A few months ago, I was looking for a good way to help my customers keep track of some technical reports – you know those reports with long dry titles with multi-syllabic words.
Surely there was an easy way to present a customer with a few lists – you have seen this already, take a look at this, this is new and might interest you.
I started off looking at social media software and then I looked at some e-learning software. And then . . . Drupal.
In all honesty, you don’t want to discover Drupal. It is a time-sink of note. People politely refer to it as having a “steep learning curve”. Translate: the documentation sucks.
But, here we are with Drupal.
What does Drupal have that is so fascinating?
- Firstly, Drupal is open source. It has a huge community of people who work on it and contribute modules.
- Secondly, Drupal is modular. You are limited only by your imagination (and of course the underlying code which – stomach turning to say – is poorly documented).
But these are both limitations really. They account for the time-sink.
What drew me to Drupal were two features:
- First, its Search. I can Search through the inside of all my files as easily as using a Google search script.
- Second, its Outlining.
Let me spell both features out a little more.
Search in Drupal
Think of working on a long project. I open up a Word document and half-way through, I get called away. I save a draft. When I come back to the project I look for the draft in Windows Explorer.
Oh, it sounds simple. The reality is different. I always seem to have half-finished drafts that I have half-forgotten about.
Now I try to find what I want. Yes, I can search by Folder and Date and File Type. Yes, I can search by Title (slowly). Yes, I could use tags and Google search. But I’ve abandoned these over the years as not being particularly effective at keeping me organised.
Drupal files everything in one place
Filing and search in Drupal is so much easier. Everything I write, no matter what it is about, goes into one folder, organised by Date. Most content has tags similar to a blog post.
Drupal can search inside your files
When I am looking for material, I can still search by the date, the title, and the tags. But Drupal will search inside my files too. (Well actually, as long as they are more than three hours old as the cron job is set to run every three hours).
The advantages of Drupal is that I don’t have to move content into folders and when I want to find something, I have a powerful search function.
Outlining in Drupal
But, what if I want to group my files in a folder?
Well, you are not going to! What you will do will be even better.
When you write a document that belongs in a collection, you simply add it to an Outline. And, thereafter, whenever you want to add anything to that collection, you simply add it.
The file itself never moves. All you are doing is adding a hyperlink.
If you want to add sub-folders, you simply add a Book Page and Child Pages to mark sub-folders. If you want to move a Child Page to another sub-folder, you use a drag ‘n drop.
Remember though the file itself never moves. So, you don’t have to rely on your memory to find it. You only add hyperlinks to an Outline. You also don’t have to type this Outline out. Or, refresh it with F9, or worry whether you added headings in the correct format.
Let’s use a practical example to show the sweetness of the outlining facility
My personal blog has thousands of posts. To sort those out into the beginnings of a book (or two), I would copy them into Word and have thousands of files. I would have to open each post, decide where to put it, and then move it to a folder.
When I wanted to find that file, I would have to remember where I put it, and the search would begin again.
In Drupal, I leave all those posts in one running file in date order (the defining feature of a blog). I still have to work through the posts one-by-one because I built my blog in WordPress not Drupal, but if I have the material in Drupal now, then I can drop a hyper-link of my posts into a relevant “book” – say a book on Drupal, a book on poetry – and so on.
How do I see my whole collection?
When I have sorted everything out, then I can work on any section of any book. I simply go to the “top” of a section and use “Print friendly”. All the files in that section are collated. With CTRL-A and cut ‘n paste, I take the whole lot into Word and condense say five posts into one.
How do I bring a “chapter” back into Drupal?
When I am done condensing a series of posts into one, I simply cut ‘n paste back into Drupal and save the refinement of my work as a blog post or a Book Page.
Easy. Easy. Easy.
Drupal gives us capacity that Office does not.
How do we make Drupal work for us?
Of course, you build a Drupal website. If your work is not public, build a website on your local server. We have built one for academics on a portable server so it moves around with us on a USB stick. We call it ScholarWriter.
Everything is put into the single Drupal website – a bibliography that is imported from Endnotes, notes, drafts, calendar and doodles.
All easily accessible.
All compatible with Endnote and Word. Portable.
And because the ‘whole bang shooting match’ resides in one folder, easy to back up with a .zip file and dead easy to restore.
Drupal is a time-sink but if the installation has been built already, it is a dream for writers. A dream.
So these are the 2 reasons why you want to look closely at Drupal: its Search and its Outlining. Search looks inside your files without opening them. Outlining allows you to build up an outline made up of hyperlinks. And when you need your material, collates all the relevant files without your having to open them. Pick a small section and you can edit by deleting, tighten up one paragraph. Finally, you simply copy that paragraph back into a page in ScholarWriter.
Drudgery goes down – dramatically. Focus goes up – dramatically. You can concentrate on writing not moving files around. And you get better work down faster – much faster.