Before I buy question re thesis and export

Dear Scrivener folks
I have only just heard of you (how is this possible?!) having, in desperation at the inadequacies of Word 2008 for Mac, googled for some help.

I really like so many of the features in Scrivener, but my concern (especially having read through the forums and seen many people struggling with footnotes) is that I might spend the next 4 months writing up my doctoral thesis (it will be c 85,000 words and a gazillion footnotes) that when I come to compile and export, something will go wrong and I will be back at square one with a major crisis when I need to submit… I envisage a document that doesn’t have footnotes in the right place, or some other disaster…

Has anyone experience of starting writing up in Scrivener, then with such a big academic document, successfully exported it? Is there some kind of interim saving in Word I should also do? Word really doesn’t like massive docs, and my Mac doesn’t seem to like Master and sub documents… but that 's what my uni uses.

I’m a 47 year old non techie cultural historian so please be kind enough to treat me like a simpleton if you are able to advise me, thank you!

I’m not a mac user, but I know that many people have used Scrivener in just the way you have described. Nom, for example, has just submitted his doctoral thesis.

It never hurts to export to a variety of formats on a regular basis, just by way of back up. The best suggestion I have is to download the trial and play with it for 30 days to make sure you are happy with the way everything works. Chuck some dummy text and footnotes in there and try some compiles. I’m sure you’ll soon get the hang of it.

pigfender, thanks so much - good suggestion. I am in fact playing with the trial today, and already loving the fact that I can have my research documents and notes all to one side, and visible at the same time if I want, rather than a dozen or so completely separate files… I appreciate your getting back to me, thank you. Jane

Hi Jane,

One thing to remember is that, for now, the best format to export to for use with Word is RTF. If you double-click an RTF file in the Finder, though, it will open in TextEdit, which won’t show the footnotes, which is what trips a lot of people up. But if you go to File > Open… in Word and open the RTF file exported from Scrivener, you will see all of your footnotes. Scrivener’s RTF (Word) export is very strong, and the footnotes support is good (if I do say so myself!). The reason RTF is best is that Scrivener’s current .doc and .docx exporters don’t support as many document features as its RTF export - that’s another thing that can trip up new users (the next update will address this, though, providing much better .doc and .docx exporters).

Another thing to bear in mind is that it is possible to export chapters from Scrivener separately (even using Compile), so if you need to get your work into Word at the end of the process but don’t want the whole document in a single file, that is entirely possible.

Finally, I would recommend that you play around with getting your work out of Scrivener - that is, experimenting with Compile - long before you come to submit your thesis. That way, you won’t be trying to learn something new and wondering how to get the results you want at a very stressful time when a deadline is looming. We have some tutorials on Compile on our videos page, and another, more detailed one, will be coming soon:

Hope that helps.

All the best,

Keith, that is really helpful - and very reassuring, especially that Scrivener is strong with footnotes thank you. I agree that I should play around with exporting and compiling. The main thing I thought Scrivener would help me with was getting one long sequentially numbered properly managed document, but since starting the trial, I realise how many other great features it has, not least the full screen feature.

I’ll bear in mind your point about rtf, too, thanks. And most certainly your idea of doing things in advance of mad final stages of thesis-submitting-lunacy.

And thanks generally for the inspiring software!


Yep, as the great pigfender noted, I recently submitted my doctoral thesis and almost all of it was written in Scrivener. I can tell you that it was far more reliable than Word, easier to use, more appropriate for long document creation and certainly has friendlier forums. Just beware of us here on the forums, procrastination creeps up.

I had lots of practice with export ahead of time by first exporting individual chapters for one or another supervisor to read and later exporting the entire thesis for both supervisors to read (and insane family members to proofread). I compiled my thesis far more than is healthy.

Comments and footnotes transferred without issue to Word. The only thing you may miss while going back and forth is styles (although I am the only person I know who uses them, so maybe you won’t).

The warning: there are some learning curves that can seem steep. HOWEVER, running through the built-in tutorial once gets rid of many them. Doing it again a few weeks later addresses most of the rest and for any remaining queries there is the manual and the video tutorials. Compile takes some playing with to get the hang of: I messed up most of my early compiles but, and this is important, never lost data in my Scrivener file. Trust it (and it’s automatic backup strategy).

Even though I haven’t touched my thesis for over a month (the joy!!), I sometimes still use Scrivener for short pieces like letters or proposals. I even mapped out my entire website, including all the content, in Scrivener (and it worked brilliantly). I’m almost looking forward to my next big text.

Almost. :wink:

Hey Nom - thanks for the warning on the procrastination, although I fear it may already have struck!
It’s great - and encouraging - that you had such success doing the whole thesis on Scrivener. I wish I had found out about it 2 and a half years ago; instead of having all these crazy numbers of documents of notes in dozens of different places, they could all be much better organised. And when I think of the number of journal articles I have read, and taken notes on - to think that they could have been annotated and put directly into a project in Scrivener… Ah well! If I get a lectureship I am in the process of applying for (pigs might fly, but if you don’t try, you’ll never know) then I’ll have more projects to get on with!

Thanks again for your time and good advice, as well as encouragement.


We have another one! Welcome, Jane, welcome. :smiling_imp:
<sound of Hotel California in the background>

Even after submission I’m still thinking of things I could have done, or rediscovering notes I made to myself but never transferred into Scriv and hence never used (at least not directly), or journal articles that I promised myself to read “soon” because they were relevant. The key thing, to me, is be aware of all that, but write the thesis regardless. We’ll never do all the things we think we need to, so as long as we get the most important ones done we muddle through. In the end, the most important thing for a thesis is writing the words. Scrivener is better at helping that than anything else I’ve seen.

Good luck with your thesis and, more immediately, the job application. Go for it!

Morning Nom!
I can hear the Eagles playing gently as I type…

Thanks for the sound advice about just writing - I agree, a thesis will never be done as completely as we wish, nor will we remember all those brilliant thoughts, ideas, and references we discovered along the path… We just have to get it done as best we can in the time frame, and not sweat it - I tell myself everything else will be used in academic papers one day. Your phrase ‘Write the thesis regardless’ is good - this could well be my new motto :slight_smile: although don’t know what my supervisor would say :wink:

Thanks for the encouragement too about the job - fingers crossed I at least get an interview, that would be a great result. and giv em a chance to show them how indispensable I would be to the department, despite the lack of incredible publications at this stage - and I am sending you good luck too for your viva, as and when your examiners have finished reading your magnum opus.

While you’re thinking about getting all your research into one Scrivener place, let me echo that Scrivener is excellent at importing Word’s version of RTF as well as exporting to RTF. Go mosey over sometime to the “File - Import and Split” command, and contemplate what a help that might be in dealing with multi-section Word documents.

Scrivener also plays very well with Dragon Dictate, which I find helpful for cramming all sorts of hand-written notes, edited drafts, and so forth (How odd than “manuscript” used to mean “hand-written”, and now largely means “machine prepared”) into Scrivener-land without having to re-type (much).

(One odd thing about Dragon with Word (and Scrivener also) is when you dictate a contraction (like “Sammy didn’t know at to believe about that”, Dragon types a non-curly apostrophe, but when you name the apostrophe, “apostrophe-S” for example, it types a curly one. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Some have suggest I go hack into its sound/type equivalency database…

But that’s more annoying than a real problem, IMHO.

As you might have guessed, I’m a gigantic Scrivener fan! Best of luck in getting your project up to speed and winging toward completion.


Hi Arthur
Thank you so much for this - I have really been enjoying working on ideas for a chapter today, & having so much material at my fingertips and good places to put ideas meant I really felt like I was writing much better than usual! Or at least thinking better, and in that short sentence Scrivener has already paid for itself - anything that gets the process and the intellect flowing is a really good thing in my book! But I also think the capabilities are phenomenally good, and I’m only scraping the tip of them as yet. I’ll go and investigate the “import and split” function you suggest.

Interesting to combine Dragon and Scrivener (what a curious issue with the apostrophe!) - I bought Dragon last year when I had a TON of archival material in teeny tiny print outs that I needed to input - it worked a dream for a few months, but of late has been a nightmare; it keeps crashing or going slow, and is more of a hassle then anything. What a shame. I have tried various problem solving ideas and not managed to get it to improve, sadly.

And lastly, yes, how very odd the uses we make of words like ‘manuscript’ now - in the musical world, a composer’s ‘manuscript’ is very often done via software these days. Cultural historians like me who look at diaries and letters from about a century ago often wonder what our descendants will have to look at!

Anyway, glad to be on board the Scrivener train, and thanks again for your help and suggestions.

If your supervisor is like mine, probably something like, “Hallelujah!”. :smiley:

Arthur’s point is a good one about import and split. A most excellent feature!
Split is useful during content creation too. I often found as I typed that a section I was working on made more sense “over there” so would split it into a new document then drag it into place.

Let us know how you get one with Dragon. I keep retrying it (after buying it on a colleague’s recommendation) but with mixed results. Hence I typed my thesis.

Hi, Jane and thanks for your kind words.

Have you tried throwing away your profile(s), and retraining Dragon to your “now” voice? It doesn’t take that long to do the initial training. I also added in .txt versions of things I’d written so it could get a better handle on my odd vocabulary. (It’s called “vocabulary training”.) You have to sort of wrap your mind around Dragon’s way of working, which is all about homophones in proximity context.

Also make sure you have enough RAM and somewhere a big scratch disc (It defaults to your startup volume, but you can move it). Dragon’s quite the RAM hog, and it keeps temp files of possible “solutions” to your dictation until it decides which of the possible multi-branching paths is most likely to be correct.

Like Scrivener, Dragon’s a fascinating program to study, on the way to making it an effective tool.

I have an odd spoken vocabulary (the written one’s not that much more normal!) because I’m a stutterer. I’m always in mental search (especially as the conversation’s ongoing) for the words that are “easy” to say – pretending an oral fluency I don’t have. I was born and raised in the U-S of U-S parentage, but people ask all the time if English is my native language.

(Well, yes. And, no.)

You’re in the right place.


Morning Nom and Arthur (well, from here in Surrey UK it’s morning - is that a bad sign I am already on the forum at breakfast time?! :confused: )

All good and helpful suggestions, thank you, re trying out the import and split and re Dragon. Thanks to both of you. Nom, I think “Hallelujah” is probably exactly what my sup would say! :slight_smile:

Arthur, I will indeed try the retraining in Dragon; I did that once, but perhaps it’s the memory thing - I will see if I can find out how to move Dragon somewhere with more memory access (not terribly techie, here … I’m a good cook though!). It’s interesting to hear how you have used it, and I am glad it’s been flexible enough for your needs.