Outliner versus plain text note-taking systems

Mickey Mellen
2 min readNov 11, 2022

As I’ve been digging more into the Tana note-taking app and talking to people about the pros and cons of it, a common dividing line seems to be coming up; is the app focused on outline-style notes, or plain text?

I never really thought it mattered to me (and I didn’t even really see the distinction), but I’m coming around and I think I’m falling on the outline type system as my favorite.

Plain text

Most of us began taking notes on text-based systems. This could go way back to simple note-taking apps from decades ago, but even more recent apps like Evernote (and even Obsidian) are text-based at their core. This simply means that you can put blocks of text into the app and format it however you’d like. You can optionally add bulleted lists, but they’re not required.


More recent apps, such as Roam Research and Tana, are built around an outline. Everything is a bullet, and a sub-bullet, and a sub-bullet. This keeps you a bit more locked in on how you can work, but also generally makes it much faster to lay out idea, collapse older sections, and build things out more quickly.

Even inside of outline-based systems, things are often handled differently. In Roam, you create pages and build outlines on those, and things are a…



Mickey Mellen

I’m a cofounder of @GreenMellen, and I’m into WordPress, blogging and seo. Love my two girls, gadgets, Google Earth, and I try to run when I can.