultivating judgment: A sourcebook for teaching critical thinking across the curriculum. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

This book is a collection of many organized critical thinking exercises, and "Activity #5: From the known to the unknown" is explicitly about making inferences.

Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

This book is a highly-readable and illuminating explanation of how cognitive and motivational theory explains the value of many classroom activities. It is written in an affable tone and with many useful examples.


Butcher, K.R. (2006). Learning from text with diagrams: Promoting mental model development and inference generation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 182-197.

In the second of two experiments, undergraduate students were presented science related material in one of three conditions: 1) text only, 2) text and simplified diagrams, or 3) text and detailed diagrams. The addition of simplified diagrams with text improved factual knowledge and performance on memory questions, but did not affect inference-generation.

  • Results indicated that students in both diagram conditions had significantly more integration inferences when compared to the text only condition.
  • Thus, diagrams, particularly simple ones paired with text, aid students in integrating new material with previously learned material to increase overall comprehension of knowledge.

Calvo, M.G., Castillo, M.D., & Schmalhofer, F. (2006). Strategic influence on the time course of predictive inferences in reading. Memory and Cognition, 34(1), 68-77.

The authors hypothesized that the time needed to make predictive inferences could be shortened through providing verbal instructions prior to engaging in a reading task.

  • Providing students with prompts that promoted active anticipation of outcomes decreased the amount of time needed to make predictive inferences.
  • Prompting provides an organizing framework for a reader's purpose during a task.
  • By orienting students to the purpose of a task, in this case inferential meaning, instructors can teach students to decrease the time it takes to make inferences regarding presented material.

Constabile, K.A., & Klein, S.B. (2008). Understanding and predicting social events: The effects of narrative construction on inference generation. Social Cognition, 26(4), 420-437.

Stories provide a foundation for making inferences about the past and the present.

  • In the first experiment, students who were asked to create a story with sentences generated more inferences than students instructed to either memorize, read, or communicate-only the sentences presented.
  • In a separate experiment, students were again presented with sentences and asked to either 1) memorize or 2) construct a story, but then were asked to complete sentence-stems to test for predictive inference. In this experiment, students in the narrative condition were more likely to complete the word-stems with predicted words.
  • These results suggest that narrative construction of social events provides a unique tool for organizing and integrating information.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2002). Critical thinking: Distinguishing between inferences and assumptions. Journal of Developmental Education, 25(3), 34-35.

  • Inference is a critical thinking skill that requires the individual to actively draw conclusions based on certain information.
  • An assumption is something an individual already presumes to be true based on prior experience.
  • Assumptions are rules through which individuals interpret occurrences in their environment.
  • Individuals often make inferences based on assumptions, which may or may not be justified or supported.

Nokes, J.D. (2008). The observation/inference chart: Improving students' abilities to make inferences while reading nontraditional texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 51(7), 538-546.

Describes a useful classroom activity for promoting inference skills and increasing a student's comprehension through deeply analyzing abstract material. See an example [here] (link to Inference Activities)

Spears, R., Eiser, J.R., & Van Der Pligt, J. (1987). Further evidence for expectation-based illusory correlations. European Journal of Social Psychology, 17, 253-258.

This article presents an interesting look at how beliefs can influence inferences.

  • 37 subjects were presented with a scenario in which a small town and a large city were each considering building a nuclear plant.
  • Each individual was given a list of opinion statements made by the residents of both the town and the city.
  • A significantly higher proportion of the subjects stated that the small city contained a higher proportion of residents who did not want the nuclear plant.
  • This finding supported the concept of illusory perception, in that subjects' preconceived ideas of what small city residents would feel appeared to be strongly influenced by their own beliefs which ran counter to the facts of the case.

Tessmer, M., Wislon, B., & Driscoll, M. (1990). A new model of concept teaching and learning. Educational Technology, Research, and Development, 38(1), 45-53.

The article proposes that one way concept learning can be taught and measured is through inference activities. Three types of inferences are outlined:

  • inferences about category membership
  • inferences about properties or functions that are not directly provided
  • inferences about relationships between concepts

Engaging in these inference tasks leads to students conceptualizing concepts within a larger framework and broadens the knowledge of the concept.