Writing: Main Idea, Thesis Statement, and Topic Sentences

Amanda Renaud has taught Middle School and High School English for 4 years. She has a Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Development with a minor in Reading Intervention from Concordia University. She is certified to teach English and Humanities in Washington and Texas.

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

Learn how to write the main idea of an essay, the thesis statement, and the topic sentence. Study examples of each and compare their meanings in essay writing. Updated: 01/12/2022

Table of Contents

Main Idea, Thesis Statement & Topic Sentence

It is important for a written piece – an essay, for example – to have structure and organization. Structure and organization help a writer clearly communicate ideas and help the reader understand the ideas being communicated. The main idea, thesis statement, and topic sentences all provide structure to an essay. It is important for both readers and writers to understand the roles of each of these in order to maintain clear communication and understanding of ideas.

  • Main idea: The concept that is being discussed or analyzed throughout the entire essay.
  • Thesis statement: A one-to-two sentence statement that is usually found in the introduction of the essay and explains the main argument of the entire piece. The body paragraphs and conclusion will all connect to and support this statement.
  • Topic sentence: A key sentence at the paragraph level that discusses and elaborates on specific points from the thesis statement.

The main idea, thesis statements, and topic sentences structure an essay.

Difference Between Thesis Statement and Topic Sentence

It is important to be able to differentiate between a thesis statement and a topic sentence. Although they have similar purposes, they have different roles in communicating the ideas of the piece; one gives the main idea for the entire essay and the other the main idea in supporting paragraphs.

The thesis statement summarizes the argument or analysis that will be discussed throughout the entire essay. It is usually one sentence long, and it is usually located in the introduction paragraph. The supporting paragraphs that follow the introduction explain the important points and ideas of the thesis.

A topic sentence is the key sentence in a supporting paragraph that explains particular points of the thesis of the entire work. A topic sentence tells what that particular paragraph is about; it connects the supporting ideas in it to the argument or analysis that is explained in the thesis statement. Topic sentences occur throughout the essay near the beginning of each paragraph and help transition to new supporting ideas.

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Main Idea of an Essay

The main idea is the concept being expressed or examined throughout the essay. The main idea is the gist, meaning what it is mostly about; it is what the whole text says about the topic of the essay. The thesis statement, topic sentences, and supporting sentences will all connect to this idea.

How to Write a Main Idea

An effective main idea can be supported by the details, analysis, and arguments found in the essay. To write a main idea statement, consider the general topic and what will specifically be shared about that topic. The main idea narrows the topic from a large general idea to a more specific idea. Then the main idea statement will be written as a statement that explains what will be shared about that idea.

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1. Select a general topic: coffee

2. Narrow down the topic to a specific idea: organic coffee options

3. Write a statement that explains what will be shared about this idea: There are many benefits to choosing organic coffee.

The main idea statement explains the concept that will be discussed throughout the essay.

Thesis Statement

A thesis statement, sometimes referred to as the central idea statement, clearly explains the argument or analysis of the main idea. It is important because it helps readers understand what the essay is about. It is one to two sentences, usually located in the introduction paragraph, and explains the argument or analysis that will be discussed throughout the remainder of the essay. The thesis statement will help readers understand the purpose of the essay.

Writing a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement or central idea statement will indirectly state the purpose of the essay. After determining the main idea statement, writers should create a purpose statement. A purpose statement identifies the audience and explains how and why the content will be presented to the audience.

The purpose statement for the organic coffee example could be the following:

To convince readers to drink organic coffee instead of conventional coffee.

The purpose statement will not be included in the essay, but it helps the writer identify in their mind the reason for writing the essay and the argument being presented. The thesis statement can then be created using the purpose statement as a guide. The thesis statement will explain the main argument or analysis of the essay. The thesis statement should include the reasons that will be presented in the essay as well as the counterargument, if there is one.

Using this same organic coffee example, the following thesis statement can be crafted:

Although it may be easier and cheaper to buy conventional coffees, there are many benefits to drinking organic coffee, including health benefits, environmental benefits, and economic benefits.

How Many Sentences Should a Thesis Statement Be?

The thesis statement can be one to two sentences in length. It is critical that the argument or analysis is presented clearly, so clarity is the priority when constructing a thesis statement.

Writers should begin with a working thesis statement. The reason it is called a working thesis statement is that the thesis statement can be revised throughout the writing process to ensure clarity. Writers may begin with a shorter thesis statement, but then discover the statement needs to be revised to include more information, or they could revise it to succinctly communicate the argument. It is important to remember that the statement itself can be revised for clarity.

What is the Main Goal of a Thesis Statement?

The main goal of a thesis statement is to clearly express the argument or analysis that will be discussed throughout the essay. As mentioned, this statement should also include the supporting reasons and the counterargument. These elements can all be found in the organic coffee thesis statement below:

Although it may be easier and cheaper to buy conventional coffees, there are many benefits to drinking organic coffee, including health benefits, environmental benefits, and economic benefits.

  • Argument: There are many benefits to drinking organic coffee.
  • Supporting Reasons: health benefits, environmental benefits, and economic benefits
  • Counterargument: Although it may be easier and cheaper to buy conventional coffees

Depending on the purpose of the essay, a thesis statement could be explanatory or argumentative. The purpose of an explanatory thesis statement and essay would be to explain or inform the audience. An argumentative thesis statement and essay would aim to convince, persuade, or prove.

Topic Sentence

Topic sentences are used to introduce the main ideas in each paragraph. They are usually found near the beginning of each body paragraph, and they connect to and support the reasons that are stated in the thesis statement. Topic sentences occur throughout the essay and help transition to new supporting ideas.

Topic Sentence vs Main Idea

Topic sentences will include the main idea for that particular paragraph, but they do not explain the main idea for the entire essay. Topic sentences for the organic coffee example will include organic coffee, but also explain the new idea that is being presented about organic coffee.

Topic Sentence Ideas

Each body paragraph will contain a topic sentence that connects to the main idea and thesis statement. The thesis statement included supporting ideas that will be discussed throughout the essay. Each of these ideas can be explained further in a body paragraph.

The three supporting ideas (health, environmental, and economic benefits) mentioned in the example thesis statement will be included in the topic sentences of each body paragraph.

Although it may be easier and cheaper to buy conventional coffees, there are many benefits to drinking organic coffee, including health benefits, environmental benefits, and economic benefits.

  • Health benefits: Organic coffee provides health benefits to the coffee drinker.
  • Environmental benefits: Sustainable growing methods for organic coffee lead to environmental benefits by preserving the health of the soil.
  • Economic benefits: Fair Trade organizations are involved in organic coffee production resulting in economic benefits for coffee farmers.
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Lesson Summary

The main idea, thesis statement, and topic sentences all provide structure and create clarity within an essay. Each plays a role in clearly communicating ideas to the reader. It is important for writers to understand each statement’s role and how to use each statement in the essay.

  • Main idea: The concept that is being discussed throughout the entire essay.
  • Thesis statement: One sentence that explains the main argument or analysis of the main idea, as well as the ideas that support the argument or analysis.
  • Topic sentence: The first sentence in each body paragraph that discusses the main idea of that paragraph; these all connect to the reasons provided in the thesis statement.

The main idea establishes the general idea for the piece; while the thesis statement explains the purpose and argument that surrounds the general idea. Topic sentences are used throughout the essay to support the thesis statement.

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The Main Purpose of Essay Writing in Education

Be it high school or college, classrooms around the world require writing of at least a few essays during coursework. For some students, the tasks may be tedious, grueling, and possibly even futile in writing essays. And while writing my essays can be a very long and boring process, its practice is anything but tough. The skills needed to successfully craft an essay are skills that transcend into many other areas of life.

When learning essay writing skills in school, you learn how to develop arguments, transform your thoughts into concise, fluid sentences, and organize, along with improving grammar, spelling and punctuation. Which later on helps you with nearly everything in life – from future employment to daily tasks, it even helps improve reading proficiency. Due to its ability to prepare students for the “real world” it’s an important skill to be learned in the classroom.

Simply put, the main purpose of teaching and reinforcing writing is to prepare students, but the practice has many other purposes and benefits, such as: Enhancing communication, teaching organization, Improving grasp of the language (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, spelling), Encouraging self-expression, etc. Now a word about each of these:

Enhancing Communication

Essay writing enhances communication skills by helping students learn how to transform their thoughts into well-informed and crafted sentences. If they’re able to write it out on paper or type it on a computer, then they should be able to express it in both casual conversations and intellectual debates. However, for some, writing their thoughts is a lot easier than communicating them aloud to another person. This is due to two reasons: First, writing is easier for an individual to express (a young girl or boy writes in their diary) or, second, expressing thoughts out loud follows the initial process of writing (a presidential nominee writes out their speech before delivering it).

In either regard, communication is being, not only learned, but practiced. Like in the pages of a diary, emotions and memories are recorded, allowing its writer to better understand themselves and better express or explain their emotions to others. In the same way, speech is written with the intent of orating it, typically to a group of people, and so the written words are transcending from their initial drafting process to the activity of speaking them. This furthers communication skills by introducing the necessities of essay writing first. If essay writing is mastered, then formulating thoughts, ideas, and arguments into clear sentences is mastered.

Teaching Organization

When drafting an essay, especially a lengthy one, organization it is always emphasized by teachers to their students. If the arguments and thoughts of the essay aren’t structured in a way that makes sense, important points are ignored. Therefore essay writing in education is to help master the ability to not only write, not only formulate ideas but to make those ideas as easy to understand as possible. Even if the grammar and punctuation were perfect – no comma out of place, no misuse of present or past tense – it would all mean nothing to a teacher if the essay did not exhibit proper organization and flow. Learning to organize helps students become better at processing information and arranging it in their mind in a way they can understand and let others to understand. A systematized essay is a persuasive essay, and a persuasive essay indicates a student who is learning and succeeding.

Improving Grasp of Language

While teaching students a language that is not their native tongue, writing is always a big part of the curriculum. This is because you will learn the proper spelling of words, sentence structure, proper grammar, correct forms of punctuation. And mastering of all of these skills will allow you to write credible emails, resumes, reports, and any other form of writing a future career may require.

Encouraging Self Expression

Another purpose of essay writing is to teach them to be creative and express their thoughts clearly. Even for academic essay writing, a great deal of creativity is required, possibly encouraged by the company like https://rapidessays.info/. All of these steps call for a certain amount of creativity and the freedom of choice. If a student becomes particularly interested or excited in their topic, their urgency to express their ideas on the subject matter will really show in their essay writing.

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Essay writing in education is important for students to learn more about themselves as writers and individuals, as it teaches them how to communicate, express their ideas, and, of course, improves their capabilities as students in learning organizational skills and the language arts. Instructors enforce the practice of essay writing for their students’ greater benefit.

How to Find the Main Idea

How to find the main idea of a passage

Kelly Roell is the author of “Ace the ACT. ” She has a master’s degree in secondary English education and has worked as a high school English teacher.

Questions about the “main idea” of a passage are popular on reading comprehension tests, but sometimes, those questions are pretty difficult to answer, especially for students who are not completely sure they understand what the main idea really is. Finding the main idea of a paragraph or longer passage of text is one of the most important reading skills to master, along with concepts like making an inference, finding the author’s purpose, or understanding vocabulary words in context.

Here are a few techniques to help understand what, exactly, is a “main idea” and how to identify it accurately in a passage.

How to Define the Main Idea

The main idea of a paragraph is the primary point or concept that the author wants to communicate to the readers about the topic. Hence, in a paragraph, when the main idea is stated directly, it is expressed in what is called the topic sentence. It gives the overarching idea of what the paragraph is about and is supported by the details in subsequent sentences in the paragraph. In a multi-paragraph article, the main idea is expressed in the thesis statement, which is then supported by individual smaller points.

Think of the main idea as a brief but all-encompassing summary. It covers everything the paragraph talks about in a general way, but does not include the specifics. Those details will come in later sentences or paragraphs and add nuance and context; the main idea will need those details to support its argument.

For example, imagine a paper discussing the causes of World War I. One paragraph might be dedicated to the role that imperialism played in the conflict. The main idea of this paragraph might be something like: “Constant competition for massive empires led to increasing tensions in Europe that eventually erupted into World War I.” The rest of the paragraph might explore what those specific tensions were, who was involved, and why the countries were seeking empires, but the main idea just introduces the overarching argument of the section.

When an author does not state the main idea directly, it should still be implied, and is called an implied main idea. This requires that the reader look closely at the content—at specific words, sentences, images that are used and repeated—to deduce what the author is communicating.

How to Find the Main Idea

Finding the main idea is critical to understanding what you are reading. It helps the details make sense and have relevance, and provides a framework for remembering the content. Try these specific tips to pinpoint the main idea of a passage.

1) Identify the Topic

Read the passage through completely, then try to identify the topic. Who or what is the paragraph about? This part is just figuring out a topic like “cause of World War I” or “new hearing devices;” don’t worry yet about deciding what argument the passage is making about this topic.

2) Summarize the Passage

After reading the passage thoroughly, summarize it in your own words in one sentence. Pretend you have just ten to twelve words to tell someone what the passage is about—what would you say?

3) Look at the First and Last Sentences of the Passage

Authors often put the main idea in or near either the first or last sentence of the paragraph or article, so isolate those sentences to see if they make sense as the overarching theme of the passage. Be careful: sometimes the author will use words like but, however, in contrast, nevertheless, etc. that indicate that the second sentence is actually the main idea. If you see one of these words that negate or qualify the first sentence, that is a clue that the second sentence is the main idea.

4) Look for Repetition of Ideas

If you read through a paragraph and you have no idea how to summarize it because there is so much information, start looking for repeated words, phrases, or related ideas. Read this example paragraph:

A new hearing device uses a magnet to hold the detachable sound-processing portion in place. Like other aids, it converts sound into vibrations, but it is unique in that it can transmit the vibrations directly to the magnet and then to the inner ear. This produces a clearer sound. The new device will not help all hearing-impaired people—only those with a hearing loss caused by infection or some other problem in the middle ear. It will probably help no more than 20 percent of all people with hearing problems. Those people who have persistent ear infections, however, should find relief and restored hearing with the new device.

What does this paragraph consistently talk about? A new hearing device. What is it trying to convey? A new hearing device is now available for some, but not all, hearing-impaired people. That’s the main idea!

Avoid Main Idea Mistakes

Choosing a main idea from a set of answer choices is different than composing a main idea on your own. Writers of multiple choice tests are often tricky and will give you distractor questions that sound much like the real answer. By reading the passage thoroughly, using your skills, and identifying the main idea on your own, though, you can avoid making these 3 common mistakes: selecting an answer that is too narrow in scope; selecting an answer that is too broad; or selecting an answer that is complex but contrary to the main idea.

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Source https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-find-the-main-idea-3212047

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