Difference Between Main Idea and Topic

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: October 08, 2023


Difference Between Main Idea and Topic

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The terms topic and main idea are usually used with regard to a creation, which can be a writing piece, art, song, or any other piece of creation. These are terms that people tend to confuse most of the time. So, to clear the confusion, the main idea is usually the central theme or the backbone of a creation based on which a creation stands. The topic, however, is the overall idea of a creation, what it is all about. It is usually very simple since it is not so specific, but the main idea, on the other hand, has to be conveyed in long sentences because it is a much more specific and focused thing. The main idea is primarily the most important message that is conveyed through a creation or that idea which an observer evaluates from a creation. Hence, it can be said topic is a vast idea from which the main idea comes. The main idea is a subtype of the topic. 

Main Idea vs. Topic

The topic represents an idea about which a piece of writing is written. But a topic consists of several innumerable ideas. So, the main idea is the central idea around which a writing piece revolves or which is conveyed through writing. A topic is generally very simple, consisting of one word or a phrase, and it is not necessarily the headline of a writing piece. The main idea of a piece of writing can also be conveyed by mentioning it in the headline, which is the title in the case of a poem or a story. So, it can be said that the topic of writing is broader and not targeted, but the main idea of writing is more specific and targeted. Suppose a composition is written about rain, then rain becomes the topic.

 It conveys a message or an idea or several ideas about rain and not about any other season. The topic helps the reader from diverting away to other ideas. The composition can convey several ideas, but it is up to the reader to recognize which idea is the most important one and is the central theme of the composition. So, the main idea of the composition can be about the 'problems faced during the rainy season'. So, the topic conveys that the composition conveys something about rain, but the main idea specifies it. Hence, the main idea comes under a topic.

Difference Between Topic and Main Idea in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonMain IdeaTopic
MeaningThe most important message or the central message conveyed in a piece of creation is the main idea or the backbone of that creation.Topic is generally the subject of a creation describing the overall idea of what it is all about.
VastnessThe main idea is a much more focused and targeted concept.Topic is a very vast concept and is not at all specific.
SimplicityLong sentences are used to convey the main idea because it is much more focused and specific.Topic is a vast concept, so it can be described in one or two words or phrases.
Level of DepthA deep level of understanding is required to find out the main idea of a creation.It is easy to recognize a topic and not much deep analysis is required in this case.
LocationThe main idea is the keynote of a creation which can be recognized only after extensive research of a creation.Topic is usually the overall subject of a creation, so, a surface level understanding is enough.

What is the Main Idea?

The main idea is often confused with the topic by many people. So, to discuss the main idea, a little reference to the topic is required. It is necessary to understand the topic first to grasp the concept of the main idea. The topic is the general subject of writing, which can be an essay, composition, or anything. It is a broader concept, and under the topic comes the main idea, which can be called the subtopic of a writing. The main idea is the specific message that is conveyed through a piece of writing. Suppose a person has written an article on the topic of an accident. The reader can understand that the overall idea of the article is about accident, but the topic is vague and is not providing much information beyond the term accident. So, the reader has to then analyze what central message can be extracted from the article. This message has to be the most important one. Otherwise, it cannot be the central message. This is because the article can convey various messages, but the main idea will always be the most important one that the article is conveying. The writer must complete the main idea because, without the main idea, a piece of writing would be nothing. There would be no essence, no core in that writing. The main idea provides that core in the writing. However, a story can be completed by an individual but that does not mean that the writer has been able fully able to express the core message. A writing can be truly complete when the readers can identify the message that has been conveyed through the writing. A writer must know the main idea of the topic that he has been provided with before he starts writing, and then, during writing, he needs to develop that main idea throughout his writing. Moreover, it should be always remembered that the main idea is more important than the topic because readers focus on that only. If a strong message is conveyed through writing, then that piece of writing becomes very effective and is praised by the readers.

The main idea is the keynote of a text, so identifying it and determining it is very important both for the writer and the reader. This is because if a creator is successfully able to convey the main idea, then the audience will be also able to identify it. There are various steps to determine the main idea, and some of them are: -

  • Identifying the Topic
  • Understanding the Summary
  • Finding Repetitive Ideas

Identifying the Topic

The first step in identifying the main idea of a creation is the topic must be determined: what is the subject of the creation, what is it all about. In the case of a book, the text should be read first to get an overall idea of the book, and the title needs to be analyzed to find out the topic of the text and what the book is all about. The 'who' or 'what' of the text should be identified such as towards which idea the text is pointing. This helps in identifying the main idea because both of them are related.

Understanding the Summary

After having an overall reading of the text on the surface level, the summary of the book and the plot structure of how events follow should be read and the reader should have a strong grasp on it. This helps in clearing the idea of the book. The summary can be used to determine which parts of the text should be focused upon for deep analysis.

Finding Repetitive Ideas

When a reader has a strong grasp of the summary, then a detailed analysis of the important parts should be done to find out which of the ideas have been repeated and what kind of ideas are those. Questions such as what the passage intends to say should be asked to find out the ideas represented in each passage. Then, from this list of ideas, the main and the most important one becomes the main idea of the book. Analyzing the introduction and conclusion separately also helps in this process.

What is the Topic?

The Topic can be called the general subject on which a writing is based. It is usually very simple, consisting of one word or a phrase, and does contain any long sentence, and it is a very broad concept compared to the main idea. A composition e.g., can be written on cow, goat, cat, or any other animal. This is the topic of the composition, the subject that pops instantly in a reader's mind while he reads the composition. Understanding the topic is very important for a reader before the main idea of writing. So, the cow and goat are examples of topics for the composition, but a writer further develops on that topic and crafts a writing piece. It is the main idea of a writing piece that functions as the backbone of that writing. Moreover, along with understanding a topic, the writer also needs to make sure that the main idea that is developed throughout the art piece goes hand in hand with the topic that is selected. The topic needs to match the main idea. Suppose a film is made on the topic of murder, but if the main idea of the film does not go along with the topic, then the film will be a waste as the audience will neither be able to depict the main idea of the film nor, will they understand the topic of the film.

So firstly, identifying a topic and understanding it is very important to develop a good main idea for an art piece. There are various steps involved in how to identify a good topic and work on developing it, and some of them are: -

  • Search for Interesting Topics
  • Limit the Chosen Topic
  • Do Extensive Research

Search for Interesting Topics

It is always necessary to do research on the current trending topics before choosing a topic and writing on it. This is because if an individual chooses a topic that is not recent, then people will most likely not read it. After all, it will sound boring. Moreover, along with being recent, the topic should also be on the trending list. This is bound to bring more audiences. So, an individual can run a search through his study course materials, or he can ask his friends and family members to suggest current topics. The internet is also there for seeking help on newly emerging topics.

Limit the Chosen Topic

When a person has successfully chosen the topic that he finds interesting and on which he has intended to work, then the next step is to narrow the chosen topic into various subtopics if the topic is very broad. But if the topic is very narrow from the beginning, then it needs to be broadened. A broad topic can be narrowed by focusing on various aspects of that topic, such as a particular period or a specific location in case of a topic related to history. Suppose a person focuses on the topic of the slave trade then it can be narrowed by focusing on a particular period or on a particular geographical location when it was very rampant. Narrowing a topic helps in establishing various subtopics, which helps in choosing a more specific, targeted topic. This helps very much while developing the main idea of a topic because broad topics divert the attention from the main idea and create problems while developing the main idea. Similarly, topics that are too narrow can be expanded, and then from that expansion, a person shortlists the main topics on which he wants to work on.

Do Extensive Research

After selecting the final topic which is focused and specific, a person needs to thoroughly research and analyze that particular topic because the main idea which will be developed will be based upon the topic itself. So, extensive research on the topic will help with the main idea. It can be said in this context that the main idea is like a subbranch of the topic because it is related to the topic and has been established through in-depth analysis of the topic. Critical thinking also helps in this process of developing the main idea, which will revolve around the topic itself, and the entire art piece or writing piece will be developed based on the main idea itself.

Main Difference Between Main Idea and Topic (In Points)

  • The main idea and topic are closely related concepts. The main idea is the core message of a creation that is conveyed by the author. It is the central idea or the backbone of a piece creation, which can be a book, movie, art, song, or anything. Without the main idea, the object would have no meaning. It provides essence and core to the object of creation. Topic, on the other hand, is the general subject of the object that is what it is all about. Suppose it is a book, the topic is the overall idea of what is the book about. It is a vast concept, unlike the main idea, which is a narrow and focused concept. A book can be on the topic of animals. 'Animals' is a huge topic, and there are a variety of animals living in our society. So, this shows that topics are not focused or specific. The main idea, on the other hand, as the name mentions, is indeed the main idea because it is focused and targeted. So, the main idea of the book can be a message on how to protect wildlife. This shows that the topic is a huge concept under which the concept of the main idea comes in.
  • The main idea of any piece of creation is always very long because it is more focused, unlike the topic which is simple and consists of one word or a phrase. This is because the specific and focused nature of the main idea needs to be expressed in long sentences and cannot be expressed concisely in form. The main idea of a film on the topic of the slave trade can be 'Abolition of Slave Trade in America' which depicts how specific can the main idea be. The mention of the geographical location and the idea of abolition makes it more focused and hence long sentences are mandatory for expressing the main idea. The topic of this film is the slave trade, which is expressed in a short form that the main subject of the film is slave trade. But under the slave trade, there can be a variety of topics to discuss, all of which will fall under the main idea.


Hence, the main idea and topic are related concepts that are often confused by people. The main idea refers to the core message conveyed through a piece of work, whereas the topic is the general subject or the overall idea of a work that is what the work is all about. The main idea is the essence of a piece of work, and without it, there is no meaning within a work. A work needs to convey a strong message for the audience to appreciate it. It is, however, necessary for an author to identify the topic of a work before developing its main idea because both of them are related. The main idea comes after deciding the topic of a work. It is like a subtopic for the work.


  • https://libguides.wesleyan.edu/topic
  • https://www.wikihow.com/Find-a-Topic-for-Your-Research-Paper
  • https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/reading-skills/identifying-main-idea
  • https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-find-the-main-idea-3212047


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"Difference Between Main Idea and Topic." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 17 Jun. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-main-idea-and-topic>.

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