Main Idea Tips

Main Idea Tips
The main idea of a passage or reading is the central thought of the passage, the
“umbrella” statement, or the author’s attitude towards a subject. In contrast to the
term topic, which refers to the subject under discussion, the term main idea refers to
the point being made or the thought being expressed about the subject.
Reading Suggestions
1. As soon as you can define the topic or subject, ask yourself, “What general point
does the author want to make about the subject?” or “What is the author’s attitude
towards the subject?” Once you can answer these questions, you have more than
likely found the main idea.
2. Most main ideas are stated or suggested early on in a reading. Therefore, pay
special attention to the first third of any passage, article, or chapter. That’s the place
where you are most likely to get the best statement or clearest expression of the
main idea.
3. Pay attention to any idea that is repeated in different ways. If an author returns to
the same thought in several different sentences or paragraphs, that idea is the main
or central thought under discussion. One way to identify this pattern is to look for
repeated key words or phrases.
4. Once you feel certain that you have found the main idea, test it. Ask yourself if the
examples, reasons, statistics, studies, and/or facts included in the reading lend
themselves as evidence or explanation in support of the main idea you have in mind.
If they do, your comprehension is right on target. If they don’t, you might want to
revise your first notion about the author’s main idea.
5. The main idea of a passage can be expressed any number of ways. You and the
person sitting next to you in class might come up with the same idea for a reading,
but the language in which that idea is expressed would probably be different. When,
however, you are asked to find the topic sentence or the main idea sentence, then you
are being asked to find the statement that expresses the main idea in the author’s
Cautions Concerning Main Ideas in Paragraphs:
Main idea sentences may not actually appear anywhere in a paragraph.
Main ideas can be stated in more than once sentence.
A main idea may be found anywhere in a paragraph.
Pieces of the main idea may be located across more than one sentence.