Step-by-step instructions for using Overview

To get started using Overview, you can watch this video or follow the steps below.


1. Get your documents into Overview.

  • If all of your documents are in PDF form you can simply upload them directly. Note that documents scanned from paper must first be OCR’d to turn their images into searchable text.
  • If you are a journalist, you can upload your documents to DocumentCloud, a free tool to upload, OCR, search, store, and publish documents in many formats.
  • You can also upload your documents as a CSV file, a type of speadsheet file that you can save from Excel, export from a database system, or create manually in a text editor. Here’s lots more loading documents via CSV.

For more, see the complete guide to getting your documents into Overview.

A useful trick for uploading many documents simultaneously: when the file dialog box opens you can select all of the documents in a folder simultaneously by clicking on the first file, then shift-clicking on the last flie (or pressing Control-A on Windows, or Command-A on Mac).

Overview keeps all uploaded documents private, unless you share them explicitly.


2. Explore the documents in the tree view

Overview’s main screen is divided into four parts: the folder tree, search field, tag list, and document viewer.

You can navigate through the folders in the tree with the arrow keys, or by clicking. Each folder is labelled by the keywords that best describe the documents filed under that folder. The label also tells you if MOST, SOME, or ALL of the documents in that folder contain each keyword. A folder’s sub-folders contain, collectively, all of the documents in the parent folder, broken down into increasingly narrow topics.

The document viewer shows either a particular document or a list of selected documents. Each document in the list is summarized by a list of keywords specific to that document.

If you know what you’re looking for, enter your query in the “search” box and Overview will show you where documents containing that term appear in the tree.

The tree automatically expands and zooms to follow your selections. Or you can pan it by dragging with the mouse, and zoom using the +/- buttons or the mouse wheel. Folders marked with ⊕ can be expanded to show sub-folders, while ⊖ hides sub-folders.


3. Tag interesting documents
As you explore the folder tree, you’ll run across individual documents or entire folders you want to remember. Enter a descriptive tag in the “new tag” field and press “tag.” If you’re currently viewing a specific document, overview will tag just that document. If instead you’re viewing the list of documents in a folder, Overview will tag the entire folder.

Here’s the complete guide to tagging, including how to export tags to create different types of visualizations.

Tags and folders have independent lives: each document can have any number of tags applied to it, and the same tag can be applied anywhere in the tree.

Once you’ve created a tag, you can add that tag to the current document or document list at any time by pressing the + button that appears when your mouse is over the tag name. Or press – to remove the tag.

Clicking on a tag name selects that tag, highlighting the tagged documents in the tree and loading them into the document list.


4. Work your way through the tree
When you have a lot of documents, it pays to be systematic. We recommend working your way through the folders in the tree from left to right — biggest folders to smallest folders. Select a folder then view a few of the documents in it to see if you understand what they have in common. If specific words appear in MOST or ALL documents in a folder, that’s a sign that the folder contains a single meaningful topic. Otherwise there may be more than one important topic in the documents in that folder, so try opening child folders instead until you find a folder where all of the documents are similar. Then tag that folder with a descriptive label.

Use search to find specific documents of interest, but pay attention to which folders contain those documents. You may find other relevant documents in the same folder, even if they don’t contain your search term.

As you proceed, you may find documents that talk about similar topics in different folders. Overview doesn’t know what you want out of your documents, so it can’t always guess how they should be arranged. You can apply a tag to any combination of folders and documents to create a set that is meaningful to you.

You may also discover that the documents in a folder are irrelevant to your work, in which case you can tag them with “read” and simply move on. Part of the power of Overview is being able to decide not to look at an entire folder.

When you’re finished this process, you’ll have a neatly categorized tree, and a set of tags corresponding to all the interesting topics in your documents.


5. Learn more!

Overview has many more powerful features: you can automatically split long documents into individual pagesignore meaningless words, compare data to text, and many other things. See the help for more tips and tricks, or contact us to ask about your specific needs!