Many think writing is using fancy words and about having a good grasp of grammar.
However, a writer’s goal is to convey the main idea easily to help readers understand the text’s fundamental concept.
You’ve come to the right place if you’ve ever asked, “What is the main idea of a text?”
I wrote this article to discuss the main idea of a text, why a text needs it, and how to find it.
Table of Contents
What Is the Main Idea of a Text?
The primary idea of a text, the central idea, or the author’s main point is the core thought or message about a certain topic.
Writers can either directly express their main idea (explicit) or imply it (implicit or implied).
Teachers taught us to analyze and discuss written content to determine the texts’ central ideas.
This skill becomes even more essential as we age because it helps us become better readers, writers, and communicators.
Why the Text Needs a Central Idea
One of the most critical writing tasks is ensuring readers can understand the text’s central ideas.
After all, well-written content should have a purpose.
The author’s purpose and the central idea are closely related.
When considering why someone wrote a text, readers can use the main idea to determine the text’s purpose.
Another reason writers establish the central idea is that it helps the readers figure out the key concept in the text.
An established central idea can be the writers’ starting point to help readers explore the content in various ways and from different perspectives.
How To Find the Main Idea of a Text
If you don’t know how to find the main idea of a text, or thesis statement, examine how authors write nonfiction books and short stories.
Focus on the structure of a text and how writers construct their paragraphs.
Nonfiction content often starts with an introduction to the topic, which includes three or more critical facts.
You’ll notice that the beginning sentences in the introduction contain supporting details revealing the central idea.
The authors follow these sentences with additional details and explanations about each fact.
Writers use a paragraph or even an entire section for each fact to help readers understand what to expect.
Finally, the text ends with a concluding paragraph or closing statement summarizing the main idea or giving clues to the central theme.
Where Can You Find the Main Idea?
Consistency is crucial to help the readers identify the main idea of your text.
Writers often use the following elements to express their main ideas.
Excellent authors choose titles hinting at the central idea. Many use compelling and evocative words, while others resort to visual metaphors.
In books and other works, the subtitle is a phrase after the title that provides more context and explanation.
Headings are short phrases indicating what readers can expect from the next section of a book, essay, report, or thesis.
Authors also use headings to organize the presentation of their argument, guiding you through the paper and giving readers a preview of what the paper covers.
Authors use repeated words to reveal the text’s main idea.
Repetition is a powerful literary device because it allows writers to emphasize significant text elements.
Repeated phrases and words also give readers hints about the central idea.
Bold and Italicized Words
One way to grab the readers’ attention in a sea of text is to italicize or embolden specific words.
These effects allow authors to make certain words and phrases stand out from the surrounding text.
For example, dictionaries often use bold font and italicized words so readers can quickly see the keywords and the text’s central idea.
The first sentence (or topic sentence) introduces a paragraph by presenting a single topic as the main idea. It should also set the tone and invite readers into a story or argument, making them eager to continue reading.
Here’s an example.
First sentence: Dancing requires a number of skills.
The topic is “dancing” and the main idea is that it requires “a number of skills.”
The paragraph body supports, illustrates, and explains the central idea in the topic sentence. It helps readers find the main idea.
Concluding Sentences or Ending Statements
The concluding sentence is the last sentence in a paragraph that sums up the central idea (or main idea).
If the paragraph is part of an essay, authors use the last sentence to transition smoothly to the next paragraph.
What If the Main Idea Is Implicit?
Some authors show the main idea in a not-so-obvious manner to stoke their readers’ interest and emotions, encouraging them to keep reading.
If the central idea of a text is shown implicitly, you can find it by identifying crucial details in the paragraph or section.
Look at the example below.
“Before using uncooked eggs, you may want to heat-treat or pasteurize your eggs to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Doing so allows you to use raw egg whites in recipes like royal icing and buttercream without worrying about getting sick.”
None of these sentences explicitly reveal the central idea but notice that every single one talks about the importance of pasteurizing uncooked eggs. That is the main idea of the paragraph.
Writers use paragraphs to construct the main idea of an article.
Occasionally, one sentence, often the first sentence in the paragraph, reveals the central idea early on.
Sometimes, the main idea of an article is implicit, meaning most of the paragraphs focus on a particular theme or topic.
Where To Find the Implied Main Idea
Newspaper articles, nonfiction texts, and informational content often state the main idea, especially at the beginning of paragraphs.
Authors also typically insert the main idea in the concluding sentences of a paragraph, summarizing essential information and linking it to the next section.
When authors don’t clearly state the central idea, you must find the main idea through words in the paragraph.
Here are some ways to find the implied main idea.
- Look at hints, facts, examples, reasons, and suggestions that can reveal the main idea.
- Carefully read the supporting sentences in a paragraph introducing facts about the topic before revealing it.
Read the passage below to see if you can find the main idea.
“Music isn’t necessary to human survival, and yet studies have shown that it offers benefits to the human body and brain. It also serves no biological purpose, but we still love listening to pleasurable music since time immemorial.”
Ask the following questions to determine the main idea of the paragraph.
- Who – Does this paragraph talk about a specific person or group?
- When – Does the passage include a reference to time?
- Where – Does the section name a place?
- How – Does the information mention a theory or method?
- Why – Does the passage indicate a reason or explanation for something that occurred?
- What – What is the author’s point in this paragraph?
Why It’s Important To Know the Main Ideas
Knowing and understanding the main idea is essential when writing a text summary, especially when summarizing nonfiction content.
Aside from the main idea, the summary should include supporting details.
Here’s an example:
“The article talks about how conservation programs have saved sea otters from extinction after several countries signed a treaty to ban hunting, and different groups and sectors worked together to protect these creatures.”
How To Determine if You Picked the Correct Main Idea
Generally, you’ve selected the correct main idea of a paragraph if you can summarize the information.
Try the following steps if you don’t know where to start.
- Summarize what you’ve read using your own words.
- Write a summary reflecting the general topic.
- Ensure your summary has the same ideas as the author.
- Write a headline or subheading using five words or fewer to express your summary.
Main Idea vs. Theme vs. Main Argument
While the main idea of a text is generally associated with informational articles, nonfiction texts, and thesis statements, it’s a bit different for fictional work.
You must look for a theme when reading fictional work.
For an argumentative text, the key is to find the main argument.
The process for finding the central idea, theme, or main argument is almost the same.
You must look at the supporting details in an article’s paragraph (or most of them).
Like the main idea, the theme and the main argument are either explicit or implicit, depending on the writer’s style.
You’ll often need to read between the lines to figure out the theme when reading fictional texts.
No short story or novel downright states with one sentence, “the main concept is how to pursue one’s dream.”
For example, a nonfiction protagonist faces various adversities, heartbreaks, and failures to fulfill their dreams.
The protagonist’s challenges (and how he overcomes them) help you determine that resiliency is the story’s main idea.
When reading informational texts, expect to see questions about the main idea or central concept.
These questions ask readers to look for supporting details in the paragraph or section of a text.
Once you know what to look for, establishing the text’s central idea becomes more effortless.
The Bottom Line
I hope my guide helped you learn how to find the main idea, whether it’s explicit or implied.
You already know the basics if you’ve reached this section of my article. Hone this skill by reading and writing more.
If you’re a beginner writer, it would also help to learn the correct way to start writing.