Finding the Main Idea of a Paragraph or the Whole Paper

Reading comprehension tests often raise many questions about the main passage or the main idea. Such questions are not easy to answer, especially when students don’t have any idea of what the “main idea” is. Nevertheless, the ability to find the main idea of a paragraph or the whole paper is a crucial reading skill, along with the ability to define the author’s purpose, making an inference, or using proper vocabulary. Here are a few methods at website. We hope they will help you identify the central idea of a passage easily.

How to Identify the Main Idea

The main idea of a passage or paragraph is the main thing that the author wants to tell their audience. It’s easy to define the main idea of a paragraph because it is usually stated in the topic sentence. The topic sentence explains what the paragraph is about, while the subsequent sentences provide the details. An essay has multiple paragraphs, and the main idea of the whole essay is expressed in a thesis statement. In turn, the thesis statement is supported by evidence.

The main idea is, basically, a summary. Think of it as of the general theme of the paragraph, except all the details. Every new sentence of a paragraph provides certain details that support the main idea of the paragraph.

For example, let’s say, you have a paper about World War II. One paragraph of the essay may address the role of nationalism in this conflict. The main idea of this paragraph may be that national-socialism became the official ideology in Germany and people who supported it enabled Hitler to start the war. All the following sentences might support this point, providing evidence and details.

Sometimes, an author may not state the main idea directly. However, it doesn’t mean that such a paragraph doesn’t have a central idea. In this case, the main idea is referred to as an implied main idea. To understand this idea, you should carefully analyze the content and look for repeated words and phrases so that you can understand what the author wanted to say.

Find the Main Idea: Step-By-Step Guide

The understanding of the main idea is crucial for a reader. Without it, the details won’t make sense and it will be harder for you to remember the content. Follow this simple guide to determine the main idea.

1. Identify the topic

Read the whole passage and try to identify its topic. What is it about? At this stage, you just have to figure out what the topic is, without considering the argument.

2. Summarize the content

Once you’ve read the whole paragraph, summarize it in one sentence. Write down a brief summary in your own words. What would you say if someone asked you what this paragraph is about?

3. Analyze the first and the last sentences

The main idea may be expressed at the beginning of a paragraph or at the end. Consider the first and last sentences separately from the other sentences to see whether they are connected and make sense. If you see that the second sentence contains words like “nevertheless,” “however,” “in contrast,” etc., it might mean that the second sentence contains the main idea. The second sentence may evaluate or negate the first one. Obviously, it means that the first sentence is not the main idea.

4. Search for repetition

If you don’t know how to summarize a paragraph, look for repeated words, ideas, and phrases. When you see that the paragraph talks about something consistently, it’s easy to understand its central idea.

Avoid Common Mistakes

Choosing the main idea when taking a multiple-choice test is different from composing your own main idea. People who prepare such tests often include tricky answers that may sound like the real main idea. To choose the right answer, make sure to read the necessary passage, analyzing it carefully. The most common mistakes are: selecting a too broad answer, selecting a too narrow answer, and selecting a complex answer that contradicts the main idea.

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