Identify the main ideas and details

Learning outcomes:

  • The learner will be able to understand the meaning of the text
  • The learner will be able to identify the supporting details to have a better picture of what the document is about
  • Recognize the meanings of words that are not defined in the passage
  • Apply instructions outlined in the passage to situations that are described in the passage.

1.1 Introduction

Once you can find the topic, you are ready to find the main idea. The main idea is the purpose of the paragraph. It is the most important part of the topic. Main ideas are often found at the beginning of paragraphs. The first sentence often explains the subject being discussed in the passage. Main ideas are also found in the concluding sentences of a paragraph.
The main idea can be expressed as a summation of the information in the paragraph as well as a link to the information in the next paragraph.

1.2 What are the supporting details?

The main idea is usually reinforced by a series of other points or details which support the premise of the main idea. These are called supporting details and may also be stated or implied. Supporting details can provide insights into the actions of the characters, the place and time of the actions or the circumstances in which the facts occur.

Example 1:

Look at this paragraph

A positive work environment is beneficial for both the employer and the employee. It is well known that a work environment, where we spend more than 8 hours a day, influences how we react to different tasks and therefore influences our work productivity.
A positive work environment means many benefits for the organisation: reduced absenteeism, less stress and a pleasant working environment.
Employees who work in a positive environment are more efficient and more productive, especially if the culture organisation reflects their beliefs and values.

What is the topic about?

  • Benefits of a positive work environment

What is the main Idea?

  • A positive work environment is beneficial for employers and employees.

What are the supportive details?

  • Reduced absenteeism
  • Less stress
  • Employees are more efficient and productive
1.3 Recap to remember: Hints and Tips

Every paragraph/book/newspaper article has a main idea

  • The main idea describes the most important information within the text
  • Main ideas help readers remember important information

After reading a paragraph ask yourself: “What point is the author making? What is he/she trying to say?”
Tip: Often you can find the main idea just by looking at the title.
For example, a passage titled “Why too many meetings will get your employees bored” will include reasons to support the idea that too many meetings will be boring.
Note that in a book/article/paragraph the topic and the main idea are not the same thing!
The topic identifies who or what the text is about. The main idea is the most important point the author is making about the topic. It is often stated in a topic sentence.
Supporting details are the specific ideas to develop, explain or support the main idea. All the sentences we find to support the main ideas are called the supporting details. Their role is:

  • To describe and explain the main idea.
  • To enhance the main idea.

After reading a paragraph, ask yourself: what information/details does it give us about the main idea (the most important aspect)?
Source used: