Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Communicating a Point

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they were trying to argue some point, but you simply couldn’t figure out what exactly they were trying to say? Very often during informal discussions you might have a strong sense of reasoning in your mind but not be communicating these ideas clearly to the person you are talking to.

Similarly, when you are reading different kinds of sources, it might not always be obvious what the key arguments are that the author is trying to make. In this lesson, we’ll look at ways to identify the key ideas contained in texts like articles, essays, historical documents, letters, or charts.

Having this understanding may also help you get a stronger sense of the strategies you could use when trying to communicate your ideas in writing.

The Influence of Structure

When you are dealing with formal texts like academic articles or essays, one way of identifying the key ideas is to consider the text’s structure, particularly the introduction. Normally the authors will try to make their main arguments explicit within the first few paragraphs, as establishing the purpose of the text is vital to ensuring that the support for their arguments doesn’t appear to be random.

As such, it is valuable to consider the purpose of each section in these texts. The argument is supposed to be in the introduction, while the body of the essay or article should work towards clarifying the links between their argument and their evidence. Concluding paragraphs tend to reintroduce the evidence that supported key arguments and is therefore more focused on support than the introduction.

Indicative Words and Sentence Types

In addition to using the text’s structure, there are also certain words or phrases that might indicate when the author is making a statement. Statements tend to relate strongly to a text’s key ideas or argument, while explanations or evidence generally support these ideas.

When a sentence contains words indicating that the information that follows is largely support, or an explanation (like when using ‘you see this in…’ or ‘for example…’), identifying the statement that appears just beforehand will give you a stronger sense of the text’s main ideas.

Although authors often place the main idea contained in a paragraph towards the beginning or end of a paragraph, this is not always the case. Consequently, it might be useful to ask yourself whether a sentence represents a statement, supporting evidence, or an explanation.

Other Text Types

Less academic or formal texts might not be as structured. In these cases, the ability to determine the nature and purpose of individual sentences or phrases might still be a great starting point.

However, you might also want to take into account the purpose of the document you are working with. Once you have a sense of why a letter or historical document was written, you should have a better idea of what to look out for as you scan through it. For example, if you are reading a letter from a soldier to his wife during a war, you can probably guess that it will contain some news of the battles, or his opinion of the war and his place in it at that time.

Or say you are working with a chart. The location or title of the chart should directly state its purpose. Since the structure of a chart differs significantly from the other text types mentioned, it would be useful in such cases to familiarize yourself with the general layout. In doing this, you should then be able to determine how the categories in a chart relates to the text in which it appears.

Lesson Summary

Since few texts are created with no particular purpose, you’ll almost always find that the ideas communicated in a text are strongly related to the author’s goal. In some cases, being familiar with the general structure or formats of the text type that you are working with can be useful. When dealing with articles and essays, for example, looking at the introduction is often a good starting point for getting a sense of the text’s main arguments.

Being able to identify the nature and function of individual phrases or sentences might also help you in determining central ideas or arguments. Look for words that indicate statements as opposed to words that indicate an explanation or support.

In other types of texts, you can take into account the purpose of the document (for example, who a letter was written to and at what time in history it was written) as well as gaining clues from visuals like charts to help give you an idea of a text’s key arguments.

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