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Finding the Main Idea

Finding the main idea is a key to understanding a paragraph or short selection.  Once you identify the main idea or general point that an author is making, everything else in the paragraph should click into place.  You will know what point is being made and what evidence is being provided to support that point.  You will see the parts (the supporting material in the paragraph) in relation to the whole (the main idea).

 If the main idea is difficult and abstract, you may want to read all the supporting details carefully to help increase your comprehension. If the main idea is easily understood, you may be able to skip the supporting details or read them over quickly, since they are not needed to comprehend the point.

 The main idea is often located in the first sentence of a paragraph. You should thus pay special attention to that sentence when reading a paragraph. However, the main idea sentence may also be at the end, in the middle, or any other place of the paragraph. On occasion, the main idea of a paragraph may appear in slightly different words in two or more sentence. In other cases, the main idea in one paragraph will serve as the central thought for several paragraphs that follow or precede it. Finally, at times the main idea will not be stated directly at all, and the reader will have to provide it by looking closely at the evidence presented.

John Langan, Reading & Study Skills.New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982, 2nd ed., Form A, p. 253

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