Five Best Outlining Tools

Five Best Outlining Tools

Outlines are useful for more than just recalling painful memories of high-school research papers. This week we’re taking a look at the five favourite outlining tools of Lifehacker readers.

Most of us received our earliest introduction to outlining by a teacher who insisted we needed to outline before writing papers and reports. While outlining is a solid tool for writing a research paper, it’s also invaluable for writing other things—speeches, presentations, books, etc.—and for organising your thoughts into patterns that can be easily tweaked and edited before your reach the end product, be it book or business plan, is committed to its final form.

Note: The pricing for Microsoft Word and Microsoft OneNote is given for the standalone purchase price of the individual products. Both are available as part of the various Microsoft Office Suite configurations and are significantly cheaper when purchased as part of a suite.

Microsoft Word (Windows/Mac, Standalone: $134)

this tutorial

OmniOutliner (Mac, Standard: $US39.95, Professional $US69.95)

Microsoft OneNote (Windows, Standalone: $80)

note-taking toolsjournalingNote:
guide to getting things done with Microsoft OneNote

Org-Mode (Windows/Mac/Linux, Free)

herea large list of tutorials and screencaststhis one about using Org-Mode for outlining

FreeMind (Windows/Mac/Linux, Free)

Traditionally one thinks of outlines as a linear progression down the page. Many Lifehacker readers however opted to outline their projects and ideas in mind-mapping applications like the popular and open-source FreeMind. You still get a hierarchical structure, headers, sub-headers, and so on, but the information is presented in a mind-map format instead of a simple list. FreeMind is very keyboard friendly, it’s possible to create your entire outline without your hands leaving the keyboard. You use customise item flagging, colour coding, and more. FreeMind also made an appearance in and won the Hive Five for best mind-mapping tools.

Honorary mentions this week go to pen and paper—the timeless classic—and Mindjet MindManager, another mind-mapping tool repurposed as an outliner. Have an outlining tip, trick, or favourite application? Let’s hear about it in the comments.


  • Apple’s newest version of Pages has added an outline mode that looks pretty decent:

    I own OmniOutliner Pro and have tried to use it in combination with an earlier version of Pages but found the fiddling with styles when moving from OO to Pages too time consuming so gave up. With this feature now in Pages I’m curious whether other users of OO are looking at Pages as an alternative?

    I prefer my outlining to be plain text. Having to tweak styles and formatting when my aim is to get down ideas and organise them is just too distracting. As a result I think my favourite outliner is an editor like Vim. It has quick indention, block folding, etc.

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