Tips for Reading Nonfiction

Need help reading the websites, speeches, and articles featured on this site?
Use these core strategies to tackle even the most complex informational texts.

Determine Central Ideas

The central idea of a text is the most important idea that a writer wants readers to understand. Often, a writer will develop a central idea over the course of an entire text, using particular facts, examples, and details to support that idea. Use these strategies as a guide to help you determine the central idea of any informational text:

  • Look in the right places. Sometimes, a writer will directly state the central idea. Closely examine the title of the text, any subheadings, and the first and last paragraphs.
  • Make an inference. Other times, the writer communicates a central idea indirectly, through the deliberate choice of supporting details. If you can’t find a direct restatement of the central idea, note key facts, examples, quotations, and definitions that the writer uses to discuss the topic. After reading the text and reviewing your notes, ask yourself: What do all of these details add up to? What inference, or logical guess, can I make about the writer’s central idea? Note that there may be more than one central idea that stands out to you.
  • Support your thinking. After determining the central idea or ideas, review the text, looking for evidence that confirms your thinking. Be able to point to several places in the text that justify your interpretation.