How to Make Good Inferences
- Draft first. If you’re constantly worrying about your inferences, you’ll never actually get anything onto the page. So in the initial stages, just write. Then you can come back and work on the inferences in the revision stage.
- Have a clear thesis. Any formal essay needs a clearly-stated thesis. This is important for your reader, since it helps them understand which thread to follow most closely through the argument. But it also helps you as a writer, because it gives you something to tie your work back to. As you write, you should be constantly questioning whether your work is related to the thesis. If it’s not, the inferences will fail.
- Hunt for unstated assumptions. Writers always assume some things. For example, I’m assuming that you can read English, and that you’re at least somewhat interested in becoming a better writer. If we didn’t make such assumptions, we’d never get anywhere. But assumptions can throw a wrench in your argument if you’re not aware of them, because they can lead to bad inferences (see section 6). At every step of the argument, ask yourself: am I assuming something? If you’re having trouble doing this for yourself, as all of us do from time to time, then ask a teacher or a friend to read your draft and comment on whether or not you’re making assumptions.
- Be ready to adapt. As we’ve seen, you need to have a thesis to guide your writing. But as you write the paper, you also learn about the topic, and about your own opinions. As you hunt for assumptions, you may discover that your argument is making bad inferences here and there. This is all natural, and it’s part of the process of writing thoughtfully. It means you need to be ready to change things – even the thesis or the argument – if you discover that they’re based on bad inferences.
When to Use Inferences
In formal essays, you’re using inferences whether you mean to or not. Since inference is the basic building block of arguments, any argumentative essay contains countless inferences. The real question is how good the inferences are. In literature, you use inferences as a reader all the time. But as a writer, your job is to imply rather than to infer, and that’s a slightly different process – the mirror image, if you like.