Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Finding Main Ideas in Paragraphs

You can find the main ideas by looking at the way in which paragraphs are written:

A paragraph is a group of sentences about one main idea. Paragraphs usually have 2 types of sentences:

- a topic sentence, which contains the main idea, and
- one or more detail sentences which support, prove, provide more information, explain, or give examples.

You can only tell if you have a detail or topic sentence by comparing the sentences with each other. The only exception to this is if there is only one sentence in the paragraph. Then the one sentence is the topic sentence.

Look at this example paragraph:

There are many uses for this great product. ---TOPIC SENTENCE
Some mix it with chocolate to make cake icing. --DETAIL SENTENCE
It is the main ingredient in some milkshake mixes. --DETAIL SENTENCE
It will also kill rats in small amounts. --DETAIL SENTENCE

The first sentence introduces the main idea and the other sentences support and give the many uses for the product.

Rules for Finding the Topic Sentence

1. The topic sentence is usually first, but could be in any position in the paragraph.
2. A topic is usually more "general" than the other sentences, that is, it talks about many things and looks at the big picture. Sometimes it refers to more that one thing. Plurals and the words "many", "numerous", or "several" often signal a topic sentence.
3. Detail sentences are usually more "specific" than the topic, that is, they usually talk about one single or small part or side of an idea. Also, the words "for example", "i.e.", "that is", "first", "second", "third", etc., and "finally" often signal a detail.
4. Most of the detail sentences support, give examples, prove, talk about, or point toward the topic in some way.
How can you be sure that you have a topic sentence? Try this trick:
---Switch the sentence around into a question. If the other sentences seem to "answer" the question, then you've got it.

Try to find the topic sentence in the following texts:

There is a lot of work involved in fixing bicycles. First, it is necessary for one to become familiar with the structure and parts of the vehicle. Second, one must have the correct tools to make the necessary repairs. Third, the person making the repairs must prepare him or herself to put a lot of time and effort into the job and only expect minimal results at the end.

For years I have struggled with my writing skills. My inability to master correct grammar as well as my struggle to formulate coherent ideas have made my compositions very dull and ineffective. This year, however, I decided to visit the Writing Center to help improve my skills. I found, to my surprise, that the real key to writing a good paper is to have a passion for the things about which you are writing. When a person becomes interested in his or her subject of composition, he or she will make a better attempt at organizing ideas and giving them a strong coherence.

My grandfather contracted lung cancer a few months ago. The doctors now say that he only has a few weeks to live. My family's situation is not unique. Millions of Americans are going through a similar experience. At least three members of every extended family will contract terminal disease before the age of sixty. At least one out of every three nuclear families will have a member who will die of cancer before the age of fifty. From these statistics and from personal experience it is evident that no one is unaffected by cancer.

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