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Main Ideas in a Text: Concept and Identification

SONYA SHELTON, Monica Sedore
  • Author

    Sonya Shelton has taught English, Math, and Social Studies to elementary and middle school students since 2016. She has a Bachelor of Arts-Psychology degree from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Arts-Teaching degree from Montclair State University. Additionally, she holds a Teaching Certificate with a Special Education endorsement and is a Google Certified Educator.

  • Instructor
    Monica Sedore

    Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

Learn all about the central idea of a text. Understand what the main idea of a text is, how to find the main idea of a text, and examples of central ideas of a text. Updated: 04/01/2022

Table of Contents


What is the Main Idea of a Text?

The main idea can also be referred to as the central idea. So, what is the main idea, or central idea, of a text? It is simply what the text is mostly about. The author chooses a topic and then decides what features of the topic to focus on. That focus is the main idea of the text.

Often the central idea is not explicitly stated, and the reader must infer it. An inference means that the reader must find meaning from the passage's context.

An inference can be made when the reader uses a two-step process.

  1. They use what they already know based on life experience.
  2. They apply that knowledge to the text to figure something out that the author does not directly state.

The the main idea often must be inferred.

Illustration of female in profile thinking at a computer in brown and peach.

Typically, finding the main idea is a skill used when working with non-fiction texts. Long works of fiction such as a novel are not likely to have a main idea because interpretations of them can be subjective.

Key characteristics of the central idea include the topic and a connection to multiple important details in the text.

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  • 0:04 What's the Main Idea?
  • 0:43 Finding the Main Idea
  • 2:38 Finding Multiple Main Ideas
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Why Does a Text Have a Main Idea?

One reason for determining the main idea of a text is to ensure that the reader has understood the main point the author is making. Every author has a purpose for writing a text. Therefore, the central idea is related to the author's purpose. When thinking about why the author has written the text, the main idea can be used to help answer that question.

Another reason for determining the central idea is that it can help the reader figure out what themes may be found in the text. Also, determining the main idea is important when writing an essay based on the text. Overall, determining the central idea can be a starting point that helps the reader analyze the text in multiple ways.

How to Find the Main Idea of a Text?

When finding the main idea of a text, it is helpful to review the typical structure of a non-fiction text. A non-fiction text may be an article, book, passage, etc. The structure of a text refers to how it is constructed or built.

A non-fiction text is built paragraph by paragraph like a house can be built brick by brick.

Photo of a house being constructed.

A non-fiction text starts with an introduction to the topic that includes three or more important facts. Next, the author will elaborate upon each fact or detail in the body or middle of the text. Typically, each topic has its paragraph or section. Finally, the text will end with a closing statement or concluding paragraph that sums up the article's contents.

The information in the beginning sentences or introduction often has details that reveal the text's central idea. Likewise, the closing statement or conclusion paragraph can be analyzed for clues to the main idea. Details that support the central idea can also be found in the body of the text. However, the transition sentences that move the text from detail to detail will not contain the main idea.

Other key elements one should monitor to help identify the main idea of a text is listed below:

  • The title can often hint at the central idea.
  • Repeated words reveal the topic.
  • Subtitles and headings highlight important details in the text.
  • Beginning and ending statements typically sum up the text and strongly indicate the central idea.
  • Bolded, italicized, and highlighted important words hint at the topic.
  • Supporting details can be used when making an inference to determine the main idea.

Multiple Main Ideas

Often, when the reader is instructed to find the main idea of a text, it may seem that there is only one to be found. Sometimes, this is not the case. In more complex texts, the author may share several main points with the reader in one text. For this reason, a text can have more than one main idea. This happens when the writer expresses multiple ideas, points, or concepts.

For example, in a text about bees, one of the author's purposes might be to inform the reader that bees are important to the environment. Therefore, one central idea of the article could be, "Bees are essential to the ecosystem and support life for animals and humans." Details such as "bees pollinate food crops" and "bees make nutrient-rich honey" would support that main idea.

However, in that same article, the author may also be attempting to persuade the reader to help save the bees. Therefore, a second main idea of the text could be, "People should take steps to save the bees." Suggestions such as "plant a flower garden to attract bees" or "plant a flowering tree" could support this additional central idea within the article.

A text can have more than one central idea.

Photo of doodling ideas on a white paper showing a black sharpened penciled.

Examples of Main Ideas

Below are examples of possible central ideas for various texts. Review the information to understand how to determine the main idea.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do you identify the main idea?

To determine the main idea of a text, think about what the text is mostly about. Identify the topic and figure out what is mostly being said about it. Once the main idea is written, prove it is correct by finding three or more pieces of text evidence to support it.

What are 3 steps for finding the central idea of a text?

There are certain steps that can be taken to determine the central idea of a text. Here are three of them. 1. Pay attention to the title. Often, it points to the main idea of the text. 2. Notice what words are used repeatedly which will help to identify the topic. Build from the topic and figure out what is mostly being said about it. 3. Pay attention to the opening sentences at the beginning and end of the text. Frequently, these lines summarize the central idea of the text.

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