Outline editor

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An outline editor or electronic card box (English. Outliner ) is a computer program that translates the principle of the structured spatial arrangement of information (for example in the form of tree structures or card boxes ) on a digital platform. Technically speaking, most electronic note boxes are a mixture of freeform databases and text editors with more or less pronounced layout capabilities that can range from no layout options (pure text) to the integration of graphics, tables and hyperlinks. With some outline editors, the boundaries between document management and note-taking software are fluid in that different media types can be integrated into the database and tagged.

Types of outline editors

Basically, three different types of outline editors can be distinguished, all of which implement the principle of hierarchical storage of text elements in different ways:

Database supported
Text elements and entire documents are stored in a database in the background behind a surface that resembles a word processor. Commercial products like AskSam or lexiCan are examples of this.
Fold editors
Fold editors ( folding editor ) are editors which parts of the text folding and can hide this way. An example of the principle is the structure function of relevant word processing programs , in which parts of the text can be hidden so that you can z. B. only sees the headings. Also Org-mode for Emacs uses this technique. Special fold editors are used, for example, in software development. These give the programmer the opportunity to hide the text of a procedure or method and only display the procedure name. This increases the clarity of the code in large projects. In addition, the programmer can concentrate on the section to be worked on without being distracted by the surrounding code.
Explorer-like concepts
This type of outline editor combines the functionality of a text editor with a tree structure, as it is known in the file manager Windows Explorer . Texts are stored in a hierarchical tree structure. This allows you to navigate between individual text parts in a similar way to navigating through the file system. As a rule, the programs also allow a further categorization of the material by moving text sections into "subdirectories" and thus grouping them together into related sections of meaning. In the terminology usually used for these programs, the entire document is referred to as a tree, the individual text sections as nodes. As a rule, text can be easily rearranged by moving the nodes in the tree structure.


In particular, the explorer-like outline editors are characterized by a wide range of possible uses, which will be discussed in more detail below:

Note box

The use of the editors described in this article as an electronic analogue of the card boxes popular with humanities scholars should be regarded as the original purpose of these programs. More or less large sections of text (e.g. quotations) are stored in a file sorted by categories and tagged and are thus available even if the original book is not at hand. In this way, an extensive archive of important text passages can be quickly built up, which, thanks to the electronic processing of the texts, can be easily integrated into your own texts and can also be reused - the user has the input effort once and can then reuse the texts as required. The same applies z. B. also for journalistic work in the form of an electronic hand archive and the use as an electronic “notebook” in which ideas can be filed in a structured manner.

Freeform database

Outline editors can generally be used for all purposes in which a large number of not too long texts are to be saved, examples of which are recipe or diaries.

Literary production

Outline editors are ideal because of their structured but flexible way of organizing text data for writing literary products such as novels and short stories or scripts . Chapters and scenes are written in individual nodes, the tree structure enables the development of several storylines and additional data such as characterizations or descriptions of locations. A separate branch of the structure tree is set up for each of these.

Entire text parts or even chapters can now be rearranged within the tree by moving nodes in the tree structure. It is much easier to change the structure of a text than with an ordinary word processing program. This also applies to journalistic or scientific works, which are usually much more structured than literary texts. The presence of a hypertext function is advantageous for such texts , so that cross-references and footnotes can be set up.

Web links / list of outline editors