Analyzing Interactions Among Main Ideas

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Analyzing interactions among main ideas sounds daunting to some students. However, if you treat it methodically, you can easily identify main ideas and determine how they interact with one another within the text.

Identifying Main Ideas

Identifying the main idea of a text can be a challenge. It is sometimes difficult to synthesize information and arrive at the main idea if it is not explicitly stated, especially as text grows in complexity and length. However, there is a process that will help you determine the main idea and even multiple main ideas within the text. The first step is to determine the topic of the text. To do so, you want to spend time perusing the features of the text itself. Features that are useful in determining the topic include the title, captions on diagrams and images, and subtopics that might be designated within the text.

Once you have determined the topic, finding the main idea is a fairly straightforward process. Begin with reading the first and last sentence of a paragraph, as that is a good indication of what the paragraph itself is about. Then, scan paragraphs for repeat text. Your natural impulse might be to look for specific words repeating, but there are many different ways of expressing the same ideas. A good strategy is to underline those repeats, whether they are synonyms or restated ideas. As text gets more complex, the main idea is rarely a single sentence; many times it is implied. You may have to infer the main idea based on the information given in the text. It is even possible for a passage with multiple paragraphs to have a different main idea for each paragraph, and then an overarching main idea for the entire text.

Relationships That Exist Between Main Ideas

The beauty of analyzing interactions among main ideas is that there are many ways that main ideas can interact with one another. Because the type of interactions usually fall within a few common relationships, it gives you a place to start in analyzing interactions among main ideas in a text. Common relationships that exist among main ideas might include:

  • cause/effect
  • problem/solution
  • contrasting
  • supporting
  • building

So when you're beginning to analyze interactions, try comparing different main ideas in a chart like the one below.

Identifying Relationships
mainideas image 1

In the chart, document the relationship between the main ideas, as well as any evidence that supports the relationship you have identified. Evidence might include specific details from the text and especially words or transitional phrases used to show relationships such as when a writer uses although to show the contrast in a passage. For example, if the writer is trying to show the contrast between two main ideas they might use transitional phrases such as 'however or 'on the other hand. When authors are trying to show that two main ideas are related they might use phrases such as similarly or likewise. Those transitional phrases also help build the interactions among main ideas by showing the reader the relationship between the supporting details of the text.

Mapping Textual Interactions

Another helpful technique for analyzing the interactions among main ideas in a text is by concept mapping, or webbing. It is especially effective if you are dealing with a longer, complex text that has several main ideas. It is a way of visually laying out a close reading as you work through text so you can better identify and analyze the interactions among the main ideas.

As you read the text, identify the main ideas in each paragraph or section (depending on the organization of the writing) and write them each in a bubble on a piece of paper or a computer. Be sure to spread them out enough that you have room to add information in between. Each time you add a main idea to the web, take a few minutes and add lines between any connecting ideas that you see. For example, if one main idea is supporting another, draw an arrow from the main idea to the one it is supporting and label it 'supporting' or 'contradicting'. If you create your web on a digital document, you can more easily move main ideas around as you add lines and arrows. You can refer back to your transitional phrases if you are trying to determine the relationship between main ideas.

Common Transitional Phrases
main ideas 3

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