How to Create and Edit Work Outlines on Your iPad with OmniOutliner

By Galen Gruman

The $29.95 OmniOutliner for iPad has a strong following among Mac users (the $49.95 Mac version has long had a dedicated following; there is no Windows version). OmniOutliner is both a very simple outlining tool that’s easy to use and a complex one that lets you choose how rich you want your outlines to be.

OmniOutliner exports its outlines to a variety of formats, including the web’s HTML, the industry-standard OPML format for outlines, and the Microsoft Word .docx format.

When you open OmniOutliner, you should see your local documents. If you have set up an Omni Sync Server account, you see two large buttons when you sign in: one called Omni Sync Server and one called Local Documents. Tap the one that has your files or is the one in which you want to create new ones.

You can move between them by tapping the Locations button at the upper left of the screen; that is, when you’re working in one, you tap Locations to make these options appear.

Creating an outline

To create a new outline, tap the Add button (the + icon) at the upper right of the Documents screen. Then choose a template from the set that appears. Using the templates can be handy, but note that their sample text comes with them, so you need to delete that text in your new document.

The basic template is essentially empty, with an empty line (which OmniOutliner calls a row) ready for your input.

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To put text in your outline, just begin typing! Tap Return or tap the + button above the onscreen keyboard to create a new line, and use the Indent button and the Outdent button in the row that appears above the onscreen keyboard to change the level of the current line. (Tap Indent to move the line a level down, and Outdent to move the line a level up.

Moving and manipulating lines

To move a line, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Edit button at the upper right of the screen.

  2. Tap the lines you want to move to select them.

  3. Tap the Move button that appears at the bottom of the screen.

  4. Tap within your outline where you want to move the selected lines to.

  5. In the menu that appears, choose Above, Below, or Inside to determine where the moved lines appear relative to the location your tapped.

    Tapping Inside nests the moved lines into the tapped location, essentially inserting them there at a lower level in the outline.

You probably noticed other options at the bottom of the screen: Cut, Copy, Delete, Group, and Move. Cut stores the deleted line in memory so that it can be pasted elsewhere, whereas Delete doesn’t — the line is simply gone.

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When you cut or copy lines in OmniOutliner, you don’t see a Paste option at the bottom of the screen. Instead, you tap and hold at the location you want to paste the cut or copied lines and use the Paste option in the menu that appears.

The Group option begins to show some of OmniOutliner’s sophistication. Select multiple lines and tap Group to, well, group those lines. Notice how the circle icon to their left changes to a triangle. Tap the triangle icon to hide or reveal everything below that line in that group.

Adding audio comments

OmniOutliner has a cool capability: adding audio recordings to your outlines. Tap a line or text within a line; then tap the Comment button (the speech bubble icon above the onscreen keyboard). The Comment button disappears, with a Pause/Record button, audio level indicator, time indicator, and Done button.

You can have as many recorded comments in your outline as you’d like. Just tap one to play it.

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Adding notes

Another button above the onscreen keyboard lets you add notes. Unsurprisingly, it’s called Notes, and its icon looks a paragraph. Tap it to insert a note at the current location; tap outside that line to complete the note.

You can show or hide notes by tapping and holding the Notes button until two buttons appear onscreen: Show Notes and Hide Notes. They do what you’d expect!

Inserting columns

Outlines are usually composed of just lines, indented to show their internal hierarchy. But OmniOutliner also supports columns, which let you make sophisticated outlines that act more as project management documents. For example, you can add a check box column, a date column, a numeric column, a pop-up list column, and a duration column. By default, columns are rich text, meaning text to which you can apply formatting.

To create a column, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the Content button (the icon of a wrench in a page) at the upper right of the screen; then tap New Column at the bottom of the pop-over that appears.

  2. Be sure the Columns pane is active; tap it if not.

  3. Make your desired selections in the Column options that appear.

    These options include Name; Style; and the type of column: Rich Text, Number, Date, Duration, Pop-up List, and Checkbox.

    Tap a type’s i icon to get further options, such as to set the choices you want to appear in the pop-up list or the format for numbers.

  4. Tap Columns when done.

  5. Tap outside the pop-over to close it.

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To edit a column, tap any column in the Content pop-over’s Columns list to edit its attributes, if desired.

Changing the column type removes any text or other data that exists in your outline for that column. Tap Undo at the top of the screen immediately after closing the pop-over to restore any inadvertently removed text.

To move or delete a column, tap Edit in the pop-over; then use the Delete buttons and Reorder buttons (the two lines) to remove and rearrange columns, respectively.