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Finding the main idea in a text

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Uploaded on Dec 7, 2011

Transcript:

You may already have done some work on finding the main ideas in a whole text. Well right now we're changing scale and we're looking at finding the main idea in a paragraph; so intensive reading.

If you have a look at what you see on the screen, you should see an essay title, and that reads "The floods of 2007 were primarily a result of ineffective government policy. Discuss." So the extract which you see here which you're going to read is from a text which is related to this essay title. In fact, it's from the Pitt Review, which is an independent government review looking at the lessons that can be learned from the 2007 floods, and it's one of the recommendations on what the government should do about floods in the future. So, I'm going to give you a short time to read this paragraph, and try to think which sentence contains the main idea in this paragraph.

Did you find the main idea in this paragraph? If you didn't, a good strategy is to try and look for repeated key words in the paragraph. Here we have an interesting one; there's the words "surface water"...there needs to be a new emphasis on guarding against "this type of flooding", that's surface water. Sir Michael Pitt says the Environment agency is best placed to develop a national approach to managing "surface water flood risk", including the development of "surface water" mapping, and it should no longer be a right of householders and businesses to lay "impermeable surfaces", which is also related.

So if you have a look at this paragraph; "surface water" or related terms appear at least five times, so the main idea in the paragraph has something to do with surface water.

So did you actually find the main idea in this paragraph? Yes you're right, it is contained in the very first sentence in the paragraph, and in fact this is the most common place to find the main idea for a paragraph. Lets read it; "with around two-thirds of the floods caused by surface water, there needs to be a new emphasis on guarding against this type of flooding."

Well, if you didn't really know what surface water was in the first place, then it would be very hard for you to find this main idea in the paragraph, and actually vocabulary is one of the biggest obstacles to understanding a text. So in this example, surface water flooding is when rain falls on roofs and driveways and any surface where the water can't pass through (this is in urban areas), and then basically the water builds up from these surfaces and causes flooding of houses and businesses et cetera. And this in fact is different to the way the government thought about flooding in the past, because they used to think about it as flooding from rivers or from the sea, and this is a different type.
So basically they're saying that there is this new kind of flooding and action needs to be taken against it, and that is the main ideas.

Some of the subsequent ideas are that there should be a national approach to managing surface water; that there should be surface water mapping, and warning tools, and householders and businesses shouldn't be allowed to lay impermeable surfaces. So there are three sub-ideas underneath our main idea about surface water being a new type of flooding.

Right, so basically this is a fairly straightforward example of how to find a main idea in a paragraph, but it's not always that easy. Main ideas may not always be contained in the first sentence of a paragraph. They can be found in different positions within the paragraph, and also they can be unhidden, or unstated. That is you have to kind of work them out for yourself, which is a little bit more difficult.

If you would like more practise on finding main ideas in paragraphs, then feel free to go to the Skills@Library reading skills topic page, and you'll find a couple of extra examples there.

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