Inference: Reading Ideas as Well as Words
Ideally, speakers mean what they say and say what they mean. Spoken communication is not that simple. Much of what we understand—whether when listening or reading—we understand indirectly, by inference. Listening involves a complex combination of hearing words, analyzing sentence structure, and attempting to find meaning within the context of the given situation.
The situation with the written word is no different. A text does not contain a meaning. Readers construct meaning by what they take the words to mean and how they process sentences to find meaning. Readers draw on their knowledge of the language and of conventions of social communication.
They also draw on other factors, such as knowledge of the author (“Would Henry say such a thing?), the occasion (“No one knew such things then!”), or the audience (“He’d never admit that publicly.”) They infer unstated meanings based on social conventions, shared knowledge, shared experience, or shared values. They make sense of remarks by recognizing implications and drawing conclusions. Readers read ideas more than words, and infer, rather than find, meaning.
Reading and Writing Ideas As Well As Words