Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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Drawing Conclusions

When you read a passage, sometimes the most important points won’t be directly stated in the passage. Instead, you have to put together some puzzle pieces to figure them out. This is called drawing conclusions. Drawing conclusions means putting together ideas in a passage to understand a point that wasn’t directly stated in the passage. You already do this all the time. For example, let’s say I tell you this tale of woe:

When I left the house this morning, the kitchen was totally clean and all the dishes were done. The only person home all day was my roommate Jeremy. And when I got home, the kitchen was a mess and there were dirty dishes everywhere, and I had to do them again just to make my own dinner! Ugh, it’s so unfair.

It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that I’m blaming Jeremy for the mess in the kitchen. On the other hand, if you conclude from this passage that somebody has probably broken into my house and is secretly using my dishes and also poisoning all the food in my fridge, then you’re jumping to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions means drawing conclusions without any evidence to support them, or before you know all the evidence. I haven’t given you any reason to suspect a break in or any other problem more serious than a messy and annoying roommate.

But most reading passages won’t be quite that straight forward as my Jeremy problem, so let’s take a look at drawing conclusions from more advanced or literary passages.

Example Passage

Here’s an example. Let’s say you read this passage:

The ancient Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero was a phenomenal speaker. Even 2,000 years later, Cicero’s words still have the power to make readers see Cicero through Cicero’s eyes: the father of his country, the savior of the Republic, the last true patriot. My high school students compare Cicero’s self-descriptions to the ancient Roman version of a perfectly-curated social media post: The personal branding is so compelling, and it appears so authentic, that it’s hard to see past.

Now let’s think about what conclusions we can draw from this passage. For example, what does the writer really think about Cicero? The writer of this passage never actually comes out and says directly that Cicero wasn’t as great as he made himself out to be, but you can draw that conclusion from the passage. The passage first discusses Cicero’s view of himself (the father of his country, the savior of the Republic, the last true patriot). But then the passage goes on to say that it appears authentic, implying that the image is not the whole truth.

The social media comparison also highlights this: A perfectly-curated social media post is one where the person carefully chooses what to share, often to present certain kind of image to the world. Just like someone who posts about his amazing vacation, but not the morning he slept in and was late to work.

Cicero was deliberately setting up a particular image of himself, one that might not be totally truthful. That’s an example of drawing a conclusion from a passage. The trick is to read in between the lines and see what the author isn’t necessarily saying directly.

Practice Passage

Now you try it. Here’s a passage:

Deirdre was originally delighted about her new job at the bank – her sister worked at a drive-thru, and money in their house had always been tight, but the bank job let them live comfortably and even start paying off their debt. But almost as soon as she was hired, her sister started acting cold and distant. When Deidre asked what she’d done, her sister only grumbled about Deirdre’s ‘fancy new white collar’ and left the room. But soon the coldness escalated into downright sabotage; her sister unplugged Deirdre’s alarm clock to make her late for work and secretly wrinkled and stained her expensive work clothes.

What conclusion can you draw from this passage about why Deirdre’s sister is acting so hostile? The passage strongly implies that Deirdre’s sister is jealous of Deirdre’s new job or that she feels invalidated because suddenly Deirdre is making so much more money while the sister is still at the drive-thru. We learn in the first sentence that Deirdre is suddenly making a lot more money. The sister’s complaint about the ‘white collar’ also implies that she has a problem with Deirdre’s professional job. This isn’t actually stated out right in the passage, but you can draw that conclusion from the passage as a whole.

Lesson Summary

Drawing a conclusion from a passage is when you use the information in the passage to understand something that was not directly stated. Drawing conclusions about a passage is an essential critical reading skill. Sometimes, you will have to draw conclusions to understand the author’s point, but try to avoid jumping to conclusions or drawing conclusions without any evidence to support them.

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