Main Idea
Study Sheet

Main Idea

The main idea expresses the central point, or the most important idea, in the paragraph—what the passage is about. The main idea gives the paragraph focus, purpose, and direction. The rest of the paragraph explains, develops, illustrates, or supports the main idea.


The main idea is usually stated in a topic sentence which is often the first sentence. Subsequent sentences that follow explain, develop, or support the main idea expressed in the topic sentence.


Although often found in the beginning, the topic sentence can also be found in the middle or at the end. Positioning the topic sentence at the end of a paragraph is common practice whenever a difficult or unpopular idea is being discussed or when the purpose of the paragraph is to persuade and convince.


Finding the Main Idea

I. Two–step process

One way to find the main idea is to use a two–step process:

1. Find the topic—the general subject repeated throughout the passage

2. Then find the author's main point about the topic. What the author wants you to know about the topic.


For example:

The topic of a paragraph, for example, might be "My Roommate."

Topic: My Roommate

Now ask yourself, "What does the author want me to know about the topic?


The main idea is the writer's primary point about the subject. The main idea of the paragraph about the roommate might be that the roommate is messy.

Topic: My Roommate

Main Idea: My roommate is messy.


The rest of the paragraph will be a few sentences that give examples of the messiness. They might include leaving dirty laundry on the floor, not washing the dishes, piling up empty soda cans, pizza boxes, magazines, and notebooks on the tables, and leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor.


Check your understanding:

Directions: For each number choose the letter of the correct matching answer.


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Finding the Main Idea

II. Clue Words

Another way to find the main idea is to look for words (clues) in the most general sentence that tell you a list of details is coming, such as

several kinds of

various causes

a few reasons

several functions

a number of

a series of

three factors

different types

four steps

among the results

several disadvantages

many ways


several steps


two points

 * Remember there are other words or phrases not mentioned above that are clues to finding the main idea/topic sentence.

For example:

Main Idea: Studying before a test yields or produces several benefits.


 Check your understanding:

Directions: Choose the number of the sentence that expresses the topic sentence in the selection.

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To check your understanding click below:

Practice 1

Practice 2