Outlining in ConnectedText

This is the long-awaited review of the outliner in ConnectedText. I’m not going to actually make this part of the OneNote Smackdown, because it has been too long since I was in that mind frame and I can’t reproduce it well enough to do an accurate comparison. But outlining in CT is interesting because there are some unique wrinkles, so here we go.

Really there are two ways to outline in CT. I’m going to start with and concentrate on the dedicated outlining window, but I’ll cover the second way within this context toward the end of this review.

Open the outlining window (via the View menu), you’re presented with this unassuming little window:

The unassuming little outline view with a new outline.

The window can be free floating or docked to the main window and opens in the position it was in when you last closed it.

Use the CTRL-Enter key combination to create your first item. Type your heading then press Enter to end editing. CTRL-Enter again creates a sibling entry; SHIFT-Enter creates a child entry.

Move entries around with the combination of the CTRL key and appropriate arrow key.

Building an outline is pretty fast in this nimble outliner.

You can hoist an entry using CTRL-PageUp; likewise CTRL-PageDown de-hoists the selection. And you can individually apply check boxes to entries.

Outline hoisted to the Outer Planets heading with a couple of check boxes.

If this were the extent of the outliner in CT, it’d stand fairly well with some of the other outliners I’ve reviewed. However, the real value of the CT outliner is how it integrates with the rest of the application.

Let me back up a step here and note that outlines created in the outline window are separate, individual files. They are not a part of any of your CT projects (the CT term for a file or database). You can, though, link items in the outline with topics (the CT term for entries in the project) in the project with current focus. More than this, you can instruct CT to create a new topic linked to and with the same title as the selected outline item.

For example, I’ve get a CT project going where I’m writing this article, but also with parts of the Solar System example:

The outliner (right) docked to the main window.

If I want to create a topic “Venus” linked to my “Venus” outline item, I just select the Venus item in the outline, bring up the context menu by right-clicking, select “Topic” and then “Create links.”

Now, when I double-click the “Venus” item in the outline, ConnectedText automatically creates a new topic in the currently open project, and a hyperlink is created between the outline and the project.

Items in the outline can be linked to topics in the open project.

A note about the above screenshot: I added the text to the Venus topic, because unless you actually give a topic text, CT doesn’t end up creating it — although the link remains and you can always create it later. But you can see that there is now a Venus topic, and the Venus entry in the outline has a chain icon indicating that it is linked.

You can manually link the selected outline item to the currently open topic, and you can drag topics into the outline to create a new item.

Exporting Your Work

The export options are simutaneously interesting and limiting. The interesting aspect is that if you export to HTML you can choose optionally to include the text from linked topics.

You can optionally include contents from linked topics when exporting to HTML.

The results of an HTML export with linked topic content included.

The limiting part is that no such option exists for the plain text export, so you only get the barebones headings of the outline.

When exporting to plain text, you can only include the headings in the outline.

The other options for export are OPML and Freemind. This latter format, however, would not properly open in Freemind, instead giving me a main topic that reads:

javax.xml.transform.TransformerConfigurationException: Could not compile stylesheet

and nothing else. I didn’t have the time to try to resolve this issue. If you know the answer, please let me know in the comments.

Outlines of Outlines

I mentioned earlier that there are two ways of creating outlines in ConnectedText. The second way is by building a hierarchy of headings within individual topics.

Recall two things about ConnectedText. First, the Topic window has two modes: edit and view. Second, you use a specific markup language to format text (and a lot of other things), including creating headings, sub-headings, sub-sub-headings, etc…

Building structure within a topic using the ConnectedText markup. This clipping is taken from the topic when in edit mode.

Bracketing text in combinations of equal signs (“=”) as in the above screenshot creates a series of headings. This structure is reflected in the Table of Contents which can be viewed right in the Topic or in a docked Table of Contents window, both of which are reflected in the screenshot below:

The combination of the outline window (right) and the in-topic table-of-contents provides the opportunity to have an “outline of outlines.”

While this is not technically an outline, it can serve as one quite readily, at least for reference purposes. (See the screenshot at the start of this review.)

It should be noted that you cannot currently drag the headings around in the TOC.

The bottom line

Its flexibility and integration, together with the ability to build outlines of outlines makes ConnectedText intriguing as an outlining solution. The limited export options and lack of labeling are drawbacks that give some of the other outliners an advantage, especially for writing. As a task manager, the outliner in CT could be quite effective, given its ability to link to topics and the check boxes which can be applied to individual outline items.

The developer of ConnectedText has continually been improving the application. In fact, this review was done using the latest beta edition of version 6.0. If he adds RTF export to the outline (with the ability to include linked topic contents), ConnectedText will be a killer writing application. As it is, it is still excellent.

 

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9 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Dr Andus's toolbox and commented:
    Hi Steve,

    Great review! Thanks for following up on your promise 🙂

    A few comments. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that in effect you had given examples of how CT can be used both as a single-pane outliner and as a two-pane (or even a hybrid three-pane) outliner.

    I would argue that there is even a third way (and possibly even more) in which CT can be used as an outliner, if we take “outlining” in a broader sense as building hierarchies. E.g. simply by having your obligatory home page and having outbound links from this home page you in effect are creating an outline, which can be viewed in the Navigator.

    The limitation of the Navigator view is that you can’t really manipulate the order of the child items displayed, as they are automatically displayed in the chronological order in which they have been created or modified.

    Regarding the TOC version of outlining in CT I’d add that it has the added benefit of being able to do real-time or reverse outlining, as the items (headings) being added to either a developing or finished text are displayed in real time in the TOC pane, as one types them.

    As for not being able to drag headings around in the TOC, I believe that is going to change in v. 6, as I’ve seen it in the beta already. Not only will you be able to move around headings (dragging with the mouse or via keyboard shortcuts), but the associated text under the heading will also move, so the TOC will turn into a true two-pane outliner, where you can use the TOC to restructure even a completed text.

    Regarding the Freemind export, I’m not sure what has gone wrong. However, I can say that exporting into Freeplane (which for me is an improved version of Freemind) works beautifully, and as a bonus, the links to topics are preserved, so by clicking on them, Freemind will launch CT and open the corresponding topic. The only thing is that you must have a single top-level item in your original CT outline to which all sub-levels belong because Freeplane can only have one central starting node (a limitation on the part of Freeplane, not CT).

    Thanks again!

    1. Hi, Doc,

      Appreciate the informed comments, as usual. Good point about the one-, two- and three-pane aspect of outling in CT. I’m using the latest beta of version 6, but I am unable to move the headings around in the TOC. There’s the appearance that it is working as I select and drag, but then nothing happens when I try to drop in a new location. Maybe I’ll ask Eduardo about this.

      Per your suggestion, I tried opening the *.mm file in Freeplane and I got the beautiful results you predicted. Works like a charm!

      Thanks, again!!!

      1. It’s been a while since I played around with that beta feature (mostly using the keyboard) and I remember it wasn’t fully functional yet. I just wanted to flag up that some interesting new features are in the works which are likely to make the TOC in CT even more of an outliner.

  2. It might be also worth mentioning that there is a bit of integration between the outliner tool and the TOC pane. You can highlight all outline items in the outliner by holding down SHIFT and clicking on the first and last item, then drag and drop the outline contents into the body of a blank topic, which turns all the outline items into headings with the corresponding markup, which then get displayed in the TOC.

    This is a quick way to move from outlining to drafting. Adding content under these headings in the topic is a way of adding inline notes to an outline, though one could just carry on writing too and just use the headings as one would in MS Word.

    Okay, one final point. By turning on “use folding” in the Editor options, you can have folding enabled in the body of a topic, which then becomes perhaps a fourth way of outlining in CT, as the headings and any inline notes can be collapsed by clicking on a plus sign at the left side of the heading mark-up, displaying an outline hierarchy.

  3. I didn’t realise that your penultimate screenshot in fact displays the outline in the editor with folding turned on, so this 4th way of outlining is represented in your review.

    Regarding “outlines of outlines,” Natara Bonsai (which you have reviewed in the past) can also do that. Go to Item > Link > With Outline > and choose an existing outline. But I have to admit it never occurred to me to use it. On the other hand I use this feature in CT a lot.

    I’m sure you have seen this already, but for the benefit of other readers, here is Manfred describing how by docking the outline pane on the left and linking to topics from the outline one can emulate Scrivener (or any other two-pane outliner):
    http://takingnotenow.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/connectedtext-scrivener-for-windows.html

  4. While I agree that RTF export would be nice, I think it almost exists. I’ve had some good results simply by copying the contents of an HTML export (in Firefox) and pasting it into MS Word 2010. The headings have been all recognised in Word and put into the default Style and all the images have been copied over. For my purposes that’s a de facto RTF export 🙂

    1. I didn’t try that. I did try opening the HTML file in Word and didn’t get useful results. Your suggestion makes sense. Thanks, again!

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