Scrivener (http://literatureandlatte.com/) is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.
Last I checked…
Scrivener 2.0 for Mac OS is $45 (Edu $38.25)
Scrivener for Windows if $40 (Edu $35)
It Comes with a free 30-day trail. Unless they have changed this, it is a 30 use days trial, not calendar days. What this means is that if you open Scrivener 3 times a week, you get 10 weeks of using it for free. This is nice and you can certainly decide if the application is worth the money to you in this amount of time.
Scrivener has lots of really useful features that I will get into below, but first, I think it would be good to show you the Getting Started screencast made by the developer. This is probably the best way to show you the power of Scrivener as a long-form writing tool.
Unfortunately though, the developer has not allowed the ability to embed the video here, so you will have to open this up in another tab or window. So before you go there to watch this 10 minute tutorial, here are a few notes I want you to have in your head as you watch:
- The developer will start a new document using the “Blank Template” – We will want to use the “Non-Fiction Writing” template.
- At 3 min in, he will cover dragging document to restructure – We will use “Folders” for chapters and “Documents” for chapter sections.
- At 4 min in, he will cover “Cork-board View” – Super useful in the early planning phase of structuring your content.
- At 5 min 30 sec in, he will cover “Outline View” – We will need this view to helps us with some goal setting.
- At 8 min in, he will cover the “Compile” feature – This feature will allow us to focus on writing instead of formatting. More on that soon.
So now go watch the video linked below. I’ll wait here.
Introduction to Scrivener Video from http://literatureandlatte.com/videos/ScrivIntroLarge.mov
Welcome back. Hopefully you now see why Scrivener is hands down the best software to use to write your thesis. It allows you a lot of flexibility to break your content down into manageable chunks and reorganize as needed easily without doing a lot of copy and paste action. It also allows you to easily begin working from wherever you are in the process, importing previously written documents, making notes on sections not at the forefront of your current focus, and allowing you to focus on the writing knowing that it can compile your document to fix formatting as you go.
Setting-up Scrivener: Front Matter
To start setting up Scrivener for your thesis document, you will want to start with the “NON-FICTION WITH SUB-HEADS” template rather than the “BLANK” template used in the video. This comes with a couple of nice features built in so that you do not have to figure out how to set these up. First, it comes with this document in it that explains a lot about using the template. Read it.
The most notable feature of this template is the default “ENDNOTES” page. You can rename this Bibliography. Then as you write, you can easily attach a footnote to the in text citations – (Tippery, 2012) – that then includes your full MLA or APA citation. Upon Compiling a draft, all your relevant citations will now appear on this page. At the end of your writing process, you will have to manually put these in Alphabetic Order because they will appear in order of usage, but this is a relatively small task for the final version.
Next you will want to create a new folder. Call it “Front Matter.” Move the default Title and Contents documents to this folder, delete the Forward document, and create new documents for all of these parts of your Front Matter. Getting these things in place really helps make the writing real and gives you a place to start compiling this information as it occurs to you.
- Cover Page
- Title Page
- Acknowledgements (optional)
- Table of Contents
- List of Tables
- List of Figures
So your front matter will will look like this in Outline View.
A couple of Front Matter Pro-Tips:
Pro-Tip 1 – I made a Cover Page that I included whenever I compiled a draft to send to someone for editing or review. It included my contact info incase my printed document was misplaced, the date that it was complied so I could tell one draft from another, and the word count (rounded to the nearest 100). This word count was for two reasons: One, it let my draft reader know how much reading was ahead. Two, it helped me keep my motivation as I saw that number go up.
Pro-Tip 2 – No single thing made my thesis FEEL more real than the first time I saw the Title Page come out of the printer all formatted correctly. Do this very early to kick yourself into high gear.
Setting-up Scrivener: Chapters of your Manuscript
Next, using your existing thesis outline, create new folders for each of your planned chapters under the Manuscript Heading. You can do this extremely quickly using OPTION-COMMAND-N on a mac or whatever the equivalent is on a windows machine.
Now, we are going to once again take advantage of the very formulaic nature of a thesis. With the exception of the Introduction Chapter, which is its own sort of beast, we want to create two new documents in every chapter folder.
The first is the Chapter Introduction. (I called mine Chapter Overviews because I liked that better than Introductions.) EVERY chapter should have an introduction of some kind. As stated before, people who read theses will scan these to decide if they want to read the chapter. This introduction is also very formulaic. I wrote this formula on the synopsis card so I would not forget.
¶ 01: Create a link back to previous chapters.
“In the previous chapter I provided an overview of some of the larger societal factors affecting Design Education today…”
¶ 02: State the aim, purpose, and/or function of the chapter.
“In the following pages I will frame the state of Design Education currently…”
¶ 03: Outline how you intend to achieve this.
“In order to frame current state of Design Education, I will focus on two aspects. The first is what I will call the ‘Promise’ of design education, or why we teach designers. The Second aspect will focus on the current debate surrounding the future goals of a formal design education…”
So the first document in every chapter folder is your Chapter Intro.
The Second document you will create in every Chapter Folder is the Conclusion. Every Chapter should have a Conclusion. This should cover what has been achieved or established in the chapter that previously had not been.
Point of Clarification: A conclusion and a summary are not the same thing! A summary states what you found out. It is a potted version of the chapter. This is not what you want. A conclusion, on the other hand, states the SIGNIFICANCE or IMPLICATIONS of what you found out. A conclusion responds to the purpose of the chapter, as stated in paragraph 2 of your chapter introduction.
“In the previous pages, I have brought to light some of the complex issues currently in flux with regard to the state of design education and defining the Promise of a formal design education. If we as a discipline are to strive towards resolving these issues as we move into the future, it is evident that…”
So now your Scrivener Manuscript will look something like this, though your chapter titles will be more related to your thesis – not mine.
A Chapter Planning Pro-Tip:
By the time you get to the writing process, you will know an awful lot about your topic. You will also have a lot of this documented in various nuggets in Evernote. Now you need to start building a road map to help you plan more discretely your thesis writing journey.
Once I had this basic structure set up, one of the most helpful things I did was write a draft of every single introduction to every chapter. Then I wrote at least bullet points for what I thought would be in the conclusions. This helped me map my trajectory through the chapter content that would come between these documents. It helped me identify the start and end points for each leg of the journey. Some of the Introductions I obviously had to go back to, in order to touch up a point here and there, but overall this activity was far more helpful than the additional time it took to edit them again later.
Setting-up Scrivener: Writing Goals
The next thing to do is to set up your goals. Remember those word goals we started thinking about in the section on managing your writing? Get those back out and revisit them now. This should be easy because they are sitting some where in your Evernote “zz.Admin” notebook. Break those larger section goals down into their chapter components.
Background: 20% or 6,000 words. I had figured out that I was going to have two chapters in this section; one on Culture and one on Design Education. Split 20% in two and each chapter should be about 10% of the total chapter, or 3,000 words. Use your developing outline to split the percentages and word goals into goals for each chapter.
Next, With Scrivener in Outline View and your Manuscript selected in the Binder, click the little square, just below the split screen icon, with the little double arrows. It will open a drop-down menu that lets you select the meta-data columns you want to see. You want at least the following columns in your outline view.
- Title: this is the one that tells you the titles of your folders and documents. I also have the Synopsis turned on in the image below.
- Status: this one lets you mark each folder or document with where it is the writing process. Is it started? Is it a crappy first draft? Has it been through the editing process and OK’d by all my committee members? Awesome. It is done.
- Total Words: this one tells you how many words are in the document or folder.
- Target: This one, along with another that called Target Type (which I forgot to turn back on for this screen shot) lets you set your target per document or folder. Target sets a number and Target Type specifies that number as words or characters. I just set Chapter based targets.
- Total Target: This one displays your target and target type as one column, but you cannot edit it. Once I had set all my targets, I only displayed this column and turned off the Target and Target Type columns so I would not be tempted to “readjust” my goals.
- Total Progress: this one shows a color coded progress bar for each section. as you get closer to your writing goals, the bar fills up and moves from red to orange to yellow and finally green when you achieve the goal.
So get these Columns visible, enter all your word count goals, then turn off the Target and Target Type columns to stick to your goals. Now this view will help you keep track of your progress at the chapter level. There is one final thing we want to set up to let Scrivener help you monitor and achieve your writing goals. This will also help us in the next section to plan our writing timelines.
Setting-up Your Total Manuscript Target
If you click on the Bullseye Target icon in the top of the Scrivener window, it will bring up the Project Targets Window. Click on the Edit button and it will let you set a total document word goal. I set this to 30,000 words. Next, hit that Options button. This will open a tray that has several options, but the ones we are interested in are the Deadline and the days of the week for writing. I set a deadline here for April 1, 2014 (I do not know what it really should be) and told Scrivener that I have time to write 3 days/week (MWF). I also ticked a check box marked “Automatically Calculate from Draft Deadline”. When I close this tray, the Session Target progress bar has now automatically figured how many words per writing session I need to write to reach this goal by my specified deadline.
This is really powerful. It bases the number off your goal and how much you have completed. So with this example of trying to finish in a little over a year (from when I first prepared these screenshots) , with a little over 4400 words written, I only have to muster up the courage to put down 152 words three times a week to stay on track. As you type, that second progress bar will work its way from empty to full, moving through the spectrum from Red to Green.
On days when the writing was flowing, I’d usually blow past the daily goal before I realized. Dont stop writing if you are in the zone and have nothing else you have to do. This just lowers the daily goal the next time you open Scrivener. On the days when you are really just struggling though, this gives you a mark to shoot for. You can tell yourself, its cool… muscle through a measly 152 words… make progress… call it a day.
This daily word count writing goal number is important for our next step to get ready to write. Write this number down somewhere safe (Evernote). Now Scrivener is all set up to work for you as you start the real writing and I know you really want to jump into it now, but there is still just a little more high level planning we need to do to make sure you write what you need to when you need to in order to finish on time.
We need to attach your writing goals to a time line that also takes into account some outside factors that you do not have total control of. You need to set Deadlines in your Calendar. ->
A few years ago as a pre-ABD graduate student, I wrote a post for the blog that has proved to have a longer shelf-life than most. That post, “Digital Workflow for Historians,” laid out how I used two programs, Papers and Scrivener, to manage my research and writing process. At the end of that post, I offered to share my project template and Chicago-style Compile (or export) preset. Over three years later, I still get emails on a monthly basis asking for those files. Following a discussion on Twitter last week about using Scrivener, it seemed the time was right to revisit the topic and to show how I ended up using Scrivener throughout the dissertation process, from organizing my research to producing drafts and revisions of chapters.
Much of the basics regarding Scrivener can be found in that previous post, so, if you are wholly unfamiliar with the application, I suggest reading that portion of the post. Scrivener has been around for a long time now and was originally designed for novelists and screenwriters. Immediately after first seeing the GUI, I could see the ways in which it could be easily adapted for historians. In that first post, I was describing how I used Scrivener for a journal article length piece of writing. But today I want to focus on how I have used it to produce a much longer piece of writing with a much larger amount of research.
As you can see from the screenshot above (click for full-size view), Scrivener organizes material in the left sidebar or “Binder.” At the top is the main document that you are writing, i.e., “Dissertation.” Using individual text documents, I created the structure of the dissertation in Parts and chapters. During the initial phases of the project, each chapter also had various subdocuments related to each of the chapter’s major themes. For example, I might have a subdocument under a chapter for the chapter’s introduction. Then subsequent subdocuments for each distinct part of the chapter. In this way, the Binder allows you to break down your work into manageable sections. Once I had drafted a chapter, I would combine them into a single chapter document. This would be especially helpful for people writing chapters that rely on subheadings for organization. Needless to say, the structure of my dissertation changed a lot over the course of writing it and early on, thanks to the nature of Scrivener’s Binder, I was able to shuffle pieces of writing around, both within a chapter and, if necessary, from one chapter to another. Ultimately, in addition to acting as a way of structuring your work, the main document in the Binder also serves as an outlining tool and a visual representation of the outline of your work.
Below the main document folder is a folder that I simply call “Research.” One of the main benefits of the Binder is that it lets you organize all of your research into a complex file structure that is much easier to manage than if you were to do it through Windows Explorer or the Mac’s Finder. Scrivener will import most any kind of file you would need in performing historical research. Because my project focuses heavily on print culture, my research folders are full of PDFs downloaded from primary source databases. But I also have tons of pictures of documents from my archival research. It also lets you import hyperlinks, which is especially handy if you want to import a Google Book or a book on archive.org, as it will allow you to view the book within Scrivener. You can even import audio files, video files, and YouTube links and watch and listen to them within Scrivener.
Within my main “Research” folder, I have created detailed layers of subfolders. So each chapter gets its own folder with subfolders labeled “Primary” and “Secondary.” Within both of those (which often correspond), I include subfolders for each of the chapter’s main themes and topics. Beyond that, you could decide to give each individual repository at which you did archival research its own subfolder. How you want to do it and how far you want to go is up to you but even the most complex number of layers of subfolders is easy to view and work with in the Binder. And, ultimately, that is the beauty of Scrivener and its Binder. Not only does it make managing a large amount of different materials easy, it also acts as a one-stop location for all of your research and writing together (my Scrivener project file contains over 4,000 individual files and totals 26.8GB).
Besides the top-level “Research” folder, I also have a number of other top-level folders. These are usually called “Working Documents,” where I kept things like my dissertation prospectus, bibliographies, and even emails with my advisor and others offering feedback. I also keep a top-level folder called “Notes,” where I keep my random thoughts and other miscellaneous things. For example, every few months as the project progressed, I would write a 30-second spiel about the dissertation and I kept them all (dated, of course) in a subfolder called “Synopses” within the Notes folder. That has allowed me to see how my own thinking about the project most broadly has changed over time. Finally, I have two folders called “Fellowships” and “Conferences” where I would keep information and application/submission proposals.
In addition to simply storing or managing your research materials, Scrivener has extensive tagging and metadata functionality. Honestly, I have not used the tagging and metadata functions as thoroughly as I hoped to in the beginning. Nevertheless, every item in your research folder gets a corresponding index card and notepad (the former of which can be viewed on a cork board). Every item can also be labeled, given a “status,” tagged with keywords, and tagged with metadata, all of which you define. For example, you can see some of my keywords in the screenshot on the right. They, too, can be structured however you like and can be added to a document, among other ways, by dragging the keyword onto the file in the Binder. Moreover, Scrivener’s Binder has a feature called “Collections” which lets you add specific documents to it and order them any way you want. For example, during a previous project, I used a collection to document a public debate by importing newspaper pieces, pamphlets, and scans of private correspondence and arranged them chronologically. Another critical aspect of Scrivener’s value in organizing your research is the degree to which it is almost completely customizable to whatever degree you are willing (or need) to take it.
Since we’ve talked about how I use Scrivener to manage my research materials, let me just say a few words about the writing process in Scrivener. Each of the documents you see in the main Dissertation folder is just a rich text file. When you import Word documents anywhere into Scrivener, they get immediately converted into rich text files. It is important to note that Scrivener is designed primarily to help you produce a first draft that can be exported (or, in Scrivenerian parlance, “Compiled”) into your chosen file format. Without the usual page layout controls one using Word might be accustomed to, Scrivener lets you just concentrate on the actual writing as opposed to formatting. There are caveats, however. Since it deals with rich text files, it handles footnotes by putting them in the right sidebar rather than in the text file (see above). This can be a bit strange at the beginning but you quickly get used to it. As noted above, though, the ability to break chapters down into bite-size pieces by giving each its own subdocument, helped greatly in not becoming overwhelmed when starting a new chapter from scratch. When you have a draft (of a chapter or the dissertation as a whole), you can choose to Compile it to a Word document. The Compile settings let you set all the standard page layout features including spacing and fonts as well as how to handle/format your footnotes.
Ultimately, I used Scrivener for my dissertation (and, likely, the manuscript to follow) because it provides a single space in which I do the vast majority of work. To have everything in one place is an enormous convenience that has become a necessity. And, because I keep my Scrivener project file in my Dropbox folder on my hard drive, it constantly updates with almost every change. That means I never have to worry about losing any of my work and I can pick up right from where I left off on my (or anyone’s) laptop or desktop. The other great thing about Scrivener is its customizability and flexibility. Scrivener can be setup for almost any kind of historical-related project one can imagine and tweaked according to each user’s own preferences. For example, I currently have a Scrivener project dedicated to the job market (where I work on and keep document drafts and information relevant to each job) and I usually create one for each class I teach. Now, despite the length of this post, I have only really touched on the very basics of using the application, so I am happy to answer any questions in the comments related to the application and how I’ve used it in writing my dissertation. And once again, I am offering a new dissertation/large project template file, my Preferences file, and my up-to-date Chicago-style preset file which can be downloaded here.