What Are Controlling Ideas?

In writing, the controlling idea conveys the author’s opinions and feelings about a particular topic. The controlling idea serves as an emotional foreshadow by introducing the point of view of an author and, in turn, setting the tone and mood that prevails throughout the text. The controlling idea exists in many types of literature, including novels, essays, poems and more.

The controlling idea essentially adds color to make a written work multi-dimensional and more complex. The controlling idea begins with the introductory or first paragraph of literary works, and helps to set the stage for the events to come. Controlling ideas act as guides for authors and readers, helping to establish and clarify the reason for writing works on certain subjects or themes, or for writing in certain styles.

Controlling ideas help to give shape to people, places and other characters in stories and essays. Using the controlling idea, for instance, authors may introduce key cities or locations recently visited on vacation. Authors then use the controlling idea to paint a favorable image of those places to readers by associating those places using positive adjectives such as ‘stunning, historic, charming and magnificent.’ Likewise, controlling ideas work just as well to convey displeasure or disagreement.