Scrivener Scientific Research And Essays

It’s been 6 months since I made the switch to Scrivener. Since then I’ve used it to write two journal articles and a book chapter.  It has made an amazing difference to the way that I write. But more significantly, it has caused a tangible sea-change in the way that I feel when I sit down to write. Because when I open the programme, whether at home or at work, Scrivener takes me straight to the place that I was when I last closed it down. Like an old friend, there is my (usually really badly formed) last sentence waiting there for me. “Come back in!”, it yells. “You’re going to say something really clever today!”. “Now you’ve had a little time away, just think what you can write today!”. This, along with the other features I’ve listed below, makes me emotionally tied to Scrivener. I actively look forward to writing. I get a buzz when I open up the programme. I cannot say I ever felt this way about Word. Just thinking about the never ending scrolling gives me a headache.

Chunk up your life

My favourite thing about Scrivener is its core feature: chopping everything into chunks and letting you see the whole of your article at a glance.

This is an article I’m writing at the moment. It’s about the ethical issues associated with autoethnography.

On the left you can see all of the sections which make up that article. I’ve got a section for my abstract. Then a section for my introduction. I then made another section for part of the article which focusses on the power of autoethnography. I started to write that section but found that it was getting messy and I was covering a number of issues. So I created a folder called ‘the power of autoethnography’. You can see that I then made three sub-sections underneath. So I can now go straight to the section on interpretivism if I like; I don’t need to scroll through a long ‘power of autoethnography’ section to get to it.

At this stage, I like to give my sections titles that mean something to me rather than use fancy academic language. I find it helps when you glance at that left hand side bar to have something snappy. With this article, I’ve got a section called “Great, but uhhhh” which is my way of saying ‘in principal this is a good idea, but I have a few issues with it’. I change them to something more appropriate later on when I’m near the final draft.

Sick of ‘draft 1’, ‘draft 2’, ‘final draft v3’? Me too 

I have loads of Word documents marked up as ‘draft x, version x’. Sometimes I put the date on, for a bit of variety. Sometime, I have a bad day and I give it an impossible-to-find-ever-again title. I hate to think of the hours that I’ve wasted trying to find an old version that contains a particular quotation or turn of phrase that I’ve deleted 10 drafts later.

When I first got Scrivener, I kept up this way of saving drafts. I went to File>Save As and saved things as ‘x article draft x [date]’.  This was wrong. I soon discovered the Snapshot feature, which you can find by going to Documents>Snapshots.

If you click Take Snapshot, Scrivener does exactly that. It takes a photograph of where you are up to at that moment. You can name your Snapshots if you like, but you continue working in the same document.  If you want to go back to an earlier ‘draft’ you can ask Scrivener to show you your Snapshots and you can pick the one you want. I love this feature. I also love the old-school camera sound effect when you click on Take Snapshot!

Integrated writing tools

Instead of leaving the programme to find a synonym or search for something on Google (which will inevitably lead to looking at something not writing related), you can ask Scrivener to look things up for you. I use ‘Look Up in Thesaurus.com’ a lot.  It’s a small time saving device, but a useful one.

Right on Target!

If you like to work to targets and also like to see your progress, then Scrivener’s Project Statistics tool is perfect for you. As you can see below, I decided that my target word count for the article should be 6000 words. Scrivener tells me how many words I have written, but there’s also a satisfying progress bar.  You can also set a session target e.g a target number of words for that particular writing session. This is helpful if you’ve committed to writing a certain number of words per day or have a similar writing goal.

My only criticism is that the session target takes into account any deletions you make. So I might write 500 new words but also edit a different part of the article and subsequently delete 500 other words. Scrivener will tell me I’ve written 0 words. It would be useful if there was an ‘ignore edits’ option.

Citing and Referencing

You can link Scrivener with a number of different referencing managers. There are guides (on the Scrivener website and on YouTube) to help you to do this. I am still struggling with this feature. I haven’t given myself time to sit down and learn how to do it properly. However, I will do this because I’m determined to write my PhD thesis in Scrivener.

At the moment, I’m putting notes in the text to remind me where I’ve got something from (e.g Ellis, 2004: 65). I use Excel spreadsheets for all my literature reviews. I have a good system which means that I can find articles, quotations and page numbers pretty quickly. So when I convert my Scrivener file to Word, I then open up the referencing manager I use (EndNote) and start adding in the references properly in Word. That is working for 5000 word articles. But it won’t for the thesis. [Update – please see Jon Hickman’s amazing comment on referencing below!]

What are your experiences of using Scrivener? Are there any other features you’d like to know about?

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