Week 5: Main Ideas

This week will start with Main Ideas, which are the “so what?” of a text. It is easy to get lost in the details of a piece of writing and miss the big picture. The Main Ideas lesson offers strategies for figuring out the most important points, as well as important supporting points, in a reading. Next, you will use these skills as you begin work on the midterm.

Assignment One – Read Main Ideas and then complete the exercises that follow:


Have you ever read to the end of a passage and thought: “What was that about?” Sometimes a passage can seem like a string of facts or ideas. Recognizing the main idea of a passage is a vital reading skill. No matter what you’re reading, whether it is a news story, novel, or a chapter in a chemistry textbook, you need to understand what the author is trying to tell you. So how do you find the main idea? Start with the topic.

TOPIC  The topic of a piece of writing is like the title of a newspaper article, a song, or a book. Usually it is a word or phrase, like Healthy Habits or Money. It gives you a glimpse of the subject, but not the details. For instance, what topic do you think would cover the following?




Performance cars

TOPIC           Kinds of vehicles

Once you discover the topic, look for the main idea.


The main idea of a piece of writing is the point that the author wants to make about the topic. Often it is written as a statement at the beginning of a paragraph or essay, but sometimes it is at the end, or in even in the middle. It could also be called the thesis or the central point.

For instance, the main idea for the topic above could be: There are so many types of vehicles on the road today, that you should consider a number of things before buying.


To support the main idea, a writer needs facts, ideas, and information. Some supporting points will be major, or broader; others will be minor, or more specific.


Major points are general, or broad.

For instance, a major point for the above statement could be:

First, consider your budget.


Minor points are more specific, such as important details.

For instance, a minor, or supporting point for First consider your budget could be:

New pickups cost between $20,000 and $60,000.

While new SUVs can cost $75,000, and luxury RVs can cost over a million dollars.


Using the topic of Good Food, write a main idea statement, and then list one or two major points to support your idea, with one or two minor points/details to support it. Remember that a main idea statement is like a thesis statement, it must give you something to prove. Do not to write a simple statement of fact, like “Good food tastes good,” which is too vague to support.

Ex. 5.1 – Type your answers into a Word document and submit using the link.

Topic: Good Food

Main Idea:__________________________________________


Major Points ______________________________________________________

Minor Points ______________________________________________________

The relationships among the topic, main idea, and supporting points can be seen as a pyramid, with the general topic at the top, and the main idea with support below: Read through the main idea examples below with their possible supporting points:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking over the world.
  • Supporting point: If you have used SIRI or Google Assistant, your world has already been “invaded.”
  • G.M.O. Genetically Modified Organisms) food has been around for centuries.
  • Supporting point: Ninety percent of scientists, as well as the American Medical Association, believe that G.M.O.s are completely safe.


Ex. 5.2 – Type your answers into a Word document and submit using the link.

  • There is more than one way to pay for college.
  • Supporting point(s):______________________________________________
  • A career in cybersecurity can be interesting and lucrative.
  • Supporting point(s):______________________________________________


Sometimes main ideas are not stated directly, but are implied (shown indirectly) throughout the passage. With implied main ideas, you won’t find a main idea statement in the paragraph or essay. Instead, you must read through the whole piece, and then guess (use the major and minor points and details to figure out) what the main idea is.

To infer (understand an implied idea), identify the topic, look for the major points and minor details, and then write a statement that describes the main idea.

For instance, read the passage below and then look at the topic and possible main idea:

Advances in technology are bringing rapid changes in the ways we produce and deliver goods and services. The Internet and other improvements in communication (such as smartphones, video conferencing, and social networking) now affect the way we do business. Companies are expanding international operations, and the workforce is more diverse than ever. Corporations are being held responsible for the behavior of their executives, and more people share the opinion that companies should be good corporate citizens. Plus—and this is a big plus—businesses today are facing the lingering effects of what many economists believe is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Topic: The changing world of business

Implied Main Idea: With today’s rapid changes, it is a challenging and interesting time for businesses.

(CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY An Introduction to Business. Authored by: Anonymous. Provided by: Anonymous. Located athttp://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/an-introduction-to-business-v1.0/s05-02-getting-down-to-business.htmlLicenseCC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercialShareAlike)


Ex. 5.3 Read the passage below and then write a possible topic and main idea for it.

From the beginning of human civilization, consumers have bought products from farmers and merchants and all three have needed to borrow. In fact, the very first decipherable cuneiform clay tablets found in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq, primarily recorded production and business activity, and much of it consisted of credit transactions. Ordinary people often required credit to purchase food and shelter; farmers needed credit to buy seeds, tools and both slave and hired labor; and merchants craved capital to outfit their trading expeditions with pack animals, ships, crew, trade goods, and currency.

Topic: (In one or a few words what is this about?)


Main Idea: (Look at the major points, what is the author saying about the topic?)




When you know how to find the main idea and major points in a piece of writing, you can use that knowledge to write a summary. Writing a summary is one of the best ways to study. If you can put something into your own words, then you understand it – and you are well on your way to remembering it. Writing short summaries is basic to annotating a textbook, as you have seen in the annotation section.

How to summarize:

  • Read through the passage once to get the general meaning.
  • Go back and read it again, circling important words or phrases. (Look up any that you don’t know.)
  • Decide which points are major, and which are minor details.
  • When you have a good idea of what the important points are, compose a main idea statement. That is the first sentence of your summary.
  • Next, write sentences that explain the major supporting points in the order that they appear.
  • Try not to copy words or phrases from the original. Try to use your own words. (This is the secret to understanding what you’ve read. If you can’t put it in your own words, you don’t understand it. Look up every word that seems important or confusing.) If you have to use a term from the original, put it in quotation marks, like this: “Whangamata.”
  • Be sure to use transitions between your sentences. You can use transition words and phrases like: in addition to, furthermore, moreover, besides, also, another, equally important, first, second, further, last, finally, and so forth.
  • Do not include minor details.
  • Do not include your opinion – at all. Your summary should simply reflect what the original passage says.


Read the passage below using active reading and annotation. Next, type a summary including all of the major points, but omitting the minor details.

Ex. 5.4 Summary

In Greek mythology, Psyche was a mortal woman whose beauty was so great that it rivaled that of the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite became so jealous of Psyche that she sent her son, Eros, to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man in the world. However, Eros accidentally pricked himself with the tip of his arrow and fell madly in love with Psyche himself. He took Psyche to his palace and showered her with gifts, yet she could never see his face. While visiting Psyche, her sisters roused suspicion in Psyche about her mysterious lover, and eventually, Psyche betrayed Eros’ wishes to remain unseen to her. Because of this betrayal, Eros abandoned Psyche. When Psyche appealed to Aphrodite to reunite her with Eros, Aphrodite gave her a series of impossible tasks to complete. Psyche managed to complete all of these trials; ultimately, her perseverance paid off as she was reunited with Eros and was ultimately transformed into a goddess herself (Ashliman, 2001; Greek Myths & Greek Mythology, 2014).


Antonio Canova’s sculpture depicts Eros and Psyche.

Psyche comes to represent the human soul’s triumph over the misfortunes of life in the pursuit of true happiness (Bulfinch, 1855); in fact, the Greek word psyche means soul, and it is often represented as a butterfly. The word psychology was coined at a time when the concepts of soul and mind were not as clearly distinguished (Green, 2001). The root ology denotes scientific study of, and psychology refers to the scientific study of the mind. Since science studies only observable phenomena and the mind is not directly observable, we expand this definition to the scientific study of mind and behavior.

The scientific study of any aspect of the world uses the scientific method to acquire knowledge. To apply the scientific method, a researcher with a question about how or why something happens will propose a tentative explanation, called a hypothesis, to explain the phenomenon. A hypothesis is not just any explanation; it should fit into the context of a scientific theory. A scientific theory is a broad explanation or group of explanations for some aspect of the natural world that is consistently supported by evidence over time. A theory is the best understanding that we have of that part of the natural world. Armed with the hypothesis, the researcher then makes observations or, better still, carries out an experiment to test the validity of the hypothesis. That test and its results are then published so that others can check the results or build on them. It is necessary that any explanation in science be testable, which means that the phenomenon must be perceivable and measurable. For example, that a bird sings because it is happy is not a testable hypothesis, since we have no way to measure the happiness of a bird. We must ask a different question, perhaps about the brain state of the bird, since this can be measured. In general, science deals only with matter and energy, that is, those things that can be measured, and it cannot arrive at knowledge about values and morality. This is one reason why our scientific understanding of the mind is so limited, since thoughts, at least as we experience them, are neither matter nor energy. The scientific method is also a form of empiricism. An empirical method for acquiring knowledge is one based on observation, including experimentation, rather than a method based only on forms of logical argument or previous authorities.


Psychology, Chapter 1.2. Authored by: OpenStax College. Located athttp://cnx.org/contents/4abf04bf-93a0-45c3-9cbc-2cefd46e68cc@4.100:1/PsychologyLicenseCC BY: AttributionLicense Terms: Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11629/latest/.

Latin Roots

Latin Roots Quiz 4

Latin English Words
geo earth geology, geography, geometry
gram write grammar, telegram, gram
graph write graphic, telegraph, graph
hetero other heterogeneous, heterosexual
homo same homogeneous, homocide
ject throw interject, reject, project
logo word, study biology, logo, logic


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Developing Reading Skills by Grace Richardson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book