Scribe – Outlines With A Little Extra

As a writer about Mac, iPhone and iPad applications you sometimes think you’ve seen it all, apps being very similar, especially when they perform basically the same tasks. I should know better – it’s the details that can make all the difference and I tried to highlight that fact in an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago in which I compared five outlining apps for Mac.

They all had their strengths and weaknesses, but all of them will suit a different set of needs. Being only human, it seems I overlooked a rather popular choice: Scribe. Today, I want to remedy that faux pas and take a closer look at an outliner that comes with a lot of features and is quite simple to use.

Scribe – Easy on the eyes, powerful under the hood

After the very first launch, I waited for a couple of seconds to see if there “was more” to the simple white window that opened on my screen. There wasn’t. No help screen, no inspector … just a plain window with a couple of buttons in the header.

Welcome to Scribe and don't let the plain window fool you

Welcome to Scribe and don't let the plain window fool you

As it turned out, that’s really all you need. Scribe can be used intuitively. To start an outline, you simply start typing. By hitting the enter key, you start a new entry on the same level. Pressing the tab key will indent the next line, making it a child of the entry above. You can continue doing so, creating up to eight sublevels. I’m fairly certain it will satisfy the needs of most users.

Level away

Level away

The most important factor is the ease of use: both the enter and tab key allow to create any kind of structured outline, you don’t have to fiddle with many options or complicated keyboard shortcuts that need to be memorized. Most word processors behave just like Scribe, which means you don’t have to learn anything new.

For example, if you want to “un-dent” a level – make it a 1.2 instead of a 1.1.1 – you just hit Shift+Tab, as you would in Pages or Keynote or Microsoft Office documents. Having used Scribe in a business environment over the last week made me realize how important this is: during a meeting, when you’re fighting to keep up with notes, you don’t have time to think about what keys to press. You do it instinctively and Scribe just … works.

Of course, for those who prefer the mouse, there are some buttons at the top that we can take a closer look at. Going from the left: the first two allow you to indent and outdent a level. The next two allow reordering items on the same level. Beware that all child items of a parent will be moved with it!

If you rather work with a mouse, you have buttons at your disposal

If you rather work with a mouse, you have buttons at your disposal

Next up are buttons for collapsing trees (parent items with their children). Why? Well, it saves you space if your outline is getting longer and sometimes hiding child items can help to see some structures better. There are shortcuts for all of this and any of the above functions, by the way, which can be learned by reading through the short help file.

Record, Listen, Find

An awesome feature that can be easily overlooked due to the grey and discreet icon is the ability to record audio while you create your outline with Scribe. That can literally save the day after a meeting or a class. If you realize that you’re behind in your notes, simply leave it at that and continue with what is currently going on.

Afterwards, use the slider of the audio recording to jump to exactly where you couldn’t keep up anymore. Or, maybe you had trouble understanding something that was discussed. Jump to the entry via the slider and listen to what has been said. When you drag the slider, Scribe will show you exactly at which entry in your outline something was recorded. Neat.

Record while you online and find the entry corresponding to the audio

Record while you online and find the entry corresponding to the audio

The only thing I wish for: If I put my cursor into any entry, the audio indicator should jump to the corresponding position. It’s by no means a bad solution as it is, but it would be a great alternative to the current method.

Dress it up

Say you’re working late. It’s dark or dusk outside and you’re using Lion’s feature of full screen, which is enabled in Scribe. The last thing you probably want is a white screen glaring at you and hurting your eyes. You could turn down the brightness of your Mac’s display. Or, you could simply run Scribe in dark mode instead.

Use Scribe in dark mode at night or if you mood calls for it

Use Scribe in dark mode at night or if you mood calls for it

For night owls like me, a feature like this can make all the difference of loving or loathing to use an app. But that’s by far not the only option that Scribe offers to style the appearance. You can change the font size (great if you’re sitting four feet away from a 27″ screen) and the line spacing, switch between a serif and non-serif font, and to top it off: choose between three different outlining styles (academic, legal, bullets).

Change fonts and many other settings

Change fonts and many other settings


For an app that opened up in a single, plain white window, Scribe turned out to be quite powerful while remaining easy to use. The audio feature was a pleasant surprise and while the app might not offer the variety of options as OmniOutliner or the visual elegance of Tree, I found it pretty much perfect for going into a meeting and not having to worry about missing out on something.


Scribe lets you create outlines very easily while offering a number of efficient styling options and audio recording while working.



Add Yours
  • I think this app is overpriced for what we get. Save yourself 13 bucks and just write this in Word or TextEdit.

  • Typically, I wouldn’t use this program as once I’ve done some tiered outlining I usually have to step into much more complex and enhanced documents of base on this type of structure. But Scribe is targeted at a much more basic focused need, and I think it accomplishes that that well. It impressed me right up until the end… the price… and then fell down.

  • Really? People is now complaining $13 is too expensive?

    In this case, I agree. $13 for Scribe is way too expensive. It did not provide any extra functionalities beyond what TextEdit provide. OK, maybe for recording, but that alone still not worth $13.

    And it got a 9. Is it just me or AppStorm rating is way too over-rated as of recently?

  • As the author of this article, I’ll just chip in here, even though I normally try to stay out of this kind of conversation.

    First of all, you are all entitled to your opinion, I’m not in the slightest disputing that. If $13 is too much for you, then that’s that.

    From my point of view, I see the effort a developer has put into an app. I see how it will fit into my workflow (if it does at all) and how it benefits me. To me, that usually translates into “saves me time”. And Scribe does; it works for me, while it may not work for others (for that, refer to my roundup of Outline apps which was published a little earlier here on Mac.AppStorm).

    The app does much more than Text Edit in terms of ease of use and additional functionality. Every aspect combined convinced me of the app and it’s value; that’s why it received 9/10. For what it does, it’s really, really good.

    If it’s not made for you, that’s fine too. I’m just thinking that many of us have become used to $0.99 apps on the App Store and expect real productivity tools, photography apps, business tools etc. to cost as much as the casual game or throwaway app.

  • Please don’t turn this comment thread into a personal bashing. I’m not really used to paying $0.99 apps, in fact, I *rarely* purchase anything below $29.99 in Mac App Store. If the whole experience is worth the price then I’ll happily pay for it—sometimes twice, even!

    I’m not saying all apps should be a kitchen sink, but I tried Scribe few months ago and found it to be lacking. No styling by level, lack of OPML support (which they seems to have supported it now, good!) and few more things I can’t recalled.

    About the rating, it just makes me wonder—if Scribe got a 9, what score would you give to OmniOutliner? Another 9? Something lower? TaskPaper? Tree (especially considering it’s only $2 more)?

  • There has not been any “personal bashing” anywhere, save the fact that you took such offense, NSDocument. There are many factors that go into a rating, and the nature of an all-in-one “rating” it is bound to be a generalization that glosses over minute differences in applications. There is nothing wrong with having 9 for Scribe and 9 for, say OmniOutliner since, for one, there is an excess of literature out there complaining about how OmniOutliner is bloated and less easy to use than other outliners. Of course, I am not against OO either (in fact that is what I use every day), but I’m just recognizing that more is not necessarily better, and that a simplistic but convenient application can be just as highly-rated as an advanced, “professional” application — they just fit into different niches and parts of your workflow.

  • Fair enough. I guess this is where our view of “rating” differs; I compare the app with its category and expected feature set of each category, which Scribe doesn’t seems worth of a 9, in my opinion.

    Sorry that I took such offense. Couldn’t resist about that $0.99 remark.

  • Haha no worries, I’d agree on that though! I recently got Tree, and for me that would be the “simpler” counterpart to OO, so I actually don’t in fact wish to shell out much for Scribe (which does seem a bit too simplistic for myself:)

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