Recognizing the Main Idea in a Complex Reading

The GED Test often incorporates multilayered texts.


Question 1 of 2

1. Choose the main idea sentence in the paragraph below.

For centuries, people have had different ways of trying to cure their hiccups. Many people drink water to get rid of their hiccups. Other people
hold their breath until their hiccups go away. Some people even have their friends or their family spook them to scare away the hiccups. What
are some ways that you know of to rid of your hiccups?


Question 1 of 2

Question 2 of 2

2. Choose the main idea sentence in the paragraph below.

Many years ago, my dad went to a Beatles concert and only paid $5.25 for a single ticket! These days, it's expensive to purchase tickets
to see your favorite bands. You'd have to pay at least $40 in most cases just to get into the nosebleed seats. And the floor? Forget it!
$300 at least! I guess my dad had it good back then.


Question 2 of 2


Next lesson:

The following transcript is provided merely for your convenience.

Breaking these texts down into easy-manageable chunks may be useful to better understand the overall text and to figure out the central themes, the opinions, and the thesis of the author.

This, again, will allow us to develop effective summaries and analyses of, and responses to the readings.

This section will be helpful to develop strategies to unravel complex readings and identify their main ideas.

Identifying Main Ideas

A good method for simplifying complex texts with multiple explanation, justifications, or perspectives is to first try to identify the author’s main idea. Here are a few strategies for identifying the author’s main idea:

  1. Keep in mind that, even when we read a text that includes multiple viewpoints, we are looking for the main ides of the writer! Whereas the author may be presenting viewpoints that are echoing main ideas of contributing authors or some other source, don’t mistake those points of view for the main idea that the author of the piece tries to convey.
  2. We should be looking for repeated ideas or words that indicate the author’s topic and the viewpoint he or she’s making about it. Repeating ideas and/or keywords are for many authors common practices and even if the authors present them in the text from different perspectives, repetition in itself is already quite a good indication of the author’s intended topic.
  3. We should weigh the how much time the author gives to viewpoints. When the author has given equal time to each position or opinion, he or she could well be neutral on the topic. If the author gives more time to one viewpoint, this could indicate that the author agrees or disagrees with the corresponding viewpoint.
  4. We should be looking for words that signal an author’s analysis of a situation. When the author is following a specific viewpoint with “however,” you may assume that he or she is not entirely agreeing with that specific viewpoint and wants to provide a counterpoint.
  5. Identify the piece’s headings and title. Often, in non-fiction pieces, the title will be repeating the main idea of that reading.
  6. Find the adverbs and adjectives that accompany the different viewpoints. When an author is prefacing a source using the words, for example, “successfully presenting his case,” it may be clear that the writer is agreeing with that viewpoint or is believing that this point has a lot more merit than another viewpoint. If, on the other hand, the author is describing a claim, for example, as “dubious,” it may be clear that the author doesn’t believe that particular viewpoint to have value.
  7. Look for the introduction and the conclusion. These two areas are where author tend to give a brief summarization of a reading’s viewpoint. Usually, of most readings, the introduction and the conclusion are relatively brief. They serve, however, to drive home the author’s main points.
  8. We can break down a piece’s paragraphs into a MEAL concept. MEAL stands for the Main idea, the Evidence, the Analysis, and the Link. The varying points of view will be the evidence of the author. In the analysis, however, the writer may give his or her own thoughts which could well drive you into the direction of the author’s main idea.

The MEAL concept explained:

The Main Idea: the topic sentence which identifies one of the thesis’ supporting claims.

The Evidence: the facts, expert opinions, or some anecdotal evidence to prove the claim as described in our topic sentence.

The Analysis: this explains in what way the evidence is supporting our topic sentence.

The Link: constitutes a transition from one of the piece’s paragraphs to another one, and back to the thesis as well.