FOCUS: Central idea, purpose and method

What, exactly, is my central idea?

What do I want to do with this central idea?

What method shall I use to achieve this purpose?

If you answer these three questions before you begin your outline, your paragraph will ultimately have better focus.

"What--exactly!--is my central idea?"

You must be conscious of this central idea all the time you are planning the paragraph, in order to avoid wandering away from the central idea when you discuss it. In the discussion part of your para-graph you want to present only ideas which develop the central idea.

In this topic sentence what is the central idea? Underline the key words that you (the writer) have to keep in mind as you plan and write.

Tourists can save money with fast food while they are traveling.

"Save money," "fast foods," "while traveling" are key elements here. Keep your mind on every key element from the time you start planning to the end of actual writing, from the beginning to the end of your paragraph. Everything that you say in your paragraph should focus on these key elements.

"What do I want to do with this central idea?" The purpose of your paragraph.

The seed of one purpose is already embedded in every sentence. For example, in the sentence "We ought to find an efficient way to get rid of air pollution," the purpose is probably to persuade the reader to accept your opinion that we ought to do something about air pollution. In the sentence "There are more efficient ways to get rid of air pollution," the purpose is probably to offer new ideas for getting rid of air pollution. In the sentence "Negotiations with IBM were unfruitful," the purpose is probably to report what happened.

You have to be conscious of this purpose if you hope your paragraph to achieve it. Know clearly what you want to achieve in your paragraph; in other words, know exactly what you want your reader to know or feel or do after reading your paragraph. If you do, your paragraph will have clear focus: at every point in your paragraph your reader will know exactly what you are talking about and what you are trying to do.

Tourists can save money with fast food while they are traveling.

The purpose of this topic sentence's paragraph is probably to explain how it is possible for tour-ists to save money with fast food while traveling. Every idea in the discussion part of your paragraph, therefore, will contribute to this explanation and will do nothing else. Every sentence will focus on this purpose.

"What method shall I use to achieve this purpose?"

After you make yourself conscious of exactly what you want your paragraph to do (your purpose), you have to decide how you want to do it. What is the best method for you to use to achieve your purpose? Will the most effective method be to give examples? To present a logical argument? To de-scribe every part? To tell every step?

If you have a definite method you will be able to make each step in your plan (your outline), and then every detail in your paragraph will be an essential part of your method. Every detail will focus on achieving your purpose; and there will not be irrelevant (unrelated) details that distract the reader. So the reader will easily follow the development of your central idea.

Tourists can save money with fast food while they are traveling.

We said that the key elements in the central idea are "save money," "fast food," "while traveling," and the purpose is to explain how a tourist can save money buying fast food while traveling. Which method is best to achieve this purpose? The method that comes most readily to my mind is describe several ways and give one example of each way of saving money.

Let's look at a paragraph.

This student's paragraph begins with the following topic sentence:

Tourists can save money with fast food while they are traveling.

We have already decided that the key elements of the central idea are "save money," "fast food," and "while traveling."

Now read the discussion (body) of the student's paragraph and guess whether the student knew exactly 1) what he wanted to say, 2) what he hoped to achieve, and 3) how he hoped to achieve it. (The writer's language has not been corrected).

(Topic sentence:) Tourists can save money with fast food while they are traveling. (Discussion:) They plan to cut the expenses in detail, because they want to see the sights of many areas with little money. Especially tourists spend much money for sightseeing and souvenirs, but not in food. So they prefer to eat fast food rather than expensive meal with the exception of traditional food for financial reasons. According to WHO's report, in many countries, but Korea, fast food is cheaper ever 50 percent than meal. Therefore fast food is very good for tourists who want to travel with little money.

The writer did not use details to show ways that tourists can save money; this writer presented other details which are not relevant to the central idea and the purpose of expressing how tourists can save money. Many of the details (the first four sentences) provide background, and the last sentence is only another general statement that repeats the topic sentence in different words. So the discussion does not have one, clear purpose, and the reader wonders: "What's the point of all this?" The para-graph does not have a clear purpose-the reader can't easily see what the point is-so it does not have clear focus.

For this topic sentence I was going to write a discussion that would 1) focus on the core of the central idea and 2) achieve the purpose of expressing ways in which the tourist can save money. However, I could not come up with several ways, because there is only one way: go to fast food shops instead of restaurants. If I were the writer, therefore, I would have realized (during planning of the paragraph) that the central idea itself is a problem-it is either not a productive central idea or it simply can not be developed-and I would have thought up a new central idea.

Above, we said that the writer must keep in mind what and how all the time. Let us look a little closer at how. "How" includes both 1) purpose and 2) the method of achieving your purpose. My purpose, for example, may be to persuade. My method: to use concrete examples.

Here is an example. Read this paragraph, then answer the questions that are presented below it. The answer to each question is presented below the question.

(topic sentence) Most Korean popular musicians use a lot of sexual expression in their music for commercial purposes. (discussion) Both females and males do this. Many female singers today look like exhibitionists. Instead of trying to improve their singing skills they concentrate on sex appeal. Lee Ye-rin, for example, has very little singing ability and was not popular when she dressed in ordinary clothing. Later, she appeared on TV in tight, sexy clothes, and suddenly she became very popular. Among male stars, Park Jin-young never re-ceived critical acclaim. However, he showed suggestive expressions and scenes of love af-fairs in his music videos, and sold lots of videos. On the other hand, the critics praise Shin Sang-hun's music videos. However, his videos, which do not present sexy scenes, do not sell well. (closing sentence) Apparently, sex sells lots of music.

1. What are the key words that help the writer focus on the central idea?
2. What is the purpose of the discussion?
3. What is the method?


1. use sex, for commercial purposes.
2. persuade the reader of use sex, for commercial purposes
3. two examples (each of which include two contrasts) of sex, commercial purposes; and then one example of an opposite (Shin). (Note that the key elements sex and commercial purposes are pre-sented explicitly in each step, to remind the reader of the main idea.)