THE MAIN IDEA OF A PASSAGE

The main idea is the central, or most important, idea in a paragraph or passage. It states the purpose and sets the direction of the paragraph or passage. The main idea may be stated or it may be implied. When the main idea of a paragraph is stated, it is most often found in the first sentence of the paragraph. However, the main idea may be found in any sentence of the paragraph. The main idea may be stated in the first sentence of a paragraph and then be repeated or restated at the end of the paragraph. The main idea may be split. The first sentence of a paragraph may present a point of view, while the last sentence presents a contrasting or opposite view.


TIPS TO FIND THE CENTRAL THOUGHT OF THE TEXT

1) To find the main idea of any paragraph or passage, ask these questions:

  • Who or what is the paragraph about?
  • What aspect or idea about the ‘who’ or ‘what’ is the author concerned with?

2) The subject that is being taken can be person, place, thing or some idea or concept.

3) Just by reading the first and last paragraph of an essay or the first and last sentence of a paragraph, you can usually get a pretty good idea of what the piece is about.

4) There are many exceptions to tip (3), though, if the beginning and end aren’t telling what we need to know? One strategy is to work backwards by eliminating all information that you know isn’t necessary. This may include examples, details, and explanations.

5) Crossing out the supporting details is a quick way to eliminate some nonessential information, but it isn’t perfect. Here’s a related strategy that builds on our outlining skills: Find the action that is performed on the subject or the subject and its action, will narrow the reading to find the title of the paragraph.

6) Definite view without any contradiction are words like ‘after all’, ‘most important’, ‘obviously’ , ‘significantly’ , which point to elements of greater value.

7) Few words that interprets authors view, ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘mostly’, ‘ever’, ‘exactly’, ‘precisely’, ‘possible’, ‘definite’, ‘impossible’, ‘unless’, ‘all’, ‘no’, ‘least’, ‘without’, ‘entire’ etc.


SAMPLE QUESTIONS TO PRACTICE

Read and think about the following sample paragraphs, in which the main idea sentences are underlined.

 

Paragraph One:

 It is often said that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but this isn’t true. Go ask the forest rangers. Rangers who spend their summers as fire-fighters will tell you that every thundershower brings several bolts of lightning to their lookout stations.

Notice: that the first sentence tells what the paragraph is about; the sentences that follow support the idea stated in the first sentence.

 

Paragraph Two:

Costs were low that year and the output high. There was a good person for each job and the market remained firm. There were no losses from fire. All in all it was the best years in the history of the company.

Note: that the first three sentences give details to explain why it was the best year in the company’s history.

 

Paragraph Three:

There are great numbers of deer around here. This whole area is great country for hunters and fishermen. There are bears, mountain lions, and coyotes. To the east there are streams full of trout, and there are ducks and geese.

Note: the author begins and ends with examples. The main idea is stated in the second sentence.

 

 Paragraph Four:

Advertising affects our lives everyday. Brand names are common household words. We start each day using the toothpaste, soap, and breakfast foods promoted by advertisers. Ads have made the cars we drive signs of our success. Our choices of food, dress, and entertainment are swayed by ads. Not one aspect of American life is untouched by advertising.

Note: the main idea is stated at the beginning of the paragraph and then restated at the end.

 

Paragraph Five:

Penicillin is one of the greatest of the wonder drugs. It has saved thousands of lives already and will save many more in the future. Unfortunately it has no effect at all on most of the ills of mankind. Penicillin is a very good drug, but it is certainly not a cure-all.

Notice the author has split the main idea. This paragraph begins with positive comments on penicillin. The word but signals a shift in thought and the paragraph ends with a statement of its limitations.

 

Paragraph Six:

Do you wear glasses? Make sure your glasses fit well. The earpieces should be at eye level. Don’t try to adjust the earpieces yourself. Take your glasses for adjustments to the place you bought them. Keep your glasses in a case when you’re not wearing them. This will prevent scratches. Keep the lenses clean. A soft cloth is best for cleaning.

Note: the main idea is implied. All of the sentences in the paragraph give details about a main idea. In this paragraph the implied main idea is that taking care of your glasses involves many steps.


MAIN IDEA AND SUPPORTING DETAILS

The main idea in a paragraph is the most important idea. It is the central point that an author is trying to get across to the reader.

The supporting details describe the main idea. They make the main idea stronger and clearer.  Keep in mind that the main idea is often the first or last sentence of a paragraph.

To find the main idea, answer two questions:

(1) What is the paragraph mostly about?

(2) Which sentence best tells what the paragraph is about?

Example: Mother gorillas do a lot for their babies. They nurse their babies. They protect them from danger. And they teach the tiny gorillas how to get along with other gorillas.

 

Frame Questions:

(1)What is the paragraph mostly about?

Answer: Mother Gorillas do for their babies.

(2) Which sentence best tells what the paragraph is about?

Answer: The first sentence tells what the paragraph is about.

Hence, main idea of the paragraph is ‘Mother gorillas do a lot for their babies’.

Supporting Details are ‘They nurse their babies’, ‘They protect them from danger’, and ‘they teach the tiny gorillas how to get along with other gorillas’.

Non-Example: Mother gorillas do a lot for their babies. They nurse their babies. They protect them from danger. And they teach the tiny gorillas how to get along with other gorillas.

Main Idea: Mother gorillas love their babies

Supporting Detail: Mother gorillas do a lot for their babies.

  •        They love their babies.
  •        They teach them things.

In this case, the main idea that is stated is a broad and generalized statement about mother gorillas. It is not the main idea. This statement also cannot be found within the paragraph.

The supporting details do not support the main idea. They are made up and cannot be found within the paragraph. Lastly, the supporting details neither make the main idea stronger nor does it make it any clearer.

Now it’s time to show what we have learned! Please move on to the practice section of the module.