Reading for Thinking - Online Practice:
Recognizing the Appropriate Inference

Copyright © 2005 Laraine Flemming.
General distribution outside the classroom and redistribution are strictly prohibited.

Directions: Read each paragraph. Then click the button next to the main idea implied by the paragraph. When you are done, click the "Submit" button.


The Compaq computer company once considered changing the "Press Any Key" command on the screen to "Press Return Key" because its technical support center received numerous calls from people who couldn't find the "Any" key. One particular Compaq customer called to complain that her brand new computer wouldn't work. She said that she had unpacked the unit, plugged it in, and then sat there for 20 minutes waiting for it to come on. When the tech support employee asked her what happened when she pressed the power switch, she asked, "What power switch?" An annoyed Dell customer called the company to say that his keyboard would not work after he cleaned it by soaking it in a tub filled with soapy water for a day. An exasperated caller to IBM claimed to be having trouble printing documents. He said his computer was telling him that it "couldn't find printer." He reported that he had even turned the computer screen to face the printer, but his computer was still failing to "see" the printer. Another frustrated IBM customer called tech support after having trouble installing software. She said, "I put in the first disk, and that was OK. It said to put in the second disk, and I had some problems?.When it said to put in the third disk, I couldn't even fit it in." She apparently did not realize that Disk 1 must be removed before Disk 2 can be inserted. The Canon company received a call from a woman claiming to have printer problems. The tech support employee asked her if she was "running it under Windows." She replied, "No, my desk is next to the door. But that is a good point. The man sitting in the cubicle next to me is under a window and his printer is working fine." (Source of information: "Befuddled PC Users Flood Help Lines, and No Question Seems to Be Too Basic," no author credited, Wall Street Journal, March 1, 1994)

Main idea:

a. The Compaq computer company receives large numbers of customer complaints.

b. Calls for technical support suggest that some people know very little about computers.

c. Computer companies cannot seem to make computers that are easy to use and for that reason technical support lines are constantly busy.


The high-heeled shoes that are so much in fashion right now are actually terribly unhealthy for women's feet. They lift feet out of their natural position and shorten the Achilles' tendons. They put damaging pressure on nerves and remove the feet's ability to stabilize the body and absorb the impact of heel strikes while walking. Therefore, women who regularly wear high heels often suffer from sprained ankles, arthritis, shin splints, bunions, toe deformities, and back pain. But the exact opposite type of shoe, the popular flip-flop or thong sandal, is also bad for feet. Because flip-flops are flat and soft, they offer no support or protection. They can also easily catch on things and cause the wearer to trip and fall. Even athletic shoes can sometimes be unhealthy for feet. According to foot specialists, some of them don't provide enough cushioning for people with high arches. Others don't provide enough arch support for people with flatter feet. Therefore, they can cause tearing of body tissues, bruises, and sprained ankles. (Source of information: Lorraine Kreahling, "In the Relentless Pursuit of Fashion, the Feet Pay the Price," The New York Times, August 31, 2004,

Main idea:

a. Shoes are actually bad for the human foot, and we would all be better off going barefoot.

b. Fashionable high-heeled shoes are bad for women's feet but that doesn't stop women from wearing them.

c. Several of today's most popular shoe styles are unhealthy for the feet.


Soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks upon America, New Yorkers erected a temporary "Tribute in Light" memorial near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. The memorial beamed two powerful pillars of light into the night sky. Later, when the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation held a competition to select a design for a memorial to the victims those attacks, one of the eight finalists proposed a design called "Passages of Light: Memorial Cloud." This memorial would consist of 10,000 vertical light sources that would be suspended above visitors' heads. Another finalist's design, called "Inversion of Light" suggested turning the footprint of one of the towers into a reflecting pool above a circle of lights. Yet another finalist proposed a "Garden of Lights," in which each light represented a victim of the attack. Similarly, another of the eight finalists wanted to create "Votives (candles) in Suspension," in which lights representing each victim would hang in an underground space. (Source of information: Paul Goldberger, "The Sky Line: Memories," The New Yorker, December 8, 2003, p. 50)

Main idea:

a. Although temporary, the memorial consisting of two beams of light was the best and most powerful memorial of all.

b. Americans take the design of a memorial very seriously.

c. Many of the ideas for September 11 memorials revolved around the use of light as a symbol.


Are the newer, walkie-talkie-like, push-to-talk phones better than ordinary cell phones? They're certainly quicker to use than cell phones are. Using a cell phone requires dialing a number and then waiting for it to ring, but a push-to-talk call is made by simply pressing a button that causes the phone to ring almost instantaneously. Therefore, calls can be made faster and with less work. In an emergency, the immediacy of push-to-talk calls is a definite plus. Not only do push-to-talk calls go through faster, but they are also not subject to the congestion that arises when many cell phones are trying to access a network at the same time. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for example, push-to-talk phone calls went through when cell phone calls wouldn't. However, push-to-talk phone calls can be placed only to others who subscribe to push-to-talk service on the same network. In contrast, cell phone calls can be placed to any other phone and are not limited to certain people. Push-to-talk service also costs extra, adding about $20 per month to a typical cell phone bill. In addition, a caller on a push-to-talk phone cannot hear the other party until he or she finishes talking and releases a button. Consequently, conversations on push-to-talk phones tend to be choppier and more unnatural than conversations on cell phones. What's more, bystanders can hear what both callers are saying. Many people say that being forced to listen to one-sided cell phone conversations is bad enough. (Source of information: "What's the Buzz?" no author credited, USA Today, October 13, 2003, p. 1D; Edward C. Baig, "Push to Talk," USA Today, October 13, 2003, p. 1D)

Main idea:

a. Push-to-talk phones are better than cell phones.

b. Push-to-talk phones have both advantages and disadvantages.

c. Cell phones are better than push-to-talk phones.


Researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley wanted to find out if the presence of other people affects how individuals respond to an emergency. To that end, they conducted an experiment in which participants were placed in a room to complete a questionnaire. Some of the participants were alone, and some were with two other participants, who were actually working with the researchers. The job of the fake participants was to seem unconcerned when the smoke began to filter in. As it turned out, half of the participants who were working alone took action within 4 minutes, leaving the room to report the smoke to someone in authority. Within 6 minutes, 75 percent of the solitary participants interpreted the smoke as a possible emergency, and took action. However, only one of the twenty-four participants in the presence of other people took action within 4 minutes. By the time the study was terminated at 6 minutes, only three of those working with others had left the room or called for help. Those who had remained in the smoke-filled room later said the smoke was so thick they could no longer see the questionnaire before them. Yes, they did indeed suspect a possible emergency, but seeing no sign of concern in their companions, they convinced themselves nothing was wrong. Similar behavior has been noted in classrooms and lecture halls. If no one else is asking any questions of the professor or speaker, students and audience members who are thoroughly confused generally won't raise their hands to ask for clarification because they assume—often incorrectly—that everyone but them understands what's been said. (Source of information: Sharon S. Brehm et al., Social Psychology, 5th ed., Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002, pp. 362-363)

Main idea:

a. During emergencies, people are less likely to help if other people are present.

b. During emergencies, people make decisions about how to act based on the behavior of others.

c. The presence and behavior of other people affects how individuals respond to threatening or confusing situations.

Last change made to this page: 2/12/2008

RfT: Online practice