Steps in Reading to Find the Main Idea

The main idea in a piece of writing is the point the author is making about a topic. Use the following steps to find the main idea.

Preview

Look for meaning clues in introductions, titles, chapter headings, subheadings, bold words, boxed information, pictures, charts, and graphs. This will help you discover the topic being discussed (what the writing is about), the author's "slant" or perspective on the topic how the material is organized, and what's more and less important. During previewing you may also form questions about the topic. Having questions in mind as you read will help you establish a purpose for reading, and you will be more involved as you read, which will help you absorb new information.

Read

Read the entire text, looking for the general idea or ideas being presented. Re-read to find and highlight key words and concepts.

Focus

Focus on individual paragraphs within the text, starting at the beginning. Generally, each paragraph in a piece of writing about a topic is a group of sentences dealing with one idea related to that topic. The following steps will help you find the main idea in a paragraph, the particular point the author is trying to make about the topic.

Look for transition words

Words and phrases such as "thus," "first," "next," "however," and "in addition," often indicate shifts in thought and signal the presence of examples and supporting details.

Identify the most general statement

Sometimes the main idea of a paragraph is directly stated in a sentence, called the topic sentence of the paragraph. Although it is often found at the beginning or end, the topic sentence can be found anywhere in the paragraph. It is typically the most general sentence, and the remaining sentences provide specific evidence and discussion to "back up" the main idea expressed in the topic sentence.

Look for supporting evidence and discussion

Sometimes the main idea is not directly stated in one sentence but is implied or suggested by all of the sentences in the paragraph. In this case, the reader must provide the main idea by considering all of the support--the examples, details, facts, etc.--and discussion about the topic provided by the writer. The main idea will be a general statement which incorporates the information presented by all of the sentences in the paragraph.


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