Controlling Ideas in an Essay

A controlling (main or central) idea is what something is about. It’s the foundation that you use to compose your essay, write a book, or create a film. In this article, we will focus on controlling ideas in academic writing.

For an essay, the controlling idea would be the overall argument or point that you’re trying to make. At an essay level, a thesis statement would usually contain this main idea.

Every paragraph, sentence, and word should support the thesis statement in some way.

If it doesn’t, then it probably doesn’t belong in your essay.

For a body paragraph in an essay, a controlling idea is a word or a phrase in the topic sentence of the paragraph that indicates what the paragraph is about.

The controlling idea in a body paragraph helps to unify the paragraph by succinctly expressing its main point.

Every body paragraph in an essay should have one controlling idea. In other words, each paragraph should be about only one thing. The topic sentence of the paragraph will introduce the reader to the main idea of the paragraph, and the rest of the sentences and supporting details in the paragraph should be related to that main idea. Finally, a concluding sentence would wrap up the paragraph, summarizing the main idea and allowing for a transition to the next section of the essay.

If a paragraph wanders off-topic or discusses multiple points, it will be confusing for the reader and will make it difficult to follow the argument of the essay. Therefore, it is important to keep the controlling idea in mind when writing each paragraph and to make sure that all of the sentences in the paragraph relate back to the controlling idea.

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Examples of Controlling Ideas

Here is an example of a controlling idea at a topic sentence level:

Topic sentence:

In order to effectively control a country’s population, the government must have a well-developed system of birth registration.

Controlling idea: “system of birth registration”

As you can see, the general topic is “population control,” and the controlling idea in this topic sentence is “system of birth registration.” The rest of the paragraph will then go on to support this main point with evidence, examples, and explanations.

Examples of a Controlling Idea of an Essay

It is important to distinguish between a topic and a controlling idea. A topic is a subject that you discuss, while a controlling idea is a point that you are trying to make about the topic.

Let’s assume your topic is “alternative energy sources.” Then, your overall controlling idea depends on the essay type you are writing and its purpose.

  • Giving an opinion:
    • I believe that alternative energy sources are important because they are renewable and environmentally friendly.
  • Informing the reader:
    • Alternative energy sources are important because they provide a renewable and environmentally friendly option for energy production.
  • Comparing and contrasting:
    • While both coal and alternative energy sources have their pros and cons, I believe that alternative energy is the more viable option for the future.
  • Persuading the reader:
    • Alternative energy sources should be used more widely because they are renewable and environmentally friendly.
  • Showing causality:
    • The use of alternative energy sources has increased in recent years due to concerns about the environment and the depletion of fossil fuels.
  • Classifying:
    • Alternative energy sources can be divided into three main categories: solar, wind, and hydro.
  • Inferring a lesson from a personal story:
    • I learned the importance of alternative energy sources when my grandfather showed me how to install solar panels.

As you can see, the controlling idea expresses a specific opinion, viewpoint, or focus. It goes beyond simply stating the topic of the essay and provides insight into what the essay will be about.

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