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Write and Document

 

Idea management
Any writing or documentation project can benefit from BrainStorm, usually at the planning stages. But some writers use it for everything. One journalist we know was asked by his editor to rewrite an article because the editor judged it to be back to front. It started at the place the journalist wanted the reader to be and then worked backwards through the justifications until he arrived at the reader's start point.

He copied and pasted the article into BrainStorm and then reversed the sequence of the paragraphs, made sure that the links worked, twiddled with the intro and conclusion and resubmitted it. It was accepted. And it took about 15 minutes.

More usually, BrainStorm acts as a dumping ground for all the thoughts and information that will contribute to the final document. It can be thrown in in any sequence and then, when planning the document, you'd probably have some kind of structure. BrainStorm lets you throw all the material into the appropriate headings (and sub-headings, and sub-sub-headings etc if you like). It's all sitting there, in context, ready for you to start the writing work.

At this point, some people will work with a word processor, others will stick with BrainStorm. It's a matter of personal choice. Copying and pasting is easy enough if you want to 'lift' chunks of material from one program and dump it in another.

In short, BrainStorm is the idea management software that lets you approach a writing task in a way that suits you. Everything is captured, nothing is lost and it's all on tap. You can take a break and return to it and everything is in context and, of course, you can search for material or simply navigate around your information model.

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Capturing ideas
When the creative juices are flowing, the last thing you need is a program that you have to think about. BrainStorm lets you just tap away. Put your thoughts in as they occur to you. Don't worry about sequence or structure, that can come later.

You can pursue the highways and byways of your mind, if one thought gives rise to a bunch of related thoughts they can all be 'hung off' the first thought at the time or later, when it suits you.

The important thing is that you capture your thoughts without having to worry about how to 'work' BrainStorm. At its simplest, you just type. Hierarchies of ideas can be created by clicking away with the mouse or using the Home and End keys.

Characters in a play

Think of a BrainStorm model as a list. Any entry in the list can have its own list attached, as you can see in the simple example above. And identical entries in separate lists are automatically hyperlinked. Imagine you have created a character in a play. You might have attached a list of details to that original entry - hair color, height, weight, partner, children, parents etc. The next time you type that character's name, anywhere in your BrainStorm model, all the details you had previously stored are instantly on tap.

While this is massively useful and it is one of the ways in which BrainStorm stands apart from other programs, such a connection can be suppressed with a single mouse click.

Read on to see how BrainStorm can capture information from other programs and from the screen - a Web page for example.

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Capturing information from the Web and other programs
BrainStorm will try to make sense of any file it is offered. A text file will be easy. A formatted file from a word processor, for example, might not look so pretty, but it will try.

By far the easiest way to transfer information into BrainStorm is to copy it directly from the screen. Whether you're in a word processor, a database, an Acrobat document or a web page, simply highlight the material you want and copy it.

And the fastest way to do that is with BrainStorm's 'Magic paste'. As soon as you copy anything to the clipboard, it is immediately picked up by BrainStorm. You don't have to do anything else. Alternatively you can use regular paste or Smart paste, both of which require you to bring BrainStorm to the foreground before pasting.

Each kind of paste offers you a variety of formatting options for the incoming material. You can ignore leading spaces or use them to indicate hierarchy. You can let BrainStorm figure out where paragraphs start and end, or insist that the information is imported exactly as it appears on screen.

With Magic paste, you can define a separator, which might include date and time, to precede each paste so you can clearly distinguish between each paste.

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Organizing your information
You can reorder your information in the traditional way by selecting and dragging/dropping or by cutting and pasting. But, since reorganization is at the heart of BrainStorm's functionality, you won't be surprised to learn that it has some additional useful ways of moving information around.

You can open a second window on the current model and navigate around each window independently, making it easy to drag and drop entries from one part of a model to another. This is great when you have got chapter headings, for example, and you want to move all related entries to the level below their chapter headings. (Just hold 'shift' while dragging and dropping.)

An alternative would be to Throw entries directly by pressing Ctrl+t. Just whiz down your dumped thoughts and information and, every time, you see an entry that relates to the topic of interest, Throw it. This is fast. Much faster than drag and drop.

'Push down' and 'Push up' commands allow you to grab blocks of entries and either make them subsidiary to an existing entry or push them up a level by dropping them onto the heading icon.

You can even resequence material on the fly by selecting it in the desired sequence prior to a drag or a throw. It will arrive in the selected sequence.

Unlike many Help files, the BrainStorm one really does help you. Use it or context sensitive Help whenever you find yourself thinking "I wonder how I do this". The answer is probably there. And we are on tap if not. Just drop us an email.

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Adding to and enhancing your work
As you browse around your growing body of information, it will probably stimulate further thoughts. Just drop them in. You could do this in a different color, so you can see the evolution of your work.

You can paste in date and/or time details if you wish but, when preparing documentation, this might hinder rather than help. BrainStorm is geared to the free flow of ideas.

If you are worried about corrupting the work you have already done, why not protect existing work from alteration by making it 'read only'. This can be done very easily for part or all of your work.

If you go into Aerial view, you will see how your work is evolving.

Aerial view

This lists each entry on a single line and indents successive levels. Thus, by looking at the left hand edge of the list, you can see where in the model you have plenty of information and where it's a bit light. You can instantly shift your focus to a weaker area of your model by double clicking at the appropriate point.

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Publishing and sharing your work
Of course, if your colleagues and friends are using BrainStorm, it is easy enough for them to read and work with your BrainStorm models. These are very compact and suitable for emailing, for example.

You can write the model as a text file, as an outline if you wish. And you can use spaces or tabs to determine successive levels. You lose the internal hyperlinks between identical entries, but then if your friend or colleague is reading the file with a text or word processor, or even an outliner, then this won't matter. We provide a template for Word which presents the BrainStorm model very nicely in both Normal and Outline views

You can publish your model as a simple HTML page, which makes it readable by a host of other programs, including Word. More interestingly, perhaps, is that you can output your model as an HTML page, complete with an embedded JavaScript 'mind-reader' which attempts to present it as a navigable BrainStorm model.Here's a sample clipping:

HTML 'mind-reader'

In modern browsers your information appears pretty much as it does in BrainStorm. The entry icons are clickable and the hypertext links (we call them 'namesakes') are easily followed. You can search the model and, in general, navigate it the way you do in BrainStorm itself. Of course, being a browser view means that it cannot be edited.

In general, the older the browser, the less snappy the display. The very oldest browsers will display the model as an outline.

BrainStorm's merge command allows you to embed BrainStorm and other files within the existing model. This can be useful when collecting contributions from other people. Assuming they are BrainStorm users, you just send them out a template of the information you require and ask them to throw in their suggestions, perhaps each using a different color. When you get these models in, you can merge them such that all their contributions appear under the respective headings but in their own colors.

Finally, we can provide a Java browser which you can embed in your own web page. You can point this to any BrainStorm model on your web server and it will be even snappier than the web-published version.

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Instant recall of anything, in context
The Find and Find again commands are probably the most obvious way of finding information that you know is in the model somewhere.

An alternative would be to exploit the 'namesake' feature of the program. If you know what you are after, just type enough of the entry to be unique and bracket it with asterisks and the entry will be replicated at your fingertips.

For example, *just type enough* would find the above paragraph.

Immediately, any deeper level information about that entry is at your fingertips. All the information about the character in the play, for example, is there on tap.

A 'namesake' icon will appear to the left of your new entry to show that this is one in a chain of identical entries. Just press the left or right arrow key to go to the previous or next occurrence of the entry. You will see each in its original context.

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Checking progress
As mentioned above, the aerial view is probably the best way of reviewing progress. This shows the model in outline form and you can navigate up and down, and from side to side, to see how the work is progressing.

You might also assign part of your model, or a separate one, to your deadlines and deliverables. It's a simple matter to keep this updated and monitor progress in a more conventional way.

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