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Outliner for granular writing?

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Posted by thouqht
Apr 3, 2020 at 09:38 PM


Hi friends, I’m doing some long form writing again and I find myself looking for a very specific kind of capability. Wondering if anyone had any suggestions:

I’m looking to write very structured content where each section starts with a main argument, and each paragraph starts with a topic sentence. I’d like each sentence to be it’s own bullet appropriately nested within the argument chain:

Main Argument for the section
>>Main point 1 (Topic Sentence for first paragraph)
>>>>Support sentence for point 1
>>>>Support sentence for point 2
>>Main Point 2 (second paragraph)
>>>>Support sentence for point 2

Now I can do this already with pretty much any outliner, the issue is then getting the work OUT of this outliner without major reformatting work to put things in normal paragraphs and spacing. Does anyone have any workflow ideas or software recommendations for an approach like this? Thanks.


Posted by Lucas
Apr 4, 2020 at 04:38 AM


There are many possible approaches, of course, but off the top of my mind, I would recommend three programs that have the advantage of allowing you to work in hierarchical mode and paragraph mode simultaneously:

1. Microsoft Word Outline View (Mac or Windows). You can go back and forth between Outline View (hierarchical) and any of the normal views.

2. Scrivener (Mac or Windows): You could create your outline hierarchy as headings in the left-hand panel, and then start fleshing out the paragraphs in the main (right-hand) panel. (Scrivener is one of the only programs that functions as a two-pane outliner but presents the entire, concatenated text in the right-hand pane.)

3. Sense Editor from Silva Elm (Windows). This program hasn’t been updated in a few years, but it has some unique affordances. If you install the free OPML plugin, you can create a hierarchical structure and work in regular document mode simultaneously, somewhat akin to the way Scrivener works.

Alternatively, if you’re on a Mac and have Tinderbox, there are many export options to help you transform an outline into regular text.

(And of course there are a variety of program combinations that could allow you to go from outline to OPML to regular text, but my memory isn’t so clear on that score.)


Posted by Paul Korm
Apr 4, 2020 at 10:05 AM


If I were doing this I would used software that supports “styles”, so you can easily apply formatting, numbering, indentation, etc. to a block of text.  For that, Microsoft Word comes to mind first, because it is so ubiquitous on all platforms.  On macOS, I would rank Pages, Scrivener, Mellel, NisusWirter.  On Windows, Scrivener, also, and LibreOffice.  If you do not mind working in a cloud environment, Apple’s Pages in a browser is almost identical to Pages on macOS on the desktop—just create a free iCloud.com account.

For this kind of document I personally would not select Tinderbox—it would be good for the formal outlining portion, but the styling and export would entail more fiddling (and thus frustration) than any of the apps above, and it by far the most expensive choice.


Posted by Luhmann
Apr 4, 2020 at 12:27 PM


I posted about such a tool recently: Zeksa.


Personally I use Ulysses for this:


Dynalist does not have great output formatting options like Ulysses, but it is easy to export as plain text:



Posted by Luhmann
Apr 4, 2020 at 12:29 PM


Oh, seems that Zeksa is currently down. Hopefully the developer will get it back up again…


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