Main ideas and supporting evidence in an essay

This lesson will introduce the concept of main ideas and supporting evidence.

In academic writing, it is good practice to provide supporting evidence for the ideas that you present. The supporting evidence gives the reader more detail and helps them to understand your ideas.

This exercise will test your understanding of main ideas and supporting evidence. Read the sentences below, which were written by Xiao for his essay. Try to identify the main idea and the supporting evidence in each sentence.

Please note: these sentences were written by Xiao and as such may contain some mistakes.

  1. People’s lives very bad after the Second World War. People were poor because the country was poor. There was no food, no electricity and it was hard to buy anything in shops.
  2. Since those days, China has industrialised. It has created jobs and opportunities for people in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing and increased building work, exports and profits.
  3. Other improvements happen in education and everyday behaviour. In school, students are now learning English and modern ideas which come from other countries whereas in the past they spend time learning how to speak the old Chinese language.
  4. There are new customs too. For example, in the past, couples usually got married at home and wore red clothes but now they can marry in church and wear western clothes.
  5. There are some negative changes, such as the number of cigarette smokers has increased and children do not work as hard as before because their live are easy.

Now, Anne will go through the answers to the exercise in the video.

Now that you’ve completed the exercise, let’s just have a look at the answers. Number one, the main idea is people’s lives were very bad after the Second World War. And then we’ve got the supporting evidence, people were poor, the country was poor, there was no food, no electricity, and it was hard to buy anything in the shops. So these are the details of why people’s lives were very bad. In number two, since those days, China has industrialised. That’s the main idea. And then we’ve got the details– it’s created jobs and opportunities in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, and there’s building work, exports, and profits. So we’ve got a lot of examples and details there.

In the third one, we’ve got details about students learning English, modern ideas, but in the past they spent time learning how to speak Chinese. So those are all supporting details for the main idea, which is the discussion about improvements in education and everyday behaviour. When we come to number four, there are new customs too. Now, he’s got some nice examples here of the new customs. People got married at home in the past, but now they can marry in church if they want to, and wear western clothes. As I said before, there are also some negative points that he’s found. That’s the main idea, there are some negative changes, and then we’ve got some examples.

The number of cigarette smokers increased, children don’t work as hard as before because their lives are easy so they don’t need to. Hopefully, you found that OK, highlighting the main idea and then the supporting evidence in those short sections. We’ve reached the end of week one now, and we’re going to invite you to do a short quiz and then write your own paragraph.


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Previous lessons:

  1. The key features of academic writing
  2. What ideas would you include in an essay?
Next lessons
  1. How to organize an essay
  2. Analysing the organisation of an example essay
  3. How to link the ideas within an essay
  4. Sample structure of an IELTS essay

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