Writing Exercise: Controlling Idea

Controlling Idea How To: Writing Exercise

This writing exercise will help you develop a research question find credible sources and outline your controlling idea.

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Controlling Idea Writing Exercise Outcome: 

Today you will narrow your research topic down to a single research question. Then you will find credible sources and outline your controlling idea (also known as a thesis statement).

If you want to read more about writing a thesis statement click here.

Controlling Idea Writing Exercise: 

Developing a research question

To write a controlling idea, you need to focus your research on a single topic and a specific question about that topic. This question is called a research question. 

In the box below, list your essay’s broad topic, i.e., Volcanoes or the Vietnam War.

If you do not yet have a topic, list five topics that interest you, then write about the topic you have the most questions about. 

Now you will need a specific question about your topic. 

You may start with broad questions like “How do Volcanoes work?” 

In the box below, write any questions you have about your topic to start your research. 

Examples of topic questions: 

  • What are volcanoes? 
  • Where are the most active volcanoes in the world? 
  • Why do people build cities near volcanoes? 

Eliminate any questions that are too broad for a research paper, like, “What are volcanoes?” 

Now, choose one question that you are curious about and is specific enough to research.  

This sentence is your research question. 

Finding Credible Sources 

Finding credible sources

Start your research online by plugging your research question into a search engine or online database. Most of the sources you find will be secondary sources. 

Credible online sources: 

  • Published in the last 10 years
  • .gov or .edu 
  • Well-known author 
  • Academic databases (such as JSTOR

Bookmark these articles in a separate folder for easy retrieval. 

In the box below, list the URLs for five credible secondary sources that give you answers to your research question. 

Primary sources are authoritative, first-hand accounts of your research topic. It takes more work to find these sources. 

Where to find primary sources: 

  • library 
  • museum 
  • College library/ research center
  • national archives
  • Academic database

In the box below, list three places to contact or visit for primary sources. 

Writing a Controlling Idea & Supporting Details

Main Idea, Supporting Details, Controlling Idea

To write your controlling idea, answer your research question based on the research you’ve done. 

You will also have reasons to support your answer. Your answer, combined with supporting details, will create a controlling idea. 


Research QuestionWhy do people build cities near volcanoes? 

Answer/ Main Idea: People build cities near volcanoes to harness geothermal energy. These cities also gain an economic benefit because they are attractive tourist destinations. 

This statement is an example of a controlling idea that follows a simple formula: 

Main Idea + Supporting Details = Controlling Idea (or Thesis Statement) 

People build cities near volcanoes ⇦ Main Idea to harness geothermal energy. ⇦ Supporting Detail These cities also gain an economic benefit because they are attractive tourist destinations.⇦ Supporting Detail

Now that you’ve completed your formulated a research question found sources, and combined your main idea and supporting details, you’ve got your controlling idea. Do you have a better way to create a controlling idea? Let me know in the comments! 

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For help researching your topic check out these free online resources:




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