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Can I say like this:

The letters contain mainly the same annoying idea that he was anxious to see his friends doing experiments outdoors.

I am unsure especially about "that" (there could be other errors). Is this a kind of hidden reported speech because it appears that I can transform the statement in:

The letters tell that he was anxious ..."

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    "That" is a subordinator used for introducing finite subordinate clauses (called content clauses), which usually serve as complement to some word. In your example, the subordinate clause that he was anxious to see his friends doing experiments outdoors is complement to the noun "idea"; it gives the meaning (or content) of the "idea". That clauses are often used in reported speech, e.g. Kim said [that Stacey had blue eyes].
    – BillJ
    Jan 19 '17 at 10:01
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    @BillJ Why not copy and paste that into the answer box? It's a fine answer. Jan 19 '17 at 11:38
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    @BillJ, why consider OP's first example a content clause and a complement rather than a restrictive relative clause? Jan 19 '17 at 18:52
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    @Gary Botnovcan It can't be a relative clause because there is no (overt or covert) R element anaphorically linked to the head noun idea. It’s not the same construction as, say, He had the same annoying idea [that his friends had], where the bracketed element is a relative clause with that (meaning "same annoying idea") as its object.
    – BillJ
    Jan 19 '17 at 19:58
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"The letters contain mainly the same annoying idea that he was anxious to see his friends doing experiments outdoors."

Robert, Without being able to see what lies before or after your sentence makes advising you a bit difficult but here are a few thoughts that I had.

I think that your discomfort with using the word "that" stems from correct tense, punctuation issues, and or the sentence's murky (unclear), object.

Consider:

"The letters [contain] mainly the same annoying idea that he was anxious [to see] his friends doing experiments outdoors."

"contain" is present tense / 'to see' is future tense so if we correct that and add punctuation before "that" -

(Written this way, "that" would be correct.)

The letters contained mainly the same annoying idea - that he was anxious to see his friends doing experiments outdoors.

Consider:

The sentence (the way you have written it), leaves the reader wondering what the intended subject, or focus, is.

The letters?

The author of the letters?

What is the object of "annoying idea"? His anxiousness? What is the object of his anxiousness? That his friends were doing the experiments outdoors?

Consider:

Mainly, all of the letters conveyed the same idea; he was excited that he was going to see his friends doing experiments outdoors.

Mainly, all of the letters conveyed the same idea; that he was anxious about his friends doing the experiments outdoors.

The letters were annoying because they all said pretty much the same thing - "My friends are going to be doing some experiments outside, I can't wait!"

The letters contain no clues. They are mainly about someone's friends doing experiments.

Hope that helps.

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