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Language Arts


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Why is it so important to find the main idea? The main idea is the point. If you miss it, you have misunderstood the author. If you miss the main idea, then you have not comprehended the piece; you have not understood it. Basically, finding the main idea gives you purpose in your reading and helps you understand the passage as a whole. A good reader will always be asking, "What is the point of this piece?" while reading to help get to the heart of the matter. No matter what you are reading, whether it is a memo from your boss, a journal entry, or a literature passage on a test, you need to be able to find the main idea.

Consider the following scenario.

You are getting ready to start a new job. There are dozens of safety manuals that you need to read in order to start your job. But after you read the information, you still wonder what they mean. You understand all the words, but putting the pieces together so you can go into work and start your job understanding what you need to do to be successful is still a bit fuzzy. You have the following questions.

  • How do you define the main idea?
  • How do you find the main idea in the text?
  • What is the difference between the main idea and a topic?
  • What is the difference between a stated and implied main idea?

Key Terms

  • Implied main idea - The main idea is not stated but is strongly suggested or inferred.
  • Infer - To decide something based on evidence from the text. In other words, to read between the lines.
  • Main idea - The most important point the author is trying to communicate.
  • Stated main idea - A main idea that you can point to in a piece of writing. It is written in the passage.

Sample Question

After a long, hard day at work, who could live without the welcoming barks of man's best friend? Millions of years ago, there were no domestic dogs. Believe it or not, today's domestic dogs are descended from a wild, wolfish ancestor. How did the snarling, man-eating wolf of millions of years ago become the loyal lapdog of today? There are two theories about how wolves evolved into dogs. One theory is that ancient people selected certain wolves to mate and thereby affected the traits that were passed down with the genes from the parents to the pups. Another, more recent theory is that the genes that made some wolves less shy (and therefore more easily domesticated) also triggered in wolves a whole series of changes that rapidly changed the wolf of the past to the tame creatures we call "man's best friend."

Which of the following best describes the main idea?

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