Outliners Create Order From Chaos

Before I had a PC, I wouldn’t have thought of using a paper and pencil outline before writing an article or committee report. Now it’s rare that I don’t use my PC’s outliner. Not only do I compose full outlines before sitting down to write papers, but I prepare most of my course and professional lectures either partially or entirely in an outliner. What makes an outlining program (at least one of the good ones) so much more powerful than paper and pencil is the ease o

Barry Simon
May 29, 1988

Before I had a PC, I wouldn’t have thought of using a paper and pencil outline before writing an article or committee report. Now it’s rare that I don’t use my PC’s outliner. Not only do I compose full outlines before sitting down to write papers, but I prepare most of my course and professional lectures either partially or entirely in an outliner.

What makes an outlining program (at least one of the good ones) so much more powerful than paper and pencil is the ease of restructuring a draft outline. The best outliners will let you gather previously unconnected elements to form a new category, promote subhead to headline status, or demote a headline, all with a few keystrokes. Then the program automatically adjusts the numbers and letters for the items that follow the patch.

A few helpful features come only in the more powerful software packages. A prioritize...