Outliner Functionality in Text Notes and Export Into Text Notes of Subtopics

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I'm using MindManager as a personal ITDE (Integrated Thought Development Environment).
For me, a text outliner in the text notes would be very useful. I'm thinking of something in the
spirit of the basic outlining functionality in Microsoft's OneNote - increase and decrease of indentation, fold and unfold sections, move around sections with ease and so on.
It would be   v e r y   convenient to highlight a section of the text note outline and then export it to the text notes of a new subtopic, with some cross-referencing between source and destination (and, in the best of all possible worlds, some wiki functionality that makes sure these links don't get lost unnoticed).

The main use of this feature would be to dig deeper and deeper into a subject while maintaining a clear view on the big picture.
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Thomas Teepe

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Posted 2 years ago

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Ary Velstra, Expert Trainer

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Although I like your idea, I can't help myself thinking....:

  • There already is an outline view that provides all that, but with the topics, not the topic text notes.
  • If you used relationship lines they create crossreferencing automatically.
  • It is possible to create hyperlinks from within the text notes to other topics in your map (as well as to wherever you wish to go)
  • The search functions provide you with wiki-like results

Could this be enough for you?
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Alex Gooding, Champion

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The inbuilt paragraph numbering facility can be used to create basic numbered or bulleted multi-level outlines in the topic notes, though the approach to doing this is a bit clunky.

The first is step is obviously to add automatic numbering or bullet points to the top level of the outline text paragraphs in a topic note and then choose the paragraph(s) you wish to indent to the next level down. Unfortunately indenting these does not change the number sequence or formatting as it would in a "real" outlining program, but you can start a new numbering sequence and change the formatting for these indented paragraphs from the options available on the drop-down arrow on the Numbering icon, or start a bulleted sequence, both without affecting the preceding or subsequent paragraphs.

The options are fairly limited however as there are only a few numbering formats available and you can't do legal numbering. Frustratingly and very annoyingly, the formatting in a copied Word outline (including legal numbering and indenting) is recognised and can even be edited in the topic notes but the outline reverts to the basic topic notes number formatting whenever the file is saved.

It is also difficult to undertake major editing of the resulting outline or to do the other things you want to achieve. However as Ary notes you can create a link from a paragraph or even a single word in the topic notes to another topic in the map, though not vice versa. You can also copy a subtopic and paste it as a note to another topic or subtopic (or if you use the MAP add-in, turn a topic's subtopics into a note for that topic).

I also agree with Ary that where possible you should consider using the map itself to create outlines through different topic levels, though I recognise that there times when you can have a lot of text which would best be maintained in topic notes in outline format. If this is the case another option is to create a separate outlined Word document for each set of notes which you can either attach or link to the relevant topic.

(Edited)
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Thomas Teepe

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Many thanks for both comments!

Here are some additional thoughts.

  • For me, there is an important practical difference between ordinary topics and items in a text note outlining.
    If you have just 10 lines of outlining in each of your topics, then making them into proper topics would make your map ten times bigger, making the map much less manageable.
    So, using text notes can be a crucial method to avoid messy maps.
  • More specifically, I think the following procedure is very natural in many thinking processes:
    • First, you collect a number of things in a text note outline - questions, ideas, possible strategies, points of criticism, ...
    • Then you have a look at this collection. There will be some items that are unpromising, far-fetched or irrelevant, which you may want to ignore or examine later. But others are promising and deserve a closer look.
    • You work out details for these items and then export your outlined ideas to a subtopic when a certain degree of relevance has been achieved.

As a result of this procedure your map contains only topics of relevance, and the map mirrors the process of thought development.

  • I imagine a function where you highlight a section of your outlining and then choose "Export to subtopic" from the context menu. You can add a title for the new subtopic, and then the following things happen:
    • The new subtopic is created.
    • The highlighted text is cut from its original place and pasted into the text notes of the new subtopic.
    • At its original place in the text notes, a link to the new topic appears.
    • The new subtopic contains a back link (either from the topic or from the text notes) to the original topic (or, better, to the exact text notes location).
  • Oh, and a set of tags for items in the outlining would be great - tasks, open questions, important insights etc.
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Alex Gooding, Champion

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While I strongly support your suggestions both for improved outlining in topic notes and a better approach to converting an outline (and indeed other forms of notes text) into subtopics, the brainstorming process you describe for collecting, analysing and collating information within an outline is very similar to what a lot of us do directly within mindmaps themselves.

In fact this sort of thing is what mindmapping was originally designed for - to visualise the brainstorming and researching process. Obviously not everyone likes to do this visually, instead preferring a more text-based outlining process, but in these cases a mind map might not be the most appropriate tool to start off with.

For these people it may be easier to brainstorm using an outline in Word based on the template heading structure, as the resulting heading paragraph levels will be recognised by MindManager and translated into a topic/subtopic hierarchy. A link can be established from the relevant topic(s) in the map to the original Word outline (and vice versa) and the Word outline file can also be attached to these topics.

If however you want to start by brainstorming within a mind map but are worried by the size of the resulting maps, there are a couple of options. For example, you could simply work on one aspect of the map at a time; when you have finished brainstorming a specific topic or topic group, you can move onto another one. Alternatively you could complete the detailed work in a number of sub-maps linked to a main map.

(Edited)