Writing: main ideas and supporting details

The body of your paper consists of main ideas that are directly related to the thesis statement and support for those main ideas.  Each paragraph should have a single main idea stated in a topic sentence and have support for that topic sentence.  New supporting ideas should be in a new paragraph, each with its own topic sentence and supporting details.  Put all together, these paragraphs are the body of your paper which will be the largest section of the paper.  It is important to carefully draft your main ideas and supporting details to be sure that there are clear and logical connections.

The main ideas of your paper are the topics that are directly linked to your thesis statement and provide the evidence to prove or disprove your thesis statement.  Your thesis statement is the single sentence that describes what you intend to do in the paper.  The main ideas are how you support the thesis.  As we state in the lesson Don’t skip the outline, a 500-800 word academic essay needs at least 3 main ideas.  Each main idea will have its own paragraph which should begin with a topic sentence.  The topic sentence should clearly state what the purpose of the paragraph is and is generally the opening sentence of the paragraph.

Let’s look at an example.  The thesis statement for this paper is “Changes in culture prompted the creation of Gothic architecture in western civilization.”  The main ideas we have outlined for this paper and that are directly related to the thesis are:

  • End of feudal system
  • Rising power of masonry guilds
  • Competition among cities

Each of these three main ideas is a direct example of a change in Western civilization culture during this time period.  The topic sentence of the first main idea might read, “The end of the feudal system created a stronger economy for the working class which in turn provided more funds for building of structures in the expensive Gothic style.”  The topic sentence for the third main idea would read, “There was a great deal of competition among cities and among bishops of those cities to have a cathedral bigger and better than that of the neighboring cities.”

Once you have drafted the main ideas, you will need to add supporting details.  Supporting details can include quotes or summaries from your research.  They might be anecdotal evidence or specific examples.  Facts and statistics are also excellent supporting details.  The types of supporting details you use will depend entirely on the purpose of your paper.  Using our previous example, supporting details for the third main idea might include statistics about the height and square footage of neighboring French cathedrals as well as their dates of construction to show how they were bigger or higher than others built during the same time period.  It might also include a quote or summary of research about how the bishops ordered the construction of a cathedral more spectacular than that of a nearby city.

It is not necessary to draft your thesis statement before you draft your main ideas.   You may wish to draft a list of main ideas first and then look for a common thread that ties them together.  In this case, you will want to list many possible main ideas because some of them will be thrown out.  You will draw from your own knowledge of the topic in order to brainstorm a list of possible main ideas.  From this list, find those that can be related under one theme.  Use that theme to draft your thesis statement.  Outline your main ideas, and then you may do further research on your main ideas in order to find more supporting details.

Let’s recap.  Your main ideas and supporting details constitute the core of your paper and must be drafted carefully to ensure that:

1- Your main ideas provide direct, effective and logical support to your thesis. (see fig 1)
2- Your supporting details offer strong and convincing evidence to help support your main ideas.

Supporting details include:

* Facts
* Statistics/Figures
* Direct quotes
* Paraphrased/summarized quotes
* Images/drawings/cartoons
* Anecdotal evidence

Note: Unless your supporting detail is an anecdote or falls under the category of “general knowledge”, you are required to cite your sources in order to avoid plagiarism.Click here to read more about quoting and citing sources.

The main ideas and supporting details will be the body of your paper, and therefore, it is important to carefully draft them.  Main ideas will always directly relate to your thesis statement, and the supporting details will relate directly to the main ideas.  The thesis statement, main ideas, and supporting details are all connected and each is a vital component of your paper.  Without each part, your paper will not hold together.

main ideas and supporting details

Fig.1: The relationship between the thesis and the main ideas.