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In writing, the controlling idea conveys the author’s opinions and feelings about a particular
topic. The controlling idea serves as an emotional foreshadow by introducing the point of
view of an author and, in turn, setting the tone and mood that prevails throughout the text.
Controlling ideas help to give shape to people, places and other characters in stories and
essays. Using the controlling idea, for instance, authors may introduce key cities or
locations recently visited on vacation. Authors then use the controlling idea to paint a
favorable image of those places to readers by associating those places using positive
adjectives such as ‘stunning, historic, charming and magnificent.’ Likewise, controlling
ideas work just as well to convey displeasure or disagreement.
Controlling ideas (sometimes called “key words”) are words or phrases that give the main
idea of a paragraph. The sentences that follow the topic sentence will then:
Explain, Define, Clarify, and Illustrate.
That is, the sentence will support and/or prove the controlling ideas in the topic sentence.
After the topic sentence appears, the readers expect that the sentences that follow will
answer questions about the controlling ideas such as:
How much?
In what ways?
What does that mean?
In the sentences below, the controlling ideas are in a different color, and the questions a
reader could ask follow that topic sentence:
1. It is very difficult to be alone in a foreign country.
Questions: Why? In what ways? How do you know?
2. There are several funny superstitions in my country about death.
Questions: What are they? Why are they funny? Where? When they are used?
3.The most serious problem in higher education in Venezuela is the growing number of
students who fail courses several times.
Questions: Why is the problem so serious? How many students fail? What exactly makes
this situation a problem?
4. Most people have the wrong idea about the definition of statistics.
Questions: What is the wrong idea? What is the right definition?
From the topic sentences below, copy the controlling ideas. Then write specific questions
that the paragraph following each topic sentence might answer.
. There are differences in shape, color, and taste between the two most popular varieties of
dates in Saudi Arabia.
. One of the most recent technical advances in the use of water is the development of
hydroelectric power.
. The creativity of the preschool child can be developed with special activities.
. Violence in the sport of hockey is destroying the quality of the game.