Outlining Books Faster, Revisited

Outlining Books Faster, Revisited

"The Fast Book Outliner V3" A year ago I wanted a better way to outline books for review purposes, and wrote about The Fast Book Outliner (FBO). I used it on a few book outlining projects, and while it was an improvement I still found that it still felt physically awkward to use. If I’m reading a book, the note-taking action has to be efficiently done with one hand, and I found that writing toward the bottom of the page was difficult. Also, although a single sheet of FBO could handle up to 100 pages, that meant I still needed multiple pages to cover a good-sized book.

Fast-forward to today: I’ve been re-reading Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, and have been in the mood to outline its lessons. It occurred to me that I could adapt the principles from The Compact Calendar to book outlining, which has resulted in version 3 of the FBO.

Fast Book Outliner Detail In the above photo, I’m using circles to mark the pages that have interesting content (perhaps highlighted), writing the related notes on the right side. I’m also marking off major sections using lines, which helps me see the structure of the book.

My first pass at FBO V3 has room for 500 pages of book mapping on a single sheet. This is probably too dense; I’ll have to redraft the numbers to something like 250 pages. This would give me some room for book information at the top of the page, and maybe allow for some notes at the bottom of the page. The note area also is a place to rest your hand as you take notes; as I noted above, one-handed writing on the bottom is tough. Without the weight of your hand to steady the paper, it tends to move around…annoying!

If you’re interested in giving it a try, check out the new V3 version available for download on the Fast Book Outliner Page.


  1. Lynn O'Connor 12 years ago

    I finally found out why I was having trouble downloading the version 3. Now I have another request/idea/question –I like reading all kinds of things on the computer. And I purchase so many books from Amazon, but not so often by way of Kindle (for my computer) because I have trouble figuring out where I am in a book, how its organized without the normal kind of pagination. As I was reflecting on your new Fast book outlining tool (and the prior ones) it crossed my mind that you might have some idea of how to do this –I can’t seem to get the hang of the whole book when I get it on Kindle. Does anyone else have this problem, and if so, has anyone found a solution?


  2. be chappell 12 years ago

    I am in the middle of a research project and looking around I have stacks of books with sticky notes poking out everywhere. Since the sticky notes just mark the pages, I was starting to panic about how I was going to remember how what book related to which relevant piece of information… and along came FBO Ver 3. HURRAY!

    My brain is already fast forwarding to matching the numbers (0 1 2 3) on the far left with categories from the outline – to page number/source.

    Thanks Dave!

  3. Jeff 12 years ago

    read everything digital now. transformed my reading and also my excessive highlighting/note-taking while i read. execution is not perfect in reader app like kindle (haven’t tried others yet) but still far superior to my old analog ways. that is, so long as they don’t get vaporized in some amazon cyber ether black hole – which is possible but not probable – but in which case i’d be SCREWED.

  4. Pete 12 years ago

    Instead of all book numbers listed where only a certain number contain notes. Why not have a row of small circles say 10 across by 50 deep (or more) and then you could just write the page number in the circle which would correspond to your notes.

  5. Author
    Dave Seah 12 years ago

    Lynn, Jeff: With Kindle I’m just using the Desktop version of reader because highlighting on a regular Kindle (or even an iPad) is a painful and slow process. It’s not too bad with the desktop version because you have a mouse, but it’s still not great. In fact, it is a rather hateful experience.

    Pete: That’s a good way to save space, and it’s worth trying! The design I have now is to avoid writing numbers (something I generally hate doing) while revealing the book’s spatial layout across pages. Having a regular pattern of numbers is easier to scan, too. Your idea is a good one too. I might add space for sections on the left of the circles, and then notes on the right.

  6. Phil 12 years ago

    @Jeff Connect your Kindle to your PC/Mac and browse to the Documents folder. The folder should contain a file called My Clippings.txt which will contain your notes, highlights, bookmarks etc. Just copy the file to you computer to keep a backup.

  7. Dave Markarian 9 years ago

    With regard to really important books that contain advice on life, time management or business, I want to try out reading those books electronically, and then underlining or highlighting the key parts so that I can move those underlined or highlighted sections into an outline of what I have read. Ideally, I’d like to read those books via Kindle on my iPad and then more the outline comprised of underlined or highlighted sections to my iMac.

    Does anyone have advice on how to do this, and is there a resource for step by step instructions as to how to do this? I’ve read Dave Seah’s thoughts in a couple of places, but I am still confused.

    Thanks in advance for the help,


  8. Author
    Dave Seah 9 years ago

    Dave: Check out this article: How to get your Kindle highlights into Evernote. Apparently Amazon keeps track of all your highlights on a page, which sounds like a great way to start an outline.