Now that school has started back up, I'm back to writing long form pieces. When writing research papers, I like to outline in advance. In fact, I like to outline in a very particular format.
I abhor the Harvard Outline format. The mix of Roman numerals, capital letters, numbers, and lower case letters is just confusing. For my money, numbered outlines are always superior. Numbered outlines allow you to know how each piece of the outline relates to the entire structure. Take this outline as an example:
1. 2. 2.1 2.2 2.2.1 2.3 3.
For each line, you know exactly where the line fits into the whole outline. Item 2.2.1 is a child of the parent 2.2, which is the second child of item 2. Being able to situate a particular item within the larger scheme is a linchpin for my outlining workflow.
The biggest problem with this form of outlining, however, is that it is difficult to type. By the time your in the 3rd level, you're typing 5 characters simply to begin the line. If, like me, you can occasionally outline 6 levels deep, this gets out of hand quickly. Nobody wants to type "22.214.171.124.2.1" simply to begin a new line in an outline.
In order to solve this particular problem, I wrote an Applescript that translates simple tab-indented Markdown outlines into properly formatted numbered outlines. This script allows me to outline like this:
- This is my first item - This is my second item - This is a sub-item - This is another sub-item - This is a child of the above sub-item - This is a third sub-item - This is my third and final item
and then have this automatically rendered as:
1. This is my first item 2. This is my second item 2.1 This is a sub-item 2.2 This is another sub-item 2.2.1 This is a child of the above sub-item 2.3 This is a third sub-item 3. This is my third and final item
By embedding this script in an OS X Service, the whole process is ridiculously simple and fast. The script will work with 6 levels of outlined material, meaning you could have "126.96.36.199.1.1". It supports any symbol used as the outline anchor. Markdown flavored
- are my preferred symbols, but any consistently used, single symbol will work. So, you could even use a simple
, as your outline anchor. The Service, by its very nature is totally application agnostic. You can type up your outline in any text field and have it instantly converted, including Evernote.
Below is a quick screencast of how this script functions practically:
Till that next problem, The Hackademic