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Using an outliner to organize your ideas

April 30th, 2009
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An outliner is a software used to create and maintain structured content. You can use an outliner to create the structure of a blog post, an essay for school, or for a project at your job. No matter what the task at hand, it is always useful to structure your ideas, and nothing better to do this than an outliner.

Thankfully, there is also no better platform to use outliners than the Macintosh. Since its inception, creative people of all professions have used Macs. This being the reason why there are so many great outliners for the Mac, as compared to other operating systems such as Windows.

In this article, I will talk mainly about the most well known outliner of all, OmniOutliner (from the Omni Group). Many of the options on OmniOutliner, however, are available in other products, which Iwill cover with more datail in the future.

Using an Outliner

The basics of an outliner such as OmniOutliner is to create an structure, that can later on be filled with real information. Think for example on the relationship between a book and its table of contents. While a book has lots of information, it also has a clear structure that is present on its table of contents. An outliner can be used to create the table of contents and transform it into a full book, with details filled for each section.

The main interface of the OmniOutliner allows users to create main topics, subtopics, sub-subtopics, up to the contents of each division.

OmniOutliner allows one to use a graphical interface with buttons for these common operations. It also provides several keyboard shortcuts, that allow very fast data entry and formatting. OmniOutliner is not only useful to create outlines, but it also helps in visualizing data. Sometimes we have data that is structure in a hierarchical format, such as for example an XML document. With an outliner, we can visualize the elements of such a hierarchy, by looking just at the elements that are of immediate interest.

A good outliner also provides many export options, so that users have the freedom to transform the data they created into one of several output formats. OmniOutliner provides a large number of export options, so that users can translate their data into the required output format, such as a MS Word document, for example.

Conclusion

Outliners have many applications, and can be used as personal organizers, digital notebooks, or just as a place to joint down random ideas. However, a good outliner is essential to hold data and organize information. It is really great that Macs have a good number of outliners, from which OmniOutliner is just a good example.

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