Friday, November 25, 2022

Outlining and Documents

Dr. Drang:

I’ve always had this silly belief that I should be able to convert an outline into the skeleton of a report (or a blog post or whatever, but it’s usually a report) more or less automatically and then flesh it out into a final product. This doesn’t work because, except for the items at the top-level, the various items and subitems in outlines don’t correspond perfectly to sections and subsections of a report. Some outline items are subsections, but most are paragraphs or lists within a subsection. There’s no general way of knowing what an outline item is; its level doesn’t offer enough information to slot it into the proper place in the report.

This has been an issue for me, too. I find outliners to be great for taking notes and for working on and rearranging ideas. But then there’s an inevitable break to get from there to get from there to the final output, if it is to be a document.

I confess this way of working still nags at me. Surely, the back of my brain says, there must be a way to avoid the repetition. But the front of my brain argues back that years of trying have never led to that magical solution. There’s no way to avoid the actual work of writing.

Aside from the repetition, it’s a one-way transformation. Once you’re in the document format, you lose the ability to do certain outliner things. Fortunately, most of my writing these days is in Markdown, reStructuredText, or HTML, and BBEdit has some tools for navigating and collapsing those structures.

You may be wondering how I can show Example.html on my iPad as I’m writing a report. Unlike Safari on the Mac, Safari on the iPad cannot open local files. There are two ways to get around this[…]


4 Comments RSS · Twitter

I seem to recall when I was writing a lot of essays at university, that the Mac version of Word had a pretty good Outline mode, that you could switch in and out of to flip your document back and forth between outline and prose.

I could be mistaken, but from memory that's how I used to write.

Mellel has a pretty neat outline feature, too.

All this time I thought I was doing outliners wrong

I wrote a lot of papers in grad school using outlines.
I don't understand how the report doesn't match the outline.
I worked on my outlines until they WERE the bones of the paper and the fleshed them out in the word processor.

I read the original post and it didn't clear up my confusion.

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