Paul’s story: OmniOutliner

by Linda Sharps on March 9, 2010

While everyone else in this office goes completely insane working to meet iPad deadlines (seriously, one of our engineers put in something like 20 straight hours of code commits yesterday, which, well, I'm not saying one of our products will for SURE have a weird feature involving a Dali painting and a flurry of Pig Latin, I'm saying it's a POSSIBILITY), I thought I'd share the first of an ongoing series of blog posts unofficially titled OMNI APPS—IN ACTION.

You have to imagine the IN ACTION part with jazz hands, okay? Otherwise the whole title thing just sounds kind of stupid, like something I made up like two seconds ago while drinking a third Red Bull. Ha ha! As if.

Anyway, the idea here is just to share some stories of how people are using our software, which will hopefully provide a little inspiration and maybe even teach you something cool you didn't already know. 

We're going to start with Paul Zagaeski, a technology analyst and marketer who relies on OmniOutliner in his job. Not sure how an outline can help you in your work? Read what Paul has to say: 

An outliner app has been my most frequently used writing tool since I bought my first computer in 1983. I've always been a words-type thinker (rather than a visual or picture thinker), so I'm drawn to tools that help me organize words fast and efficiently. I can't recall any writing project I've ever tackled that didn't start with some kind of outline. 

An outliner helps me keep a sense of control over both the process of writing, and all the content as I research and write draft text. Dave Dunham described outlining as being similar to building a ship: keel, framework, planks, deck, masts are assembled in a connected structure. Writing is starting with an idea or problem, adding questions or main issues to cover, doing research to address the issues, doing analysis and comparison on the facts from the research, deciding what it means, deciding what to say as a conclusion. If writing fiction, it's the same process only using plot points, characters, scenes, dialogue. The key thing I learned about writing is that you don't go from A to Z, stopping at every letter in turn. It's always a jumbled process of adding ideas, gathering bits of information, drafting actual text, and reorganizing, while jumping from one part of the project to another as needed. If I didn't have a writing tool that let me add, move, collapse, expand, sort, number, list, and stick in odd bits of things like pictures and links, it would take me much longer to do half as much.

Paul is currently using OmniOutliner to complete a pair of technology business reports for the site GigaOm Pro. These reports cover the market for digital paid content and the technologies that allow users to quickly and easily pay for things online or on mobile devices. Here's how OmniOutliner is making his job easier:

I used Outliner as my research tool to collect articles and other online content, to record phone interviews and then transcribe the good stuff, and to write notes and comments to myself on what I thought of the material and how I might use it.

Then I used Outliner to create a full outline of the report with headings and key words. I started drafting the sections, starting with company profiles and working backward to describe the market dynamics and business drivers. I pasted in links to the articles I wanted the reader to click through to get more information about a particular company, event, technology, or another writer's point of view. I also pasted in images and graphics I wanted to use in the report. I moved sections around until I thought the report flowed logically from topic area to topic area. Then I exported the whole thing to .RTF and imported it into Microsoft Word for revisions, more writing, and formatting. The document was supposed to be 30 pages, and I found I had written 80+ pages in Outliner! Eventually I divided the report into two documents and they'll be published separately.

Paul says his only challenge with using Outliner was having to apply MS Word styles to each paragraph after importing into Word (but that's because he can't run Office 2008 on his older Powerbook—OmniOutliner Pro can export outline style information that's picked up by the latest version of Word). The biggest benefits: being able to quickly collapse the report and get a good sense of the flow of topics, being able to focus on single sections at a time to write and rewrite them, and being able to record his phone interviews right on his Mac and then transcribe them so he could get all the facts straight.

Thank you, Paul, for letting us share some of the details behind your OmniOutliner workflow. You can read more from Paul at his blog, find him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter.

Do you have an Omni App (in ACTION) story of how you're using our software? Let me know in the comments or via email, I'd love to hear it.