14th February, 2020

How to Quickly Catch the Main Idea of a Book or an Article

By Michael H

Ever wondered what it takes to catch the main idea of a book? If so, chances are you were faced with several hard-hitting questions, some of which aren’t easy to answer.

Catching a book or article’s main idea is a crucial reading skill to master. Not to mention other important aspects like making a conclusion, understanding vocabulary in context, and finding the purpose of the author.

Don’t worry; we got your back!

Below are some techniques that will help you catch the main idea of a book quickly and accurately.

But, before we jump to conclusions...

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How to Define the Main Idea?

The main idea of a book is something an author wants to convey to his or her readers— sometimes in a straightforward manner, and sometimes in a unique way.

Therefore, when the key point is directly stated in a book, article, or paragraph, it’s expressed in a way called “the topic sentence.” This indicates the overarching concept of what the book or article is about.

It is, however, backed by the small details in the paragraph’s subsequent sentences. So, don’t panic if it seems too hard to catch in the beginning. You’ll learn through practice.

If an article has multi-paragraphs, the main idea is usually revealed in your standard thesis statement. This is also supported through smaller, individual points.

Here, let’s make it a little easier for you to understand:

So, the “main” point is a brief yet comprehensive summary. It covers everything about the book or article in the usual way. However, it doesn’t explain all the specific details.

Those tiny details may appear later in paragraphs and add context and nuance; the main idea demands those details to serve its argument.

Here’s a brief example:

Think of an article on World War I: Facts, Causes, and History.

One paragraph is dedicated to the role “imperialism” played throughout the conflict. The key point is: "Competition among big empires caused a lot of tensions across Europe which ultimately erupted into War."

The rest of the article may explore the specific facts, causes, and history, especially about people who were involved, why they were seeking powers, etc. However, the main idea only explains the detailed argument of that part.

That said, an author may also decide not to state the main idea directly to the readers. You may have noticed it too, which is probably why you’re here trying to figure out how to catch the idea.

Well, in situations like this, the idea will still be implied. You’re just going to have to figure out the implied main ideas.

The trick?

Simple: Pay close attention to the article—at specific images, repeated words, and sentences, etc.—to understand the author’s implication.

Finding the Main Idea

As mentioned, finding the main concept of a book is important. It helps all the details have relevance and make sense, while at the same time providing a framework for remembering the book.

The following steps will help you figure out the main point of an article or book.

Step 1: Identifying the Topic

Your first job is to read the article completely.

Try to identify the topic: What is the article about?

Remember, this section is simply identifying the topic, such as World War I Causes, or Latest Hearing Technologies— more on this in a later example.

Don't yet worry about understanding the argument made throughout the article, based on the decided topic.

Step 2: Summarizing the Article

Once you’ve read through the entire article, use your own words to summarize it in just one sentence.

Think of it this way; you only have 10 words to describe the article to a friend—what do you say?

After summarizing the book or article, jump to the third step.

Step 3: Focusing on the Article’s First and Last Sentences

Some authors love to explain the main concept in either the first or last sentence of their book or article. Therefore, separating these sentences will help make sense of the article’s main concept.

It’s also important to note that the author may use words like “however,” “nevertheless,” “in contrast,” etc. This usually means the following sentence or paragraph is actually what you’re looking for: the main idea.

So, if you notice any of these terms negating or confirming the first sentence, there’s a good chance the second paragraph is the key point of the article.

Step 4: Paying Attention to the Repetition of Concepts

You read through an article but have no clue how to summarize the whole thing as there’s a slew of information. In this case, consider looking for related ideas, repeated words or phrases, and things like that.

Here’s an example paragraph you can follow:

The new hearing device comes with a magnet that holds the portable sound-processing bit in place. Just like other hearing aids, this one converts sounds into vibrations. However, what makes it so unique is that it can transfer vibrations directly into the magnet, following your inner ear. This promotes an effective, clearer sound. Not all hearing-impaired individuals will benefit from this new device— only people with a hearing impairment caused by an infection may find it useful. In fact, only 20% of all individuals suffering from hearing problems will reap its benefits. Those who have ear infections of some sort should find restored hearing with this new device.

Notice anything strange? What does the paragraph talk about consistently?

Of course, a new hearing device. 

And what is the main idea here? A hearing device that is now accessible for some hearing-impaired individuals, not all.


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Wrapping Up

The main idea is the key point of a book or article.

To define the main idea, you first need to figure out what is being said about the person, thing, or idea.

As mentioned, the author can and will locate the idea in different places within a book. It’s usually a sentence, possibly the first or last one. The author then uses the rest of the book or paragraph to support the key point.

To sum up:

  • Read through the article completely; try to find the topic.
  • Make a summarization of the article using your own words; in one sentence.
  • Emphasize on the first and last sentences.
  • When there’s a lot of information, look for idea repetitions.

Need more help with analysing different texts? Search for an English tutor.

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Jane Evans is a freelance writer and blogger from NYC. She loves to travel, meet new people and talk about literature, modern art, and new technologies. You can find her on Twitter.

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