6 Critical Thinking and Summarizing

Finding the Main Idea

Grace Richardson[1] has the following to say about finding the main idea.

It is easy to get lost in the details of a piece of writing and miss the big picture. Being able to find the main idea and supporting points is an important skill that will help you understand what you are reading.

Have you ever read to the end of a passage and thought: “What was that about?” Sometimes a passage can seem like a string of facts or ideas. Recognizing the main idea of a passage is a vital reading skill. No matter what you’re reading, whether it is a news story, novel, or a chapter in a chemistry textbook, you need to understand what the author is trying to tell you. So how do you find the main idea? Start with the topic.


The topic of a piece of writing is like the title of a newspaper article, a song, or a book. Usually, it is a word or phrase, like Healthy Habits or Money. It gives you a glimpse of the subject, but not the details. For instance, what topic do you think would cover the following?




Performance cars

TOPIC           Kinds of vehicles

Once you discover the topic, look for the main idea.

Main Idea

The main idea of a piece of writing is the point that the author wants to make about the topic. Often it is written as a statement at the beginning of a paragraph or essay, but sometimes it is at the end, in the middle, or even implied through the details. The main idea could also be called the thesis or the central point.

For instance, the main idea for the topic above could be: There are so many types of vehicles on the road today, that you should consider a number of things before buying.

Supporting Points

To support the main idea, a writer needs facts, ideas, and information. Some supporting points will be major while others will be minor, or more specific.

Major points are general or broad statements that provide support for the main idea. For instancea major point for the above statement could be: First, consider your budget. It is important to keep in mind that major points can sometimes be implied from minor details that are presented in a text.

Minor points are more specific, such as important details like facts and examples. For instance, a minor, point for the major point “First, consider your budget” could be New pickups cost between $20,000 and $60,000. While new SUVs can cost $75,000, and luxury RVs can cost over a million dollars.

Summarizing a Text

When you finish reading a text, it’s a great idea to stop for a moment and write a summary of what you just read; it is important to use your own words to express your understanding of what you have read.  Try and capture the text’s main idea and major points.

Writing a summary of a text will help you review what you read and will help your brain capture the main idea and major points. Writing these down cements the memories and help you recall them more easily later on.

In this video, Shaun Macleod explains the essentials to writing a summary[2]:


Burnell et al. [3] have the following to say about summarizing a text.

A good summary accomplishes the following:

  • It identifies or names the piece and its author(s) and states the main idea of the text.
  • It captures the text’s major points.
  • It often excludes many of the minor points
  • It does notinclude the reader’s opinions, feelings, beliefs, counterarguments, etc.
  • It is short; the idea of a summary is to “boil down” or condense a text to just a few sentences.

At times, you may be asked to cite the source within your article summary. See the APA Citations chapter in our e-textbook on how to cite source.

Critical Thinking

Burnell et al. [4] have the following to say about how to think critically while reading.

When you work with a text, you enter into a conversation with it, responding with your thoughts, ideas, and feelings. The way each of us responds to any text has a lot to do with who we are: our age, education, cultural background, religion, ethnicity, life experiences, and so forth.

As you explore a text, be aware of how you’re responding to it.

  • Are you reading or exploring easily or are you finding it difficult to navigate the text? Why do you believe this is so?
  • Do you find yourself responding with some sort of strong emotion? If so, why do you think that may be happening?
  • Do formatting, vocabulary, or structural issues (examples: unusual use of punctuation, use of dialect or jargon) affect your navigation of the text?
  • Can you identify with the text’s central idea or the information it’s sharing?
  • Have you had any experiences like those being described? Can you identify with the story?
  • Are you able to identify the surface meaning?
  • Do you need to look up any words to do any quick research? If so, does this help you better understand the text?
  • What questions do you have about the work?

Critiquing a Text

Burnell et al. [5] have the following to say about how to critique a text.

When we summarize a text, we capture its main points. When we critique a text, we evaluate it, asking it questions.

Most of us tend to think of criticism as being negative or mean, but in the academic sense, doing a critique is not the least bit negative. Rather, it’s a constructive way to better explore and understand the material we’re working with.

When we critique, our own opinions and ideas become part of our textual analysis. We question the text, we argue with it, and we delve into it for deeper meanings.

Here are some ideas to consider when critiquing a text:

  • How did you respond to the piece? Did you like it? Did it appeal to you? Could you identify with it?
  • Do you agree with the main ideas in the text?
  • Did you find any errors in reasoning? Any gaps in the discussion?
  • Did the organization make sense?
  • Was evidence used correctly, without manipulation? Has the writer used appropriate sources for support?
  • Is the author objective? Biased? Reasonable? (Note that the author might just as easily be subjective, unbiased, and unreasonable! Every type of writing and tone can be used for a specific purpose. By identifying these techniques and considering whythe author is using them, you begin to understand more about the text.)
  • Has the author left anything out? If yes, was this accidental? Intentional?
  • Are the text’s tone and language text appropriate?
  • Are all of the author’s statements clear? Is anything confusing?
  • What worked well in the text? What was lacking or failed completely?

These are only a few ideas relating to critique, but they’ll get you started. When you critique, try working with these statements, offering explanations to support your ideas. Bring in content from the text (textual evidence) to support your ideas.

  1. Richardson, G. (2019, December 2). Week 5: Main ideas. Developing Reading Skills. MHCC Library Press. https://mhcc.pressbooks.pub/rd90-115/chapter/week5/ CC-BY 4.0
  2. Smrt English. (2012, November 15). How to write a summary [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGWO1ldEhtQ.
  3. Burnell, C., Wood, J., Babin, M., Pesznecker, S., & Rosevear, N. (n.d.). Summarizing a text. The word on college reading and writing. Open Oregon Educational Resources. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/wordcollegerw/chapter/summarizing-a-text/  CC BY-NC 4.0
  4. Burnell, C., Wood, J., Babin, M., Pesznecker, S., & Rosevear, N. (n.d.). Explore the ways the text affects you. The word on college reading and writing.  Open Oregon Educational Resources. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/wordcollegerw/chapter/explore-the-ways-the-text-affects-you/  CC BY-NC 4.0
  5. Burnell, C., wood, J., Babin, M., Pesznecker, S., & Rosevear, N. (n.d.). Critiquing a text. The word on college reading and writing. . Open Oregon Educational Resources. https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/wordcollegerw/chapter/critiquing-a-text/ CC BY-NC 4.0


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