Finding an Implied Main Idea Study Guide
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
This lesson shows you how to find the main idea when there's no topic sentence or thesis statement to guide you. It also explains how to find a theme, the main idea in literature.
Oh, the power of suggestion! Advertisers know it well—and so do writers. They know they can get an idea across without directly saying it. They know that they don't always need a topic sentence because they can use structure and language to suggest their ideas.
What is a main idea? It is a claim (an assertion) about the subject of the passage. It's also the thought that holds the whole passage together. Thus, it must be general enough to include all the ideas in the passage. Like a net, it holds everything together. Main ideas are often stated in topic sentences.
So far, most of the passages in this book have topic sentences. But you'll often come across passages that don't have topic sentences. Writers often imply ideas instead of stating them directly. To imply means to hint or suggest. You'll need to use your powers of observation to determine their message.
How to Find an Implied Main Idea
When the main idea is implied, there's no topic sentence, so finding the main idea requires some good detective work. But you already know the importance of structure, word choice, style, and tone. You know how to read carefully and find clues, and you know that these clues will help you figure out the main idea.
For example, take a look at the following paragraph:
Fortunately, none of Toby's friends had ever seen the apartment where Toby lived with his mother and sister. Sandwiched between two burnt-out buildings, his two-story apartment building was by far the ugliest one on the block. It was a real eyesore: peeling orange paint (orange!), broken windows, crooked steps, crooked everything. He could just imagine what his friends would say if they ever saw this poor excuse for a building.
Which of the following expresses the main idea of this paragraph?
- Toby wishes he could move to a nicer building.
- Toby wishes his dad still lived with them.
- Toby is glad none of his friends know where he lives.
- Toby is sad because he doesn't have any friends.
From the description, we can safely assume that Toby doesn't like his apartment building and wishes he could move to a nicer building (choice a). But that idea isn't general enough to cover the whole paragraph, because it doesn't say anything about his friends. Sentence (choice d) isn't about his building, so it's not broad enough either. Besides, the first sentence states that Toby has friends. We know that Toby lives only with his mother and little sister, so we might assume that he wishes his dad still lived with them (choice b). But there's nothing in the paragraph to support that assumption, and this idea doesn't include the two main topics of the paragraph—Toby's building and Toby's friends.
What the paragraph adds up to is that Toby is terribly embarrassed about his building, and he's glad none of his friends have seen it (choice c). This is the main idea. The paragraph opens with the word "fortunately," so we know that he thinks it's a good thing none of them have been there. Plus, look at the word choice. Notice how the building is described. It's "by far the ugliest on the block," which is saying a lot since it's stuck between two burnt-out buildings. The writer calls it an "eyesore," and repeats "orange" with an exclamation point to emphasize how ugly the color is. Everything's "crooked" in this "poor excuse for a building." He's ashamed of where he lives and worries about what his friends would think if they saw it.
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