Thesis Statement Or Main Idea

Main idea

Author: Lydia Postell

The main idea, as we call it in reading class, is the same as the topic sentence in English class.  The main idea, like the topic sentence, simply states what the reading passage is about in one sentence.  There are several ways to find the main idea that you can apply to topic sentences as well.

1. Find the topic of the selection.  In order to find the topic, ask yourself who or what the selection is about.  When you answer either one of those questions, you will have found the topic.  Here are a couple more hints.  The topic will often be a word that is repeated throughout the selection.  For instance, if you were reading a paragraph about dinosaurs and how they became extinct, you would see the reason they became extinct repeated several times throughout the selection, many times using different words. 

2. Another important concept about the topic is that it is always written as a few words or even as one word.  Sometimes the title of the selection is the topic.

3. A third way to look for a main idea is to consider the wording.  When you see words that suggest you could find the information by creating a list, then you have found the main idea sentence.  Examples of these word groups are several kinds, three disadvantages of, several reasons for, three causes of, and others along these lines.  These types of sentences announce the points the reading will deal with.

A couple of ideas to keep in mind:  Main idea sentences take in everything in the reading passage, so when you look for a main idea sentence, be sure to look for the sentence that can take in all the points the paragraph or reading makes.  Another important idea to keep in mind is that the main idea, like the topic sentence, may appear in other locations besides the beginning of an essay.  While it may appear in the first two or three sentences, it may also appear in the middle or at the end of a reading selection.  Don’t limit yourself by looking only at the beginning!  Look for the most general sentence, and then ask yourself who or what the selection is about.  If you are struggling at that point, you might wish to look at the wording of the sentences to see if one suggests that a list might be coming.  If so, then that is your main idea sentence.

Thesis Statement

Author: Jenny Crisp

In writing, a thesis statement is the most important sentence you will write in an essay. For this class, and likely for most of your college courses, it should be the last sentence – or sometimes the last two sentences – in your introduction paragraph.

The thesis statement will say something about your topic, but doesn't just state your topic. For example, you would not want to write

[Bad thesis]: This is an essay about how everyone should own a dog.

Instead, your thesis statement should say something that is debatable – that is, it should have some attitude. If no one could possibly argue with your thesis statement, what would be the point of writing at all? So, let's work on that thesis statement from before:

[Bad thesis]: This is an essay about how everyone should own a dog.

How could any reader argue with that? It's your essay – you know what it's going to be about. No one reading your essay knows what it's about yet – otherwise why read it? So, to give it some attitude, let's quit talking about the fact that it’s an essay:

[Decent thesis]: Everyone should own a dog.

OK. That's better – that thesis statement has an attitude. But, if I'm reading your essay, I still don't really know where you're going with this, do I?

That's where the other part of the thesis statement comes in: the essay map. An essay map gives your reader some idea of what's coming. What would you talk about in trying to convince your friends that everyone should own a dog? Those are the topics that you will explain in your body paragraphs, and they are the things you should list in your thesis statement’s essay map. Here's an example:

Good thesis: Everyone should own a dog because dogs provide companionship, provide protection, and provide great entertainment.

Now, there is a thesis statement! That one has attitude – it takes a side on the topic. It also provides a map of where the essay is going. With a thesis statement like this, readers know to expect a body paragraph about companionship, then one about protection, and then one about entertainment. Sounds more interesting than just saying “this essay will be about dogs,” huh?

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