Skip navigation

Snap Language

Getting Smarter through Language

Figuring out Stated and Implied Main Ideas

  Email this page

One of the first reading lessons you learn is to identify the main idea of a paragraph. That is not always straightforward because a paragraph has many related ideas. Paragraphs with implied main ideas make can make it even more complicated. Why bother looking for a sentence that may not even be there?

In this lesson, you will learn how to figure out both stated and implied main ideas paragraphs.

What Exactly are Main Ideas and Supporting Details?

You may have heard this many times, “Just look at the details. They support the main idea.” But how you can tell the main idea and all other ideas apart in the paragraph. Let’s break it down from the very beginning.

You Need One Idea

You write to communicate ideas. Let’s say you want to write about birds. You can break this topic into subtopics:

  • what birds look like,
  • what birds eat,
  • where birds live,
  • birds’ traits,
  • and so on...

Each of these subtopics could be organized into paragraphs. You organize paragraphs around single ideas so it is easier for your readers to understand what you are trying to say.

For example, you could choose to write following simple paragraph about what birds eat:

 Birds eat a variety of foods.

Is that it? Yes, that is the whole paragraph! One-sentence paragraphs are uncommon but, as a writer, you get to decide what to include in your paragraphs. In this example, you have all you need for a paragraph: a topic (birds) and one idea about the topic (what they eat).

Add Some Details

Of course, your readers usually expect more information than just a one-sentence paragraph. To give your readers what they expect, you give them more information about that one idea by elaborating on it, giving some examples, discussing it a little bit, and so on.

In other words, you add some additional sentences that support that idea. You are not changing the idea, you are just adding some support to it. Now your paragraph looks like this:

Birds eat a variety of foods. Some birds such as sparrows, finches, and cardinals eat seeds, berries, insects, larvae, and small nuts. Birds that live by the water often hunt for crustaceans. Herons can eat a whole frog or large fish without chewing it. Kingfishers can dive into the water for fish. Some birds are even known to eat other birds. For example, . . . .

You give your readers as much information as you think is needed to support your main point. At first, the idea of the paragraph was already clear (“Birds eat a variety of foods”). The other ideas simply supported that idea.

Which Idea Is Which?

Now you have many ideas, right? But one of the ideas is the principal one. It is the big one. It is the main one. That is the main idea.

The other ideas elaborate on the main idea. They support the main idea. That is why they are called supporting ideas.

How Can You Tell the Main Idea and Supporting Details Apart?

Continue the lesson