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I would like to write a detailed structured outline of a certain topic, for organizing my ideas. "Structured" means that the outline should end up looking something like this:

1. aaa
2. bbb
  2.1 ccc
  2.2 ddd
3. eee

The program should

  • do the numbering automatically (and renumber if pieces are dragged around)
  • make it easy to indent (create a deeper level of hierarchy) or outdent (shift the indentation to the left)
  • When viewing it, make it easy to hide or unhide (fold/unfold) a subtree
  • I should be able to save my outline on local disk

Can someone recommend an application which is doing this and runs either on Microsoft Windows or MacOS (i.e. not a web-based application)?

What I tried:

I tried Microsoft Word, and it makes it easy to handle the numbering and manipulate the hierarchy, but I can't tell it to hide a whole subtree.

I considered writing the outline using HTML and the collapsible style element of CSS, but this seems to be too tedious and detracts me from the actual writing process.

I tried Dynalist, which really looks good, but it does not number the outline (uses bullet points instead) and does not allow me to backup my data on my local disk.

I googled for the terms "software outline", but what came out, were mostly tools for drawing a mindmap. I didn't find a single one, which would even match what Microsoft Word already has to offer.

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  • You might care to investigate OmniOutliner (which costs money) or Emacs Org-Mode (which doesn't). Aug 19, 2022 at 10:24

2 Answers 2

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I believe Scrivener will do this. I'm just learning Scrivener and can't provide directions, but I have seen this format in one kind of output it has made of my work, when it does its "compile." The working outline, called the Binder, shows organization graphically, and provides all the features you listed. But for the numerical labelling, you use the compiler.

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  • Also, if you're using (for instance) Linux, there are a number of options for substitutes for Scrivener (which is not available for Linux, last time I checked).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Sep 9, 2022 at 19:03
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Sep 11, 2022 at 11:07
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Perhaps you can check out Obsidian, it's a very useful HTML based program, completely free and customizable. It has a pretty large user base and forum where people share their tips and tricks!

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  • I tried it, but I could not find a way to have it numbering my outline automatically. Also there does not seem to be a way to safe an outline to disk. Obsidian seems to store the outlines in a database they call a obsidian vault. Aug 20, 2022 at 12:29
  • @user1934428 Is there additional criteria to your save format preferences, or just 'to disk' rather than in a remote cloud? e.g. would you prefer the format be human readable, exportable to other formats, or--?
    – Onyz
    Aug 30, 2022 at 13:33
  • I preferably want to keep the data local all the time - since part of the data is confidential and I don't want to trust a cloud here -, and ideally export it in some way that it can be used by other programs (for instance plain text, HTML, RTF, DOCX, ...). Aug 30, 2022 at 13:38
  • @user1934428 If you can't find one you like, it wouldn't be too hard to slap together a simple application in Java. I wouldn't mind doing it myself if needed. Something like you're describing would be useful for me, too.
    – Onyz
    Aug 30, 2022 at 13:48
  • @Onyz : I didn't want to write a program for a feature, which looks so commonplace, that it should not be necessary to re-invent the wheel. Actually, I thought that some text editors might have such an "edit mode", because most editors can collapse and expand parts of programs depending on the program structure. It should not be too hard to also implement an "outline editing mode" as well. Aug 31, 2022 at 7:47

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