Reading for Understanding
When reading anything, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to truly understand what you are
1. What is the topic you are reading about?
2. Who wrote the text and for what purpose?
3. Is there any possible bias the author(s) may have regarding the subject?
4. What is the tone of the reading (dramatic, sarcastic, other)?
5. What do you think you already know about the topic?
When finding the main idea in any reading, you must first differentiate between the topic you are reading
about and the main idea in each paragraph or section of the reading.
The topic of a passage is the person, place, object, or idea under discussion. It is the subject that the author has chosen to discuss, describe, or explain.
The Main Idea:
The main idea of a passage or reading is the central thought or message.
The Difference Between Topic and Main Idea:
The difference between a topic and a main idea will become clearer to you if you imagine yourself overhearing a conversation in which your name is repeatedly mentioned. When you ask your friends what they were discussing, they say they were talking about you. At that point, you have the topic but not the main idea.
Undoubtedly, you wouldn’t be satisfied until you learned what your friends were saying about you. You would
probably pester them until you knew the main idea, until you knew, that is, exactly what they were saying
about you. The same principle applies to reading. The topic is not enough -you need to discover the main idea.
Tips for finding the main idea:
1. As soon as you can determine the topic, ask yourself “What general point does the author want to make
about this topic?” Once you can answer that question, you have probably found the main idea.
2. The main idea is not always at the beginning of the reading. Sometimes the main idea is first, followed by
supporting detail. The main idea could also found in the middle of the reading, “sandwiched” by supporting
detail, or it could be found at the end of the reading preceded by the supporting detail.
3. Pay attention to any idea that is repeated in different ways. If an author takes time to restate the same
point numerous times, it is most likely the main idea.
4. Once you feel sure you have found the main idea, test it. Ask yourself if the examples, reasons, statistics,
studies, and facts included in the reading lend themselves as evidence or explanation in support of the
main idea you have in mind. If they don’t, you might want to revise your first notion about the author’s main idea.
5. If you are taking a test that asks you to find the thesis or theme of a reading, don’t let the terms confuse
you, you are still looking for the main idea.
Flemming, Laraine. "The Main Idea." Reading Resources. 15 October 1999. 16 Jul 2009