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Main Idea and Supporting Detail

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English

When writing a single-paragraph essay, it’s important to know what your point is and how you’re going to prove it, because unlike a traditional-length essay, you won’t have the space of several paragraphs to flesh it out. The main idea and support for the main idea should be carefully crafted in a single-paragraph essay so you can say what you need to say in the most direct and concise way.

Main idea and supporting detail: What do they mean?

In a single-paragraph essay, the main idea is the writer’s position or principal concept, and the supporting details are the means by which they develop and prove that idea. This might sound similar to a thesis statement. That’s because a thesis statement should include the main idea and supporting details for an essay.

Remember, a thesis statement is a single declarative sentence that includes the main idea, or position on a topic, and mentions the way(s) you intend to prove or support that idea. A thesis acts as a blueprint for the body of your essay. It lays out the expectation for the audience of what your point is and how you intend to prove it.

If you’re writing a single-paragraph essay, you might be wondering whether you need to include a thesis statement. The short answer is, yes you do! In this case, because your essay will only be the length of a paragraph, the thesis statement will function the exact same way as a topic sentence for a regular paragraph.

A topic sentence functions much the same as a thesis statement. It is a single sentence, usually the first sentence of a paragraph, that introduces the main argument or idea for that paragraph. It’s a helpful technique so your audience knows the principal point of each paragraph because it is expressly stated.

It’s also useful as a way to organize your argument. Each piece of support for your main idea can serve as the topic sentence for an entire paragraph that develops that supporting detail in relation to the main idea. Or, in the case of a single-paragraph essay, the topic sentence is the thesis for the entire essay.

A single-paragraph essay should be concise and to the point. There is no room for filler language or information that is not absolutely necessary. Because of the length of a single-paragraph essay, it is important to state your main point at the very beginning.

In a single-paragraph essay you don’t need to spend much time providing background information on the topic. Your main objective is to express your main idea and support it with concrete details. You can assume your audience already has a working knowledge of the subject.

How to organize the main idea and supporting details

SupportforMainIdeaOrganizeSupportforMainIdeaStudySmarterHow to organize support for main idea, Unsplash.

There is a basic structure for a single-paragraph essay that is similar to that of the basic multi-paragraph essay. It includes the topic sentence (or thesis statement), at least two pieces of supporting information, concrete evidence for and commentary on the supporting information, and a conclusion. See the layout below.

  • Topic sentence (thesis statement)

  • Body support 1

    • Example

    • Concrete details

    • Commentary

  • Body support 2

    • Example

    • Concrete details

    • Commentary

  • Conclusion

    • Closing statement

    • Summary

In a single-paragraph essay, the thesis statement will come first and usher in the main idea. It isn’t always possible to fit the main idea and a reference to the supporting details into a single sentence, but it is a good goal.

In Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) Jules Verne explores the themes of calmness and persistence with his character Phileas Fogg; Mr. Fogg remains calm in the face of extreme circumstances as he travels the world, and remains persistent to his goal despite many setbacks.

This example demonstrates how to include support for the main idea within a single sentence (i.e. thesis statement). In a single-paragraph essay, the segment following the thesis statement is considered the body of the essay. This is where you provide support for the main idea.

What can be the support for the main idea?

For a single-paragraph essay, support for the main idea must be specific and brief; you won’t have the space of several paragraphs to expound on the details. Because of this, it’s especially important for your support to be effective.

Below are some of the most constructive pieces of information to include to support your main idea.

Facts and data

Sometimes the best support of the main idea is simply stating relevant facts. If, for example, you’re discussing why bats are a positive addition to your outdoor living space, you might include that they like to eat mosquitoes. Remember, you’ll need to choose only the most relevant information to make your point in the fewest possible sentences.

Quotations

Quotes are an effective way to prove a point in a very concise way. This is true whether you’re quoting a text you’re discussing, or quoting an expert or authoritative source on the subject.

An authoritative source is one that can be trusted because it is widely recognized in the field as authentic and/or expert.

Quotes taken from the text under discussion are effective because this is the primary source. Quoting the source directly is the best way to prove your point about a text.

Statistical evidence

Statistical evidence is numerical data organized to show a trend or some information about a particular subject. This is great evidence because it usually represents large numbers of participants or objects; the larger the group, the more reliable the information. Some statistics you could use in a one paragraph essay are percentages or statistics.

The best places to get statistical data are from government organizations and other trusted sources in the field.

Examples of relevant details

Examples are the best way to support your main idea. You can use examples from the text you’re referencing, real life experiences, or anything else that will expand the main idea.

How to identify the main idea and supporting details

SupportForMainIdeaPillarsOfSupportStudySmarterNeoclassical pillars represent support for main idea, Unsplash.

Identifying the main idea and its supporting details improves your reading and understanding of a text and its topic. Once you’ve identified these elements, you can follow the author’s logic through their use of examples or other support.

One way to quickly recognize the main idea is to use these tips:

  • Scan the title of the text

  • Look for significance in the pictures included

  • Note words and phrases that are repeated often

  • Summarize the text in your own words (in a sentence, if possible)

  • Ask yourself - what is this text mostly about?

What is the relationship between the main idea and supporting details?

The supporting details are not the main idea, but are the pillars that hold up the main idea. These details are kind of like an extension of the main idea, and so can be confused with it sometimes.

Supporting details are meant to offer evidence of the accuracy or truth of the main idea. They offer more specific information about the topic.

The main idea in an article about global warming is, “Global warming is the long-term warming of Earth’s overall temperature and is the most pressing issue facing humanity today.” That is the concept that will be discussed in the body of the article. The following sentence is an example of a supporting detail for that main idea, “Fossil fuels are burned, which produce gasses that trap heat on the earth’s surface.”

The sentence about fossil fuels should not be confused with the main idea of the article. It is a single point that the author is using to explain the concept of global warming and its danger to humanity. It supports the idea that global warming is a danger to the planet, and humanity.

More examples of the main idea and supporting details

Below are a few examples of a main idea and its supporting details. Think about how these interact with one another as you read them.

Example 1

Main idea: People suffering from neuroticism experience anger, anxiety, self-consciousness, irritability and depression, but their complaints of further physical ailments have largely been discounted by physicians until recently.

Supporting detail a: Research now shows that neuroticism is linked to five physical ailments: arthritis, ulcers, asthma, heart disease, and headaches.

Supporting detail b: Similarly, there is evidence that people who display pessimistic behavior in their teens or twenties or more likely to become seriously ill or die in their forties.

Example 2

Main idea: Mental illness has been explained in many different ways over the course of the last several hundred years.

Supporting detail a: In ancient times, irrational behavior was thought to be the result of demons or evil spirits.

Supporting detail b: The Greeks believed irrational behavior was an imbalance of body fluids, called “humors,” or some organs being misplaced in the body.

Supporting detail c: After a resurgence in the belief of demons thanks to the highly superstitious Middle Ages, the last one hundred years have finally seen a true medical acceptance and explanation of mental illness.

Can you think of any more supporting details for the two examples above? Use these, or come up with some ideas of your own for more practice.

Support for Main Idea - Key takeaways

  • In a single-paragraph essay, the main idea is the writer’s position or principal concept they would like to express, and the supporting details are the means by which they develop and prove that idea.
  • Single-paragraph essays demand a concise and to-the-point main idea and supporting details.
  • The thesis statement contains the main idea, and should also refer to the support for the main idea.
  • Support for the main idea are like pillars that hold up the main idea when it is scrutinized.
  • Support for the main idea can be statistical data, quotes, facts and data, and examples of relevant information.

Main Idea and Supporting Detail

The difference between the main idea and supporting details is that supporting details are an extension of the main idea; they are meant to offer evidence of the accuracy or truth of the main idea.

You can find the main idea and supporting details in a text using the following tips:

  • Scan the title of the text

  • Look for significance in the pictures included

  • Note words and phrases that are repeated often

  • Summarize the text in your own words (in a sentence, if possible)

  • Ask yourself - what is this text mostly about?

A supporting detail is the means by which a writer develops and/or proves their main idea.

A main idea is the principal concept an author wishes to express. An example would be, "The advancement of technology has removed us entirely from the use of physical money, and so has made it obsolete."

An example of supporting details would be any facts, quotes, statistical evidence, or examples of details relevant to the main idea.

Final Main Idea and Supporting Detail Quiz

Question

Why is it important to carefully craft the main idea and supporting details of a single-paragraph essay?

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Answer

Because you must be concise; unlike a traditional-length essay, you won’t have the space of several paragraphs to flesh these things out.

Show question

Question

What is the main idea of a text?

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Answer

The main idea is the writer’s position or principal concept they would like to express

Show question

Question

What does "support for the main idea" mean?

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Answer

Supporting details are the means by which the author develops and proves the main idea.

Show question

Question

True or false: a single-paragraph essay doesn't need a thesis statement?

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

The thesis statement of a single-paragraph essay will function the exact same way as a ____________ for a regular paragraph.


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Answer

Topic sentence

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Question

 Because of the length of a single-paragraph essay, it is important to state your main point _____________  


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Answer

At the beginning of the paragraph

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Question

Which of the following is not something recommended to support the main idea?

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Answer

Your opinion

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Question

The following is an example of which type of support?
The supreme court was founded on March 4, 1789.

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Answer

Facts

Show question

Question

The following is an example of which type of support?

According to The American Institute of Stress: About 33 percent of people report feeling extreme stress.

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Answer

Statistical evidence

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Question

What two sources of quotes are effective as support for the main idea?

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Answer

Quotes from the primary source (text under discussion) and from authoritative sources on the topic.

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Question

What is an authoritative source?

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Answer

An authoritative source is one that can be trusted because it is widely recognized in the field as authentic and/or expert.

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Question

Once you’ve identified the main idea and supporting details you can follow the author’s _______ through their use of examples or other support. 


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Answer

Logic

Show question

Question

Which tip for locating the main idea is missing from the following list?

  • Scan the title of the text

  • Look for significance in the pictures included

  • Note words and phrases that are repeated often

  • Ask yourself - what is this text mostly about?

Show answer

Answer

  • Summarize the text in your own words (in a sentence, if possible)

Show question

Question

Supporting details are meant to offer __________ of the accuracy or truth of the main idea.


Show answer

Answer

evidence

Show question

Question

_________ offer(s) more specific information about the main idea.

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Answer

Supporting details

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Question

A statistic is a number derived from _____.

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Answer

A large set of data

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Question

_____ is justification for an argument.

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Answer

Evidence

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Question

_____ is a number derived from a large set of data that is used as justification for an argument.

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Answer

Statistical evidence

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Question

Can statistical evidence support a thesis?

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Answer

Yes. In fact, it's a primary use for statistical evidence.

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Question

Can a single piece of evidence prove a thesis?

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Answer

No. A thesis requires a synthesis of evidence, or else it is just restating the evidence.

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Question

When someone hears a statistic, it can feel final. What's the potential problem with this?

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Answer

Statistics are not all accurate.

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Question

Statistics can be inaccurate because they are derived from _____.

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Answer

Observation

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Question

Incorrectly gathered statistical evidence can be the result of _____ and _____.

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Answer

Scientific error, bias

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What is scientific error?

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Answer

Scientific error is a scientific observation not accurately reflecting the nature of the subject.

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What is bias?

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Answer

Bias is when you apply an assumption to something before any study of it.

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Incorrectly applied statistical evidence is the result of _____ or _____.


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Answer

Manipulation, ignorance

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Question

You can’t be expected to get to the bottom of everything you read, because that’s impossible. This is why it's important to what?


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Answer

Cite reliable sources

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Question

What are examples of sources you should not trust outright?

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Answer

Talk shows, social media, and partisan platforms.

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Question

"You should refrain from trying to understand the full context of your evidence, so as to save time but more importantly energy."

True or false?

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Answer

False. Always understand the context of your statistical evidence.

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Question

How should you link statistical evidence to your thesis?

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Answer

With logic. Follow a line of reasoning.

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