Do you use an outliner? Have you even heard of them?
An outline is a load of text, organised into a hierarchy. It looks like a bulleted list, with content at various levels, but proper ones do a bit more than that.
You can use Microsoft Word to make an outline, but dedicated tools are usually better. I use OmniOutliner on my Mac, although there are many others for every platform.
A proper outlining tool lets you open and close levels of the hierarchy to make it easy to navigate around it, format different parts of the outline, add extra columns for additional content and annotations.
OmniOutliner also lets me embed links to other documents in my outline, so if I want to expand on outline items in much more detail, I can do in a seperate text file, and just link to it in the outline.
Undoubtably the king of outliners is Dave Winer, who is also famous for being a pioneer of blogging, and RSS too. In fact, he has managed to combine all three, so he blogs within an outlining tool – which of course generates an RSS feed. Neato!
Winer has just released a new outliner, which you can use for free in the browser – it’s called Little Outliner. Give it a try!
I find an outliner most useful for:
- planning presentations
- designing a strcture for website content and navigation
- planning acitivities in a project
- making notes
- planning reports and other long form bits of writing
- organising a huge bunch of apparently random thoughts into something a bit less random
Outliners are another example of the excellence of open standards on computers. So I can export my outline in a file format called OPML, and then import it into other applications – such as a mind mapping tool for instance, to get a more visual overview of what I’ve been writing.
Outliners are a bit like spreadsheets to my mind – a simple tool to make much, much easier on a computer an activity that when using pen and paper would be difficult and annoying.
Do you use an outliner, ever? If not, might you be tempted now?