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Tree Is a Cool Tool for Creating Outlines That Branch Everywhere

Tree Is a Cool Tool for Creating Outlines That Branch Everywhere

An outline can be a great road map for helping writers get their thoughts together. Most maps, though, offer more than one way to a destination. Tree ditches a traditional linear approach to give users the flexibility they sometimes need; horizontal and vertical abilities add more outline options, but not at the expense of usability. Nice text control and export features will help Tree plant some strong roots in any writer's garden.

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
03/12/13 5:00 AM PT

Tree is US$14.99 in the Mac App Store.

Tree Outline App
Tree Outline App

Outlines can be valuable tools for writers or just about anyone else who needs to organize ideas into a coherent whole. A problem with them, though, is they can be too rigid.

A traditional outline is a vertical list. As much as many of us love lists of things, they can be stifling when a structure of ideas is forced into them.

Sometimes forcing our thoughts into the vertical structure of an outline can keep us from adding breadth to them. For that kind of thinking, we need an outline program that can expand horizontally as well as vertically.

It's a simple idea, but one that's been largely ignored by the outline establishment.

Rowling's Spreadsheet

Creatives have resorted to all kinds of alternatives to add breadth to their visualizations at the outline stage.

Good old fashioned index cards will work -- to a degree. Cards can be lined up side by side as well as under each other. Unfortunately, they can't be neatly rolled up under headings and subheads, as can be done in an electronic outline.

Some writers, like J. K. Rowling, have tried the spreadsheet approach to give that horizontal dimension to their outlines. As anyone who has worked with a spreadsheet knows, this software category isn't built for words.

A new outline program written by Kazuhiro Kawana, though, is written for words -- and for adding the missing horizontal dimension to outlines.

An Intuitive Nature

Called Tree ($14.99), the software found in the Mac App Store makes it easy to organize your thoughts vertically and horizontally.

What's nice about Tree is that's very intuitive. You want to add an item? Just hit enter. Don't like an item? Hit delete. Need to move an item? Click and drag it where you want it to be in your outline.

Those functions can also be performed with tools on Tree's toolbar or from its menu bar.

When you create a new item, a small rectangle will appear. The length of the box can be resized by dragging the tick marks on a bar at the top of the writing pane.

The tick marks define the width of the horizontal elements in the outline, as columns define the horizontal dimension in a spreadsheet.

Horizontal Expansion

You can type as much text as you want into a box; it will expand vertically as you type. Its horizontal edge will remain constant.

When you contract an item, a circle with a pointer in it will appear at its right end. When you click that pointer, the item will expand to the right horizontally.

At the front of an item's box is a slightly larger pointer. Click that and your outline will expand down vertically.

Adding children to an item can be done from the Tree menu, the toolbar, or just hitting enter and indenting the new item.

If you need to duplicate an item, you can just select it and choose Duplicate from the edit menu. Duplication is useful if have "boilerplate" sections of an outline that you repeatedly use.

Text Control

The edit menu also gives you options for pasting text while matching the style of the text in a box, controlling spelling and grammar checking, and transforming text -- make a word all upper case, for example, or lower case. You can also turn on Apple Dictation from the menu.

You can control the look of the text in your outline from the format menu. You can choose fonts and tweak their appearance through kerning, ligature control and set baselines.

Common features like bold, italic and underline are also available, as well as the ability to copy and paste styles.

Text alignment is also available -- not only left and right alignment, center and justified, but also the direction of the text: left to right or right to left.

Since Tree is an outliner, it gives you a choice of numbering systems -- Harvard or Legal -- as well as numbering options -- upper or lower case Roman numerals, Arabic numbers or upper and lower case alphabet letters.

Items in an outline can be further distinguished by labeling their pointers with colors.

Standing Alone

Once you finish an outline, you'll most likely want to make a document out of it. Tree gives you some options for that, too.

For example, you can save the outline as a PDF. That allows people without Tree to read the outline.

You can also export the outline as a plain text document, a rich text document and even a Microsoft Word 2007 document.

Tree also supports OPML 1.0. OPML is typically used by RSS readers to share lists of feeds. In addition to exporting content in OPML, Tree will also allow you to import OPML files.

When you export an outline, you can choose to include your numbering scheme with them, as well as your indents.

Before word processor makers began adding outliners to their programs, standalone outliners were quite common. Tree, with its innovative approach to outlining, is a testament to the value of those standalone outliners.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.

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