Writing Composition: Main Ideas and Supporting Details in a Paragraph

Contributed by:
Highlighting the main idea or the topic of the paragraph and supporting details that elaborate on and condense the main idea, making the body and conclusion of the paragraph, respectively.

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A group or specially and intentionally related sentences; a thought unit;
sentences that revolve around a single idea and is a writer’ s attempt to develop an
idea or part of an idea.
Organization of a Paragraph
1. Statement of the main idea.
2. Elaboration of the main idea and supporting details.
mmary of main ideas or conclusions.

The topic is the subject that the selection is about. The main idea can usually be
located if you can determine what the topic is. To find the topic of a selection,
ask the simple question, “Who or what is the selection about?”

EXAMPLE: Consumers concerned about the hazards or noise can reduce noise
pollution in many ways. They can purchase noisy products such as
garbage disposals and lawn mowers with reduced noise levels.
They can also use sound-absorbing materials in their home.
Carpeting can be installed instead of hard flooring, and cork and
fabric can be used in rooms that tend to be noisy. Also, people can
become less noisy themselves. They can learn to avoid shouting, to
close doors without slamming them, and to play radios, TV sets,
and stereos at moderate levels.

TOPIC OF THIS PARAGRAPH: noise pollution or noise
pollution in the home.
Chief point an author is making about a topic. It sums up the author’s primary
Topic Sentence; Statement of the main idea. It is the statement under which all
other material in the paragraph — examples, reasons, facts, details and other
evidence ~ can fit.
EXAMPLE: | (refer to above example)
Notice that all information is after the first sentence is about ways
to reduce noise pollution. The first sentence is the most general —
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it states that there are ways to reduce noise pollution. It
summarizes the other statements in the paragraph.
Location of the Topic Sentence

are usually in the first sentence of the paragraph, but not always.
They may also be located within the paragraph or at the end of the paragraph.
They may even appear twice — at the beginning and at the end.

EXAMPLE: WITHIN A PARAGRAPH - Preceded by one or more
introductory sentence that may relate the main idea to the previous paragraph,
arouse the reader’s interest or give background for the main reason.
The physical complaints of neurotics ~ people who are overly anxious,
pessimistic, hostile, or tense ~ were once largely ignored by physician. Many
doctors believed that the frequent complaint of neurotic were exaggerations.
However, new research shows that neurotics are, fact, more likely to have
physical problems. Specifically, researchers found neurotics stand a grater chance
of having five particular ailments: arthritis, asthma, ulcers, headaches, and heart
disease. In addition, there is evidence that people who are pessimistic in their
teens and twenties are more likely to become ill or die in their fortie:

Main idea: Third sentences. The two sentences before the topic
sentence introduce the question of the physical health of neurotics. The
topic sentence gives the writer’s main ideas on the topic. The last two
sentences develop the main idea by giving specific details of the relevant
main idea.

ntences build up to the
A study at one prison show that owning a pet can change a hardened prison
inmate into a more caring person. Another study discovered that senior citizens,
both those living alone and those in nursing homes, became more interested in life
when they were given pets to care for. Even emotionally disturbed children have
been observed to smile and react with interest if there is a cuddly kitten or puppy
to hold. Animals, then, can be a means of therapy for many kinds of individual:



with the credit card, Now some banks are offering “debit cards” instead of the
credit cards. That costs of purchases made with these cards are deducted from
the holder’s bank account instead of being added the a monthly bill. And
checking accounts, which are mainly used for paying bills, are going electronic.
Now some people can make computer transactions over their pushbutton phones
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to pay bills by transferring money from their account to the account of whomever
they owe. Soon we may be able to conduct most of our business without signing a
check or actually seeing the money we earn and spend.
Topic Sentences That Cover More Than One Paragraph
Sometimes, you find a topic sentence that provides a main idea for more that one
paragraph. This occurs when the author feels that the development of the main
idea may be too lengthy for one paragraph.
* Sometime: selection lacks a topic sentence but that does not mean that it lacks a
main idea. The author simply lets the details of the selection suggest the main
idea. You must figure out the implied idea by deciding the points of all the

In ancient times, irrational behavior was considered the result of demons and evil
spirits taking possession of a person. Later, Greeks looked upon irrational behavior
asa physical problem ~ caused by an imbalance of body fluids called “humors” = or
by displacement of an organ. In the highly superstitious Middle Ages, the theory of
possession by demons was revived. It reached a high point again in the witch-hunts
of eighteenth-century Europe and America. Only in the last one hundred years did
true medical explanations gain wide acceptance and were categories of illnesses

No sentence is a good topic sentence that covers all other sentences. We must ask
s, “What is the main point the author is trying to make up with these
2” “Does all or most of the material support this idea?” In this case, the
details show that people have explained mental illness in man different ways over
the years. Although this is not stated, it is a broad enough summary to include all
other material in the paragraph-it is the main idea.

+ A paragraph contains facts, statements, examples-specifics which guide us to a full
understanding of the main idea. They clarify, illuminate, explain, describe, expand
and illustrate the main idea and are supporting details.

Determining Supporting Det:
1. Decide which details help to further the story line.
2. Decide which details help you to understand the main idea.
3. Answer question raised by the main idea (who, what when, why or how).

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Types of Supporting Mate:
1. COMPARISONS in which one thing is shown to be like another.
EXAMPLE: Skilled college students are like the unskilled students in their desire
for a diploma.
CONTRASTS in which one things is shown to differ from another.
EXAMPLE: Skilled students are different from unskilled students in that they use
a method to read a textbook.

EXAMPLE: 75 percent of the students who do not attend cla
grades of C or worse.

regularly receive
EXAMPLE: Figure 9-1 is one type of graph.
5. QUOTATIONS from authorities
EXAMPLE: Professor Smity admits, “I tell students they don’t need to attend
my class if they don’t want to. I know, however, that if they don’t
come, they won't pass.”

EXAMPLE: The students took the exam from the professor's hand, quickly
looked at the grade, gave a sigh or relief and began to smile.

\d Minor Details
There are two kinds of supporting details-major and minor. The main idea and its
major supporting details form the basic framework of paragraphs. The major details
are the primary points that support the main idea. Paragraphs often contain minor
details as well. While the major details explain and develop the main idea, they, in
tum are expanded upon the minor supporting details.

EXAMPLE: Main Idea and Major Detail
Studies reveal that people’s first names can have an influence on them.
Some names reflect on people in a positive way. However, other names can
have a negative impact.
EXAMPLE: Main Idea and Major and Minor Detail
Studies reveal that people’s first names can have an influence on them.
Some names reflect on people in a positive way. For example, one survey
showed that American men consider them name Susan to be ver sexy. And
participants in a British study thought Tony to be the name of someone very
friendly. However, other names can have a negative impact, In one study,
for instance, teachers gave lower grades to essay supposedly written by boys
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named Hubert and Elmer than to the very same essay when they credited to
boys with more popular names. Another study found girls with unpopular
names did worse on 1Q and achievement tests than girls with more
appealing names.

Langen and Lynn Jenkins, p. 14-37.