Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Main Idea

Main Idea

Take the main idea and theme of Aesop's fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" (4th century BCE). In the fable, a turtle challenges a boastful rabbit to a race. The rabbit speeds ahead and pridefully waits for the turtle near the finish line. He takes a nap and thinks he will wake up in time to beat the turtle. However, the sleeping rabbit does not see the turtle cross the finish line and loses the race.

Did you know? There are hundreds of fables attributed to Aesop.

The theme would be that pride can prevent one's success. The main idea is the same because it's the story's whole point as well.

That said, a story's main idea and themes might not collide so perfectly. Take The Lord of the Rings (1954). If you were to capture the epic fantasy's main idea in a single sentence, you might say something like this:

The Lord of the Rings is an adventurous battle of good versus evil, involving a young, kind hobbit's quest to destroy the evil villain's magic ring.

The Lord of the Rings is primarily a fantasy-adventure series, so its main idea regards the characters' actions and the thrust of the main story, as indicated here.

In many fiction novels, the main idea is the same as the main story. In other words, the main idea lies in the story's action.

On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings' s themes are less surface-level than the main idea:

A theme in Lord of the Rings is death in the face of violent warfare and how people brave it and come to expect it.

This theme is not plot or action-oriented. It is oriented in the human heart. This is the case with all themes in stories.

A story usually has many themes, whereas you would argue that it only has one main idea.

Analyzing Main Ideas

On a timed test, you will no doubt analyze a main idea or two, whether in articles, essays, or fiction. First, you need to scope out the main idea's location. Second, you need to identify it and explain it, which might be harder to do than you think!

Location of Main Ideas

Where could they be hiding? In introductions, body paragraphs, and fiction, main ideas are in various locations.

Location of the Main Idea in the Introductory Paragraph

As you recall, the main idea of an introduction is its thesis statement. A thesis statement is after the hook of an essay.

A hook invites the reader into an essay using statistics, anecdotes, quotes, or other entertaining but informative descriptions.

The thesis statement often appears at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Location of the Main Idea in the Body Paragraph

Usually, you will find a topic sentence at the start of an essay's body paragraph. It might look like this:

Regarding the district's need to cut costs while maintaining a high level of academic success, teacher salaries should not be cut.

This topic sentence is an argument, and evidence would follow it.

Location of the Main Idea in Fiction

An author is rarely going to enumerate their story's main idea. A story's main idea and themes will often be for the author to know and the reader to find out!

However, if you are lucky enough to find a summary for a story on the jacket, this is a good place to start for finding the story's main idea. Otherwise, it will be up to you to find the main idea: by reading the story in its entirety and describing it in your own words.

This is why it's important to know how to search for inexplicit main ideas.

Implied or Unclear Main Ideas

As discussed, the main idea in fiction will be implied and not explicit. This is normal.

However, sometimes you will read an essay or article where the main idea, whether in the introduction or a body paragraph, is not obvious. You can call this an implied main idea. However, the main idea might also simply be unclear.

Say, on a timed test, you are asked to analyze the "main idea of this essay's opening paragraph." Imagine that paragraph reads like this.

People just don't live the way they used to live. When you wake up every morning, you think, "I've got all this stuff I need to do today that affects people halfway across the world." You've got a job that connects you to a cold corporate headquarters you've been to once. Technology has progressed so rapidly that your head is spinning with all things you could, can't, or maybe could have done. There is no simplicity today. We live in a cyber web of our design, and there seems to be no way out. It wasn't always this way.

So what's the main idea here? Unfortunately, that's your job to put into words, since the writer didn't!

Here's what to do. Narrow the point of what you just read down to a single sentence, focusing on any overarching argument or call for change. Here's how that might look.

Modern society has sped people up unnaturally, beyond the healthy speed we operated at in the past.

There you go. Main idea: done!

It takes a bit of active reading and some close reading to do this, but it's the only way you can suss out the main idea if the piece of writing doesn't do it for you.

In the case of fiction, narrow the point of what you just read down to a single sentence, focusing on the story's action, the growth of the main character, and any themes you identified.

Main Idea - Key Takeaways

  • Main ideas are the central idea the author wants the reader to take away about a topic. A topic is a broad subject discussed in a text or speech.
  • The topic of the text is the broad subject discussed. The main idea is the central idea of the text.
  • In fiction, the main idea addresses and summarizes the text's main action and characters. A theme is the text's universal lesson.
  • Writers often state their main ideas in thesis statements and topic sentences. The thesis statement contains the main ideas of an entire paper, while topic sentences state the main ideas of a body paragraph.
  • Writers may imply their main ideas, in which case it's your job to synthesize the main idea.

Frequently Asked Questions about Main Idea

The main idea is a central idea the author wants to communicate to readers. You can identify a text's main idea by answering this question: "What does the author want me to know about the topic?"

Your main idea is the central idea of a text or a portion of it. Let's say you are writing an essay analyzing the causes of the Civil War. The main idea of this essay would be this thesis statement: "The main causes of the Civil War include the effects of the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the failure of congressional compromises on the question of slavery in newly admitted states, and the rise of anti-slavery political parties."

The characteristics of the main idea are that it can be directly stated or implied. If directly stated, it can refer to a thesis statement, which is the main idea of an entire essay, or topic sentences of paragraphs. If implied, you will need to infer the main idea based on supporting details. 

You can identify a main idea in a text when, if directly stated, you find it in the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. If the main idea is implied or unclear, read the entire passage and narrow the point of what you just read down to a single sentence, focusing on any overarching argument or call for change.

When writing, you can begin with the main idea by knowing your thesis. Your thesis statement will contain the main ideas of your entire essay. You can also begin paragraphs with the topic sentence, which identifies the main idea of your paragraph. 

Final Main Idea Quiz

Question

What is a main idea?

Show answer

Answer

The main idea is a central idea the author wants to communicate to readers.

Show question

Question

What is a topic? 

Show answer

Answer

A topic is the broad subject discussed in a speech or written about in a text.

Show question

Question

What are supporting details?

Show answer

Answer

Supporting details are reasons, evidence, and facts that explain and support your main ideas. 

Show question

Question

What is a theme? 


Show answer

Answer

A theme is the the universal lesson or moral of a text.

Show question

Question

What is a thesis statement? 

Show answer

Answer

A thesis statement is the sentence at the beginning and end of an essay that contains the essay's main ideas.

Show question

Question

What is a topic sentence? 

Show answer

Answer

A topic sentence is a sentence at the beginning of a paragraph, which states the paragraph's main idea.


Show question

Question

Select whether the following statement refers to the main idea or topic of an essay: The ethics of human cloning.

Show answer

Answer

Topic

Show question

Question

Select whether the following statement refers to the main idea or topic of an essay: "Human cloning is not ethical because it would lessen genetic diversity."

Show answer

Answer

Main idea

Show question

Question

What is a theme in fiction?

Show answer

Answer

A theme in fiction refers to its humanistic undertones, such as a philosophy or a human condition.

Show question

Question

What is a main idea in fiction?

Show answer

Answer

The main idea in fiction refers to the point of a story.

Show question

Question

Where is the thesis statement located in the essay? 

Show answer

Answer

Beginning of the essay

Show question

Question

What is the implied main idea of the following paragraph?


"Presidents and Congress worked to address questions about slavery in new states and territories. The Compromise of 1850 addressed concerns about slavery in the southwest territories, but the solutions only led to an increase in political tensions. Politicians who supported slavery felt like states and territories should determine whether they wanted the institution. The Kansas-Nebraska Act also attempted to settle these questions, but it also cause further political unease. This unrest culminated with the election of Abraham Lincoln, where the Southern states seceded from the Union because of Lincoln's support for these types of compromises."

Show answer

Answer

The failure of congressional compromises on the expansion of slavery in states and territories contributed to a rise in political tensions that led to the Civil War.

Show question

Question

A _ _ connects the essay’s main idea to the main idea of the paragraph in question. 

Show answer

Answer

Topic sentence 


Show question

Question

Authors present their main ideas to avoid what?


Show answer

Answer

To avoid confusing their readers. 


Show question

Question

A _ in fiction refers to its humanistic undertones, such as a philosophy or a human condition. 


Show answer

Answer

Theme


Show question

Question

True or false. A fictional story’s main idea can be its theme. 


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

A _ invites the reader into an essay using statistics, anecdotes, quotes, or other entertaining but informative descriptions. 


Show answer

Answer

hook 

Show question

Question

Where is the main idea typically located in an introductory paragraph?


Show answer

Answer

The thesis statement. 


Show question

Question

Where is the main idea typically located in a body paragraph?


Show answer

Answer

The topic sentence 


Show question

Question

Where is the main idea typically located in a fictional text?


Show answer

Answer

Fiction writers rarely state their main idea in a specific location. Readers will have to read the entire story to discover the main idea. 


Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Main Idea quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.