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How to Outline

Chances are, it was your high school English teacher who taught you to outline, and you probably didn't like it much. Outlining meant a lot of scribbling, erasing, and head-scratching. Then, you had to do it all over again, because your English teacher wanted your outline to look neat! Much easier if you could just start writing whatever it was.

But, using Acta, outlining is quick and effective. Your computer will help you with the scribbling and erasing; all you have to do is the head-scratching. And we guarantee it will look neat. And besides, you can use Acta for a lot more than just outlining.


While your English teacher taught you how to outline, she never really taught you what outlining is. Outlining is a tool to organize your thoughts. You were taught outlining as a preparation for writing, but outlining can organize anything that requires thought -- presentations, agendas, or computer programs. Even some things that don't require much thought -- such as phone lists -- can be kept in outline form.

An outline grows from a single idea the way a ship grows from its keel, First, the shipwright lays the keel, then he adds timbers to create the skeleton of the ship. Finally, he covers the structure with planks to form the hull and deck. Similarly, you create your outline by starting with the main ideas, then filling in the details.

You can also build a ship the opposite way, first fitting the hull together from planks, then adding timbers to reinforce the skin of the ship. In writing, this is called post-outlining. You write as the inspiration moves you, then go back and outline what you have done to pick up anything you may have missed.

Writing with Acta

Of course, using Acta, there is no reason to limit yourself to one style of outlining. You can bring up Acta in one window and a word processor in another, switching back and forth as you like. Or you can stick to Acta, writing topics with any number of lines, then finally converting the outline to your word processor.

Forget your English teacher! There is no reason to follow some fixed procedure. With Acta, you are free to develop your ideas in the way that suits you best.

You may wish to do your preliminary writing directly in Acta. If the words refuse to come, don't panic. Just make a one-line entry as a reminder, then pass on to the next topic. It doesn't matter if some topics are short and others very detailed. There is no teacher to give you a C-minus!

When you finish a topic, simply press Return to start on a new topic. Acta works faster if you don't stretch a topic to fill the whole screen. Make a new one. When you are ready, you can Copy to a word processor (or Save As in a word processor format) and flesh out your topics as necessary.

Acta as Database

Acta can also be treated as a mini-database, since it has sorting and searching capabilities. You could, for example, create a glossary and alphabetize it with Sort Daughters.

Obviously, a real file manager would be more appropriate for large masses of data, but it's much easier if you don't have to worry about database design.

Acta as Calendar/To Do List

Acta serves well as a calendar or to-do list. The outline structure is very flexible. Your major topics might be months or years, your subtopics could be weeks, days, even hours, If you select the Checkboxes label style from the File : Labels menu, it becomes easy to keep a to-do list.

Remember that checking all of a topic's daughters automatically checks their mother. If you want to disable this feature, add an "Other" daughter to the bottom of the list. Then, the mother topic will not be checked unless Other is.

Other Uses

You can use Acta to organize anything, not just written or spoken words. It's great for top-down design of structured programs (programmers take note!).

Be creative! The best uses for Acta are sometimes fortuitous. Skim over the sample outlines. They will give you a start towards finding your own uses for Acta.

What is Acta?

How to Outline

Frequently Asked Questions




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