Common Questions

What is OutlinesOutloud? Does it include actual study outlines?

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OutlinesOutloud is not a library of prepared outlines. It’s a powerful tool that converts your study outlines (ones you create yourself) into spoken audio you can control in different ways, to increase the effectiveness of your studying.

How does OutlinesOutloud differ from just using the text-to-speech Accessibility feature built into iOS?

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OutlinesOutloud is a full-featured app that automatically syncs outlines and other study docs from your computer to your iPhone. It gives you total control over the playback experience, letting you jump forward and back, skip and ‘unskip’ sections with a swipe and a tap, vary the speech rate, pause, loop, and more.

In addition, OutlinesOutloud understands the structure of outlines. It recognizes, for example, row identifiers (the numerals and letters at the beginning of outline rows) and speaks them in a natural way: That “I.” at the beginning of a row will be spoken as “Roman Numeral One” and not “Aye”. (It also treats information like “1950 – 1995” correctly, reading it as “nineteen fifty to nineteen ninety-five, and not “one thousand nine hundred and fifty minus one thousand nine hundred and ninety-five.”)

Other OutlinesOutloud tweaks include optimizing the rhythm and pacing of the spoken text, preserving outline structure while making it more listenable. All this promotes easier studying, potentially faster learning, and lets you study anywhere, anytime, without lugging around notes, books, or laptop, and without an internet connection.

In contrast, the text-to-speech accessiblity feature in iOS does only one thing: it lets you select a single, unbroken block of text and hear it spoken.

What’s the benefit of reviewing outlines “out loud?”

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According to studies[1], most people prefer to learn through multiple modalities, making OutlinesOutloud a great tool for all students. It offers three things: greater variety in study options; a chance to improve retention by incorporating an additional learning channel; and perhaps most important, the chance to study virtually anywhere!

(Of course, if you happen to be among the 30% of students who find it easier to retain information they hear, rather than read, this easy, flexible, text-to-speech study app can be a law school lifesaver!)

How do I create the outlines in the first place?

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You create the outlines on your laptop or desktop computer, saving them in either .opml or text format. For this purpose, we strongly recommend using an outlining application—such as OmiOutliner, Visual Outliner, or others—that will output in .opml format.

These applications display your outline correctly on the screen and give you the flexibility to view or hide individual subpoints while you work, which is really useful. Think of it this way: If you're looking at three years of law school, that's a lot of outlines! It pays to get the right tool for the job. (An outlining app needn't be a big investment: Visual Outliner for Windows is free, and the best outlining program on the Mac, OmniOutliner, is available in a perfectly capable version for just $11.99!)

What file format does OutlinesOutloud read?

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OutlinesOutloud can read either .opml or .txt files.

Can I use Microsoft Word, or another word processor, to create outlines?

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You can, but since Word won't export as .opml, you would need to save your work as a .txt file, and Word strips all the text formatting when you do that. Whatever time you had spent using Word styles or making margin changes would be lost.  (Again, an outlining app solves this problem and gives you a much better outlining tool overall.)

If you don’t have an outliner app, the best option is to instead use a text editor like TextEdit, Notepad++, or something similar, to write your outline. Create your outline hierarchy by simply inserting one or more tabs at the beginning of each paragraph before the row identifiers—no tabs for a main point (typically Roman Numeral I), one tab for a subpoint (typically capital A.), two tabs for a sub-subpoint (typically number 1), and so on. Because text wraps back to the left margin when using a straight text editor, it won’t look quite like a proper outline on your computer, but it will display and read perfectly in OutlinesOutloud. You can do this in Word as well; just omit any formatting except the tab indents at the start of paragraphs, and then save as a .txt file.

I understand Word isn't ideal for this purpose, but suppose my professor gives me a pre-made Word file to study from?

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If you have no choice but to use Word—and your outline is already built using Word’s formatting, see the Support page for the simple steps to follow to convert it into a useable .txt file. 

Can I input text that is not in outline form?

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Absolutely! OutlinesOutloud has a number of features designed specifically to enhance the playback of outlines, but will happily play any text as long as the source file is saved in .opml or .txt format. It’s actually a great tool for studying notes, lists of terms, or even speeches. And you’ll have the advantage of all the special playback features—ability to jump forward and backward, skip some sections so you can concentrate on others, vary speech rate, pause, and loop.

How do I get outlines onto my iPhone and into OutlinesOutloud?

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It’s simple. You can either 1) save your finished outline (either in .opml or .txt format) in a particular Dropbox folder on your computer (recommended), and it will appear in OutlinesOutloud on your iPhone immediately, or 2) use any method to get a file onto your phone—an easy way is to attach the document to an email—and then simply use the Share button on the phone to get it into OutlinesOutloud. For more detailed instructions, see the Support section.

Can I edit my outlines within the app?

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No. But you can easily edit outlines on your computer the same way you created them in the first place and upload the edited versions using Dropbox or the Share button.  Again, for detailed instructions, see the Support section.

Suppose I want to listen to certain parts of the outline and not others. Can I select sections to listen to without having to edit the outline?

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Absolutely. With a swipe and a tap, you can skip any sections of the outline you don’t want to hear. Skipping a section doesn’t change the outline file itself; you can still see the skipped sections in the interface, and they can be “un-skipped” at any time. 

I learn through repetition. Do I have to keep hitting "Play" to hear the same section over and over? 

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Not at all! In addition to the other playback features, you can assign sections to loop, so you can listen to them multiple times without re-cuing.

1. First-year medical students prefer multiple learning styles  Heidi L. Lujan and Stephen E. DiCarlo, Department of Physiology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan.