Foundations of Comprehension Inferring Meaning

Inferring Meaning from Rhetorical Devices, Word Choice, and Text Structure

Questions may also require you to infer meanings that can’t be determined from a superficial reading of the text, such as meanings that the author has implied but did not state directly. You may have to determine how the author has structured the text—for example, through cause-and-effect relationships for discussions in the behavioral sciences, chronologically for historical discussions, or point-and-counterpoint for political science pieces. Identifying the structure should help you understand the passage and determine its purpose. To do that, you will need to understand how the parts of a text fit together via these different kinds of relationships.

You may also need to attend to specific subtle and nuanced rhetorical decisions an author has made to shape his or her ideas, arguments, or discussions and perhaps to complicate a passage’s meaning. For example, questions may ask you to explain paradoxes, a highlighted word or phrase, or an unexpected transition in ideas. To answer these questions, look for clues in the context around the specific sections of the passage. You may be asked to identify points of view, other than the author’s, presented indirectly through authorial summaries or paraphrases. An author’s choice about tone (e.g., humorous, authoritative, satirical) also contributes to—or obscures—meaning, and tone can often communicate the purpose for which a passage is written (e.g., to persuade, instruct, inform, entertain). For example, a satirical piece may at first seem merely entertaining, but a closer examination often reveals that its purpose is actually to persuade.

Some questions at this level may ask about information not specifically stated in the passage, and you must make assumptions based on what the author merely hints at through his or her use of connotative language or figures of speech. Look for the author’s expressed point of view and the extent to which he or she uses summaries or paraphrases to introduce others’ points of view.

The ending of passages is also fair game for questions at this level. Does the passage have a definitive solution, a partial resolution, or a call for additional research? Does it end with a dramatic rhetorical statement or a joke that leaves unanswered questions? Again, considering these questions requires you to understand how the different parts of the passage fit together to support the central thesis of the author.

 

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