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Meaning of Words and Phrases
Main Idea and Supporting Details
Identifying Explicit and Implicit Main Ideas
Supporting the Main Idea of a Passage
Purpose, Point of View, and Intended Meaning
Analyze the Relationship Among Ideas
Critical Reasoning Skills
Applying Study Skills
Practice Reading Tests

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Understand the Main Idea and Supporting Details in Written Material

Recognizing Ideas That Support, Illustrate, or Elaborate the Main Idea of a Passage

Finding the topic sentence of a paragraph is a basic skill for identifying the main idea of a passage — a reading which may include more than one paragraph. To find a passage's main idea, begin by identifying the topic sentences of the separate paragraphs. In a well-written passage, one of its topic sentences will often serve as an encompassing idea for all of the other topic sentences. This topic sentence, perhaps slightly rephrased, will be the passage's main idea.

Read the passage shown below. Select the topic sentence for each paragraph and then write a sentence which describes the main idea for the entire passage.


A passage may contain some sentences that are questions or exclamations, but most of the sentences will be declarative statements. The distinguishing feature of a declarative statement is that it makes a claim. Two types of declarative statements, facts and opinions, are used in most passages. A college level reader needs the ability to recognize those statements that are facts and those statements that are opinions.

A factual statement makes a claim that can be confirmed or denied by other sources of information. The reader is not required to know whether a factual statement is true or false, but it is absolutely necessary that the claim can be checked or verified. For example, a factual statement is: Both Eisenhower and Kennedy were Republican Presidents. A trip to the library or a web site on the Internet may provide the information needed to prove that statement is false. The important feature of a fact is that there is acceptable evidence (some authority) to confirm or deny its validity.

A statement of opinion is a claim, but it is the author’s point of view. The claim of an opinion can be neither proved or disproved because no conclusive evidence exists. For example, a statement of opinion is: Democracy is the best form of government. Although many people agree with that statement, it is an opinion. No authority exists for judging a statement of opinion as true or false.

A college level reader must recognize when a statement is a fact and when it is an opinion. If the truth of a factual statement is questioned, then the reader can find a source to verify or deny it. If the value of an opinion is questioned, then the reader must make a determination about its logic, completeness, and validity. Distinguishing between facts and opinions is an essential skill for literal comprehension.