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Chapter 6: The Function of Supporting Details

Chapter 5: The Function of Supporting Details 

  • Every paragraph contains a main idea (which is called a Topic Sentence when the writer spells it out).
  • The main idea of a paragraph is supported by details—facts, statistics, personal testimonies, analyses—that can be categorized into two groups: Major Details and Minor Details.

    Exercise 1: Recognizing Supporting Details (p. 244)

    Ex. 2: Distinguishing Between Supporting Details and

          Topic Sentences (p. 246)

    Ex. 3: Identifying Irrelevant Details (p. 249) 

    Major Details

    • are examples, reasons, statistics, and studies that help make the main idea clear and convincing.
    • Are PRIMARILY in charge of supporting the main idea
    • Answer readers’ questions about the topic sentence/main idea.
    • Must be included in reading notes.
    • Are often introduced in the paragraph with transition words (e.g., for example, for instance, first, second, in addition, finally, similarly, therefore, etc.)

    Minor Details

    • May or may not be important enough to include in reading notes.
    • Further explain major details.
    • Repeat key points and add colorful details.

    See Exercise 4: Diagramming Major and Minor Details (p. 258) 

    Exercise 5: Diagramming Major and Minor Details (p. 258) 

    Topic Sentences Help Identify Major Details 

    Pay attention to words and phrases in topic sentences that help readers identify major details.  

    Ex: 1. Child abuse can take several different forms.

    Ex: 2. Psychologists have identified three styles of parenting.

    Ex: 3: Even when identical twins are reared in different homes, they show many similarities.

    Ex: 4: There are a couple of reasons to be a renter than a homeowner.

    Ex: 5: Schizophrenic delusions take place in distinct stages. 

    Topic Sentence Clues to Major Details 

    Among the causes, results     Numerous cases, people,

    A number of ways                 Studies

    Categories                             Problems

    Classes                                  Similarities, differences

    Components                          stages, steps, strategies

    See P. 261 for more clue words

    Transitions and Major Details:

    In addition to topic sentences that tell readers what type or kind of major detail they need to look for, transition words such as furthermore, in addition, moreover, also can alert us to the location of the next Major detail.  

    Transition Words that Signal Addition or Continuation 

    Also, And, As a matter of fact, Finally, First, Second, Next,

    First of all, For example, For instance, For one thing, For this reason, Furthermore, In addition, Last, Lastly, Moreover, One example of this, similarly, Then, Therefore 

    See Shaded Box on P. 262 for more examples


    Exercise 6: Using Topic Sentences and Transitions to Identify Major Details (p. 264)

    Ex. 7: Identifying Topic Sentences and Major Details (p. 267)

    Ex. 8: Identifying Topic Sentences and Minor Details (p. 271) 

    Reader-Supplied Supporting Details 

    Sometimes writers will not spell out everything about the supporting details; when this happens, it is the job of the reader to fill in the blank and make an educated guess—inference—about what the supporting details are and HOW they support the topic sentence. 

    Ex. 9: Drawing Inferences About Supporting Details (p. 276) 

    Concluding Sentences – appear at the very end of the paragraph. Unlike the supporting sentences, concluding sentences do not directly develop the topic sentence or affect a major detail. Instead, they may

    • describe the result or outcome of some problem or event referred to in the paragraph.
    • Try to predict the future based on the information provided in the paragraph.
    • Tie up loose ends, and provide the paragraph with a sense of closure

    NOTE: Not all paragraphs contain concluding sentences. To test whether the last sentence or two of a given paragraph is a concluding sentence, ask yourself, “What new information or support does this sentence provide to support the main idea?” If the answer is NONE, it is probably the concluding sentence and NOT a supporting detail. 

    See Exercise 10: Recognizing Concluding Sentences (p. 283)

    Ex. 11: Recognizing the Function of Every Sentence (p. 285) 


    Chapter 8: Moving Beyond the Paragraph


    Paragraph vs. Essay

    • Whereas a paragraph consists of a group of related sentences that all work together to support one main idea, an essay is made up of a group of paragraphs that all work closely together to support one main idea called the THESIS. 
    • The main difference between a paragraph and an essay is that an essay contains MORE SUPPORTING DETAILS—meaning, longer major details and longer minor details. For example, whereas a paragraph might contain say, 3 major supporting details within itself, in an essay, each of these major supporting details would get an entire paragraph to itself.  
    • Whereas in a paragraph, a TOPIC SENTENCE is the written expression of the author’s main idea, in an essay, the THESIS STATEMENT is the author’s written expression of the main idea. 
    • Like the paragraph that may or may not contain a TOPIC SENTENCE, an essay may or may not contain a written THESIS STATEMENT. As you do in paragraph reading, when there is no expressed THESIS STATEMENT, you must still INFER the Main Idea of the entire essay. 
    • Similar to the paragraph that could contain concluding sentences, essays can also contain a concluding paragraph. Like concluding sentences, concluding paragraphs can explain the outcome or result of an incident or event described in the reading; they can also make predictions about the future or offer a solution to a problem mentioned in the essay. Like concluding sentences, concluding paragraphs DO NOT offer any new major or minor supporting details, but rather they try to create a sense of closure to the reading and tie up any loose ends. 

    Two Goals to Keep in Mind While Reading an Essay: 

    1. Focus on understanding the main idea expressed in each paragraph.
    1. Try to figure out how each paragraph fit together into a unified whole. That is, WHAT MAIN IDEA OR THESIS DO THE PARAGRAPH ALL WORK TO SUPPORT? 


    • What idea is developed in more than one paragraph?
    • What general statement sums up the message of the entire reading? (This general statement would be the THESIS STATEMENT which usually appears near the beginning of the essay, but could theoretically appear anywhere in the essay.)
    • If there is no general statement that sums up the reading, what statement can I infer?

    For Each Paragraph Contained within an Essay, Ask: 

    1. What’s the main idea?
    2. How does that main idea relate to the larger point of the essay?
    3. What supporting details developing the main ideas in the paragraph are also essential to understanding or explaining the overall main idea?

    See Exercises 1 (337), 2 (342), Exercise 3 (352), Exercise 4 (356), Exercise 5 (364)

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