Do some outlining. Then outline some more…

I once more had to realise that when the writing is not going well, it might be because I haven’t figured out what I wanted to say, meaning that I probably need to do more outlining. So here is my freshly rediscovered rule of thumb: “when you’re stuck, when you got the writer’s block, just do some outlining. And then outline some more. And then some more.” And then you will know what to write about and how to organise your thoughts. In fact outlining is not only about developing the content but also deciding the order in which the content is going to be presented, i.e. the flow of logic, the order of presentation, and the structure of the content. All the more reasons to do some outlining, and then outline some more.

Using Natara Bonsai with WorkFlowy

Natara Bonsai has long been my favourite outliner, but in the last couple of years it has been gradually displaced in my daily use by WorkFlowy, mainly because WorkFlowy syncs automatically and seamlessly across all my devices using different platforms, which is very useful for capturing notes and todos and having them always available.

Nevertheless, there are situations where Natara Bonsai is still my go-to choice. For example, when I need to organise, analyse, sort and resort large lists, or when I need to hierarchically structure some complex information, where it helps that different hierarchical levels can be displayed in different colour, to guide the eye.

Fortunately it is very easy to get information from Natara Bonsai back into WorkFlowy. All you need to do is install the OPML export template from the CarbonFin website (instructions available there), then export the Bonsai outline as a .opml file, open the .opml file using your favourite text editor (for this task I like to use Notepad++), and simply copy and paste the contents of the .opml file directly into a WorkFlowy bullet point. WorkFlowy will not only preserve the outline hierarchy but it will also display any Bonsai outline item notes as inline WorkFlowy notes.

Here is a Bonsai outline (the final bullet point has a note, displayed in the pane on the right):


And here it is after having been pasted into WorkFlowy (note the inline note under the last bullet point):



Frank Degenaar points out in the comments section that it is possible to add colour to a WorkFlowy outline as well, using the “Painter for WorkFlowy” Chrome add-on and some stylesheets using the “Stylish” add-on. That is definitely true and I do make use of those tools in my WorkFlowy all the time. It would only take me a minute or two to reconstruct the colour scheme of the above Bonsai outline in WorkFlowy, and the two would look fairly similar (especially if I change the dark WorkFlowy theme to a light one).

However, the colouring-in capability of Natara Bonsai works quite differently from that of WorkFlowy and serves a different purpose. You can set up Bonsai so that it automatically colours in your outline items according to the outline level position they occupy. This means that if you promote or demote an outline item, its colour will change accordingly and automatically.

While it is possible to retrospectively colour in a WorkFlowy outline by adding a colour tag to each item individually and manually (which would be time-consuming in the case of very large and multi-level outlines), these colours will not change when you demote or promote these items, as their colour tags will travel with them.

The  key point here is that when using Bonsai, the colour scheme has already been set up as default (using the procedure I described earlier), so I don’t have to pay any attention to the colouring-in, it just works automatically as I type away and keep promoting and demoting items. In contrast, with WorkFlowy the colouring-in needs to be done manually, individually for each item, and retrospectively, after the item has been added, and it does not change, if I move the outline items, thus breaking the logic of the “colour by hierarchy level” scheme.

This difference becomes significant when you want to work on large and complex lists and you want to pay attention to the text, rather than be disrupted by the mechanics of colouring-in. Bonsai just allows you to work faster, without having to make decisions about and fiddle with every single item, as you would have to in WorkFlowy.

By the way, as I have already explained in that earlier post, it is possible to use other criteria for the automatic colouring in Bonsai, such as category, priority or due date.

Alternative Natara Bonsai download site

My blog stats tell me that there is a steady stream of visitors looking for Natara Bonsai, ever since the main download site has disappeared a few months ago. It seems that there is still at least one site where Bonsai 5 Desktop Edition can be downloaded from (and there may very well be some others out there). I don’t know whether this site is legitimate, so download anything at your own risk, and make sure you scan the file for viruses. However, I know of at least one reader who has done so, and he sounded happy. Here is the link: It seems to be some sort of a mirror of the original site, as it looks identical. If you do not have a license, you could try to contact the administrator of the Natara blog to find out if it is still possible to purchase one.

Natara Bonsai

Natara Bonsai is one of my old time favourites. While there are some other capable outliners out there, when I need to analyse textual data in long and complex lists, none are as easy and fast to use as Bonsai. The last version I have is v. 5.0.3 Build 3233. I run it on a Win 7, 64-bit machine, and it works perfectly.

Visitor stats for launch week

It’s been a week since I’ve launched this blog and posted my list of favourite software and hardware tools for research, note-taking, outlining, writing and other aspects of personal information management and productivity. About 70% of the visitors came from the Outliner Software forum, so the following stats may also give a quick snapshot of which countries readers of Outliner Software are based in and what software that was discussed here they were most interested in.

Here are the countries of origin where visitors came from (or at least where their servers were based in) (click on graphic on the left):

66% came from English-speaking countries, which is understandable, considering that the Outliner Software forum and this blog are in English and that these countries have led development in information technology. One of the most curious absences is Australia, considering the size of the country and their software sector (and that they are English-speaking). I even mentioned two Australian software on my list (Mindsystems Amode V2 and Directory Opus). However, three other giants in terms of population and size and importance of IT sector are also missing: Russia, India (I did mention WhizFolders), and China. Looks like folks in these countries haven’t discovered Outliner Software or haven’t been reading it recently (or just weren’t interested in my blog). They don’t know what they’re missing – I’m talking about Outliner Software :)

In terms of which software visitors were most interested in, here is the top 10 list, based on the number of clicks on links:

1.  ConnectedText  – personal wiki
2.  Mindsystems Amode V2 – project management
3. – customisable home page (free)
4.  Freeplane – mind mapping (free)
5.  Noteliner – fast outlining (free)
6.  Nebulous Notes – note-taker for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad (with Dropbox)
6.  VUE – concept mapping (free)
6.  Natara Bonsai – outlining
7.  CarbonFin Outliner – outliner for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, with online companion
8.  MyLifeOrganized – to-do list
8.  Storybook Pro – for structuring writing
8.  NoteTab – text editor (free)
9.  A-PDF Collector – PDF utility
9.  Directory Opus – Windows Explorer replacement
10. PureText – utility for stripping rich text formatting (free)
10. Debenu PDF Maximus – batch PDF processing
10. Surfulater – note-taker for websites
10. PDF XChange Viewer – PDF viewer (free)

It’s understandable that CT and Amode were top of the list, considering that I have reviewed both in dedicated posts. I’m happy that Protopage has made it to no. 3, as I’ve been a long-time fan and user and I can’t imagine my life without it. (Apparently there is even a way to embed your Google Calendar into Protopage – although I haven’t tried it.) There are two one-trick ponies on the list: A-PDF Collector and PureText. I use PureText several times daily, pretty much every time I am doing copying and pasting. A-PDF Collector is a more occasionally used tool but can be very useful for the specific job it does. Debenu PDF Maximus is the one software I use the least frequently, simply because those big jobs it’s designed for don’t come along that frequently. It’s quite expensive as well, though I was able to grab a free copy at the ever so useful BitsduJour service. In my top 10 I would have probably also included other iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps such as iThoughts, GoodReader and PDF Expert.

Welcome to Dr Andus’s toolbox

Hi. I’m Dr Andus (i.e. doctorandus, Latin for ‘he who should become a doctor’), a social science PhD student based in the UK and engaged in qualitative research. I’m interested in software and hardware tools that can help with researching, outlining, and writing, as well as improving personal productivity. I also contribute under this name at the Outliner Software forum, which is an excellent source of information on such tools.

The impetus for starting this blog actually came from another member at Outliner Software, who asked me to provide some tutorials about how I use ConnectedText (CT) – a personal wiki software – for qualitative data analysis (effectively as a CAQDAS). I thought that rather than inundating forum members with long posts on CT, I would set up a dedicated blog for this purpose. Although my initial posts here are likely to focus on CT, I intend this blog to become a place for commentary on a wide range of software and hardware that I use for researching, outlining and writing but also for managing personal information (PIM).  I have also set up a page that will contain a periodically updated list of my favourite software and hardware tools (my toolbox). I use Windows PCs (a couple of desktops and a netbook, running XP and Win7), an Apple iPod Touch and an iPad, therefore I will focus primarily on those platforms.

I welcome questions, comments or suggestions related to tools for qualitative research, outlining, writing and personal information management.