Finding The Implied Main Idea Help (page 4)
Introduction to Finding the Implied Main Idea
Oh, the power of suggestion. Advertisers know it well—and so do writers. They know that they can get an idea across to their readers without directly saying it. Instead of providing a topic sentence that expresses their main idea, many times, they simply omit that sentence and instead provide a series of clues through structure and language to get their ideas across.
Finding an implied main idea is much like finding a stated main idea. If you recall from Lesson 2, a main idea is defined as an assertion about the subject that controls or holds together all the ideas in the passage. Therefore, the main idea must be general enough to encompass all the ideas in the passage. Much like a net, it holds everything in the passage together. So far, all but one of the passages in this book have had a topic sentence that stated the main idea, so finding the main idea was something of a process of elimination: You could eliminate the sentences that weren't general enough to encompass the whole passage. But what do you do when there's no topic sentence?
You use your observations to make an inference—this time, an inference about the main idea or point of the passage.
How to Find an Implied Main Idea
Finding an implied main idea requires you to use your observations to make an inference that, like a topic sentence, encompasses the whole passage. It might take a little detective work, but now that you know how to find details and how to understand word choice, style, and tone, you can make observations that will enable you to find main ideas even when they're not explicitly stated.
Finding the Implied Main Idea Practice and Answers
Practice Passage 1
For the first example of finding an implied main idea, let's look at a statement from a parking garage manager in response to recent thefts:
Radios have been stolen from four cars in our parking garage this month. Each time, the thieves have managed to get by the parking garage security with radios in hand, even though they do not have a parking garage identification card, which people must show as they enter and exit the garage. Yet each time, the security officers say they have seen nothing unusual.
Now, there is no topic sentence in this paragraph, but you should be able to determine the main idea of this statement from the facts provided and from the tone. What does the statement suggest?
- Which of the following best summarizes the statement's main idea?
- There are too many thefts in the garage.
- There are not enough security guards.
- There is something wrong with the security in the parking garage.
The correct answer is choice c, "There is something wrong with the security in the parking garage." How can you tell that this is the main idea? For one thing, it's the only one of the three choices general enough to serve as a "net" for the paragraph; choice a is implied only in the first sentence; and choice b isn't mentioned at all. In addition, each sentence on its own suggests that security in the parking garage has not been working properly. Furthermore, the word yet indicates that there is a conflict between the events that have taken place and the duties of the security officers.
Practice Passage 2
Now examine the following statement that a neighbor wrote about Mr. Miller, who owned one of the cars that was vandalized in the parking garage:
Well, Mr. Miller's a pretty carefree person. I've borrowed his car on several occasions, and a few times, I've found the doors unlocked when I arrived at the garage. He often forgets things, too, like exactly where he parked the car on a particular day or where he put his keys. One time, I found him wandering around the garage looking for his keys, which he thought he had dropped on the way to the car, and it turned out the car door was unlocked anyway. Sometimes, I wonder how he remembers his address, let alone to take care of his car.
- What is Mr. Miller's neighbor suggesting?
- Mr. Miller forgets everything.
- Mr. Miller may have left his car door unlocked the day the radio was stolen.
- Mr. Miller is too carefree for his own good.,/li>
You can attack the question this way: Which of these three statements do the sentences in the neighbor's statement support? Try a process of elimination. Do all of the sentences support choice a? If not, cross a out. Do all of the sentences support choice b? Choice c?
The correct answer is b, "Mr. Miller may have left his car door unlocked the day the radio was stolen." How can you tell? Because this is the only idea that all of the sentences in the neighbor's statement support. You know that Mr. Miller often doesn't lock his car doors; you also know that he often forgets things. The combination makes it likely that Mr. Miller left his car door unlocked on the day his car radio was stolen.
Practice Passage 3
Now look at a paragraph in which the language the writer uses is what enables you to determine meaning. Here is a description of Coach Lerner, a college basketball coach, written by one of his players. Read the paragraph carefully and see if you can determine the implied main idea of the paragraph.
Coach Lerner, my basketball coach, is six feet ten inches tall with a voice that booms like a foghorn and the haircut of a drill sergeant. Every morning, he marches onto the basketball court at precisely 8:00 and dominates the gymnasium for the next three hours. He barks orders at us the entire time and expects that we will respond like troops on a battlefield. And if we fail to obey his commands, he makes us spend another 45 minutes under his rule.
Before you decide on the implied main idea, list your observations. What did you notice about the language in this paragraph? An example is provided to get you started.
Example:I noticed that Coach Lerner's voice is compared to a foghorn.
- Which of the following best expresses the implied message of the passage?
- Playing on Coach Lerner's team is difficult.
- Playing on Coach Lerner's team is like being under the command of an army general.
- Coach Lerner is a terrible basketball coach.
The correct answer is choice b, "Playing on Coach Lerner's team is like being under the command of an army general." There are many clues in the language of this paragraph that lead you to this inference. First, you probably noticed that Coach Lerner's voice "booms like a foghorn." This comparison (called a simile) suggests that Coach Lerner wants his voice to be heard and obeyed.
Second, the description of Coach Lerner's haircut is a critical part of the way the author establishes the tone of this paragraph. To say that he has "the haircut of a drill sergeant" (also a simile) makes us think of a military leader whose job it is to train soldiers. A writer wouldn't use this comparison unless he or she wanted to emphasize military-like discipline.
The author tells us that Coach Lerner "marches onto the basketball court," "barks orders," and expects his players to respond like "troops on a battlefield." The writer could have said that Coach Lerner "strides" onto the court, that he barks "instructions," and that he expects his players to act like "trained dogs." However, since the author is trying to paint a picture of Coach Lerner that will bring to mind a military leader, he uses words that convey military ideas. Thus, though choices a and c may be true—it might be difficult to play for Coach Lerner and he might be a terrible basketball coach—choice b is the only idea that all of the sentences in the paragraph support.
Of course, this person's description of Coach Lerner is very subjective, since it uses the first-person point of view. As an active reader, you should wonder whether everyone sees Coach Lerner this way or if this player is unable to be objective.
Practice Passage 4
Many people find reading literature a difficult task because in literature (fiction, drama, and poetry), the main idea is almost never expressed in a clear topic sentence. Instead, readers have to look for clues often hidden in the language of the text. For example, the following fictional paragraph describes a character. Read it carefully, make your observations, and then identify the main idea of the paragraph:
Every morning when Clara arrives at the gym, she is greeted with a buzz of warm hellos. She starts her workout in the weight room, where her exercise regimen is always peppered with lively chats with those around her. She then moves on to the pool, where she stops and converses with other friends and acquaintances before diving in and swimming laps. As she swims, her sole focus is the calming sound of her body gliding through the water—a rare moment in her always very social days.
- Example:I noticed that Clara talks with many people.
- The main idea of this paragraph is that
- Clara is shy.
- Clara knows everyone at the gym.
- Clara is very friendly.
Although it is possible that b "Clara knows everyone at the gym" (choice b), there is no evidence in this paragraph to support that inference. Thus, choice b cannot be the main idea. Choice a, "Clara is shy," cannot be the correct answer either, since everything in the paragraph suggests that Clara is, in fact, quite outgoing.
Furthermore, the language of the paragraph creates a feeling of warmth and friendliness: Clara is greeted with "warm hellos" and she has "lively chats" and conversations with friends and acquaintances. She also has "very social days." All these words work together in the paragraph to paint a picture of someone who is very friendly and social. Thus, without directly saying so, the writer tells us that, "Clara is very friendly," choice c.
Many writers use implication to convey meaning rather than directly stating their ideas. This is especially true in literature, where readers generally prefer suggestion to direct statements. Finding the implied main idea requires a little detective work, but it is not as difficult as you may have thought, now that you know more about language and the way words can be used to suggest ideas.
- Listen carefully to people today. Are there times when they imply things without directly saying them? Are there times when you use suggestion to get your ideas across? How do you do this? Be aware of how you and others use indirect language and suggestion to convey meaning.
- Write a paragraph that does not have a topic sentence. You should have a clear idea of the main idea before you write your paragraph and make sure your sentences use language that will help your readers understand your main idea. For example, think of a topic sentence about the kind of person you are, but don't write it down. Then, write several sentences that support your topic sentence with language that leads your reader to the proper conclusion. You may want to show your paragraph to others to see if they can correctly infer your main idea.
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading and Drawing Conclusions Practice Test.
Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.
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