Outlining is a tool that shows how an essay is organized by identifying main ideas and sub-points. Outlining can either be formal, using a visual system of numbering and indentation to differentiate between main ideas, their sub points, and their supports, or it can be more informal, such as identifying the main idea of each paragraph as part of the reading and annotation process.
A formal outline might be necessary for reading passages that the reader finds difficult and challenging. Often a formal outline should be constructed on a piece of notebook paper from notes and annotations the reader took while reading. It is best to read through (and annotate) the passage first; then, go back to construct the formal outline. Formal outlines use a system of indentations, Roman numerals, letters, and numbers.
An informal outline is often all that is needed to gain control and understanding of a reading passage. You can construct an informal outline as you read by jotting down the main idea of each paragraph in the margin and highlighting the main support for that idea in the paragraph. (Keep in mind that each paragraph of written text, whether long or shorter, has only one main idea, and that main idea is usually fairly easy to decipher).
Below is an example of one point in a more formal outline:
The following is an informal outline, done during the reading and annotation process: