Best Way to Implement Titles & SubHeadings for Non-Fiction?


I’ve been all over the Web trying to answer this one question:

What is the best way to implement chapter titles and sub-headings when writing a non-fiction book in Scrivener?

Obviously I want to leverage Scrivener’s automated compiling features, so I need to follow a methodology that makes it easy for Scrivener to identify and format all titles, subheads, sub-subheads, etc.

Just as an example, let’s say the first chapter of my book looks something like this:

[b]Chapter 1: How to Perform Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery /b

   ===>  [b]Converting Your Garage Into a Makeshift Operating Room[/b] (subhead/notecard)
           {Placeholder content for makeshift operating room}

   ===>  [b]Making the First Incision[/b] (subhead/notecard)
           {Placeholder content for the first incision.}

   ===>  [b]Troubleshooting Common Problems[/b] (subhead/notecard)
           {Placeholder content for troubleshooting}

As far as I can tell, the only way for Scrivener to identify and format titles, subheads, sub-subheads, etc., is if I give each chapter folder and each text item (a.k.a. each notecard) a title. And by that I mean I have to give each one a title that shows up in Scrivener’s property inspector.

OK, no problem there. But now comes the downside…

Let’s say I select all of the items above to view in Scrivening mode so that I can tighten the flow between each section. In Scrivening mode, all I would see in the Editor window is:

 {Placeholder content for makeshift operating room}

 {Placeholder content for the first incision.}

 {Placeholder content for troubleshooting}

See the problem? There’s no title… and no subheads.

That doesn’t come anywhere close to conveying the actual reading experience for the reader.

When I’m composing the actual content of my book, I want to see the text exactly how my reader is going to see it. In other words, I want to feel what the actual reading experience is going to be like. And to do that I must see the title and subheads inline just as the reader would see them.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to do this in Scrivener WHILE ALSO leveraging the automated compiling features for titles, subheads, sub-subheads at the same time. It’s one or the other.

If I want to see the actual subheadings inline for each section I would need to add them to each section manually… by typing them into the editor window, perhaps with some alternate formatting. But then I’ve lost the ability to target them and format them when compiling… not to mention I’ve created the possibility of introducing all sorts of formatting inconsistencies as I go along.

Do I have this right?

If so, what do you recommend as a way to work around this limitation?



Well, that’s not at all what Scrivener is designed to do, and in fact it was built in large part not to do that. One of its fundamental design goals was that the writing environment needn’t look like what the reader will see. Back in the day this was about font choices and such, but nowadays that’s even more important since much material goes to the e-book format, where formatting is largely out of your control and in the hands of the reading software and even user preference.

That said, being able to work with the content regardless of formatting, is something Scrivener should be all about. In this particular area thare are two things we’d like to do that we currently cannot with the existing engine (but we will!). One is to display the current section title in the header bar, so you when you click on chapter 1 and then into the second card, you’d see the “Making the First Incision” title in the header, whereas right now you just see chapter 1. Secondly, we’d like to introduce the capability to print titles in the editor (mind you not at all like they will print out, just a local universal font setting for all Scrivenings titles). This currently cannot be done as the Scrivenings session is more like a stack of standard text editors instead of a text view built off of a mixture of the text file content and any meta-data (like titles). The hold up there is that we needed a text engine that can block off areas as uneditable, chiefly for the special invisible separators that indicate where one file stops and another begins.

So for the moment, the best tool for seeing where you are in a longer Scrivening session is the Inspector, which shows the details for the current section you are editing, including the synopsis card which has the title.

Hello Amber,

Thank you for your reply… and for responding so quickly.

I see there’s a couple things I should clear up from my original post. First, when I wrote:

You replied:

What I was referring to, as I think you later surmised, was the total verbal/psychological/emotional experience that our words and ideas create for the reader. In the case of a non-fiction book, the titles, sub-heads, captions, and content (among other things) all play important roles in creating that overall experience. I don’t mean the visual formatting of these elements, but rather the ideas and information contained within them.

The subheads in particular are crucial, serving multiple purposes at once. They build anticipation, they provide easy entry points into the text, they place the reader’s mind in a particular frame of reference, they provide resting points along the way. In short, they’re some of the hardest working elements on the page. But when they don’t show up in the editor pane, and you have to flit your eyes from the Editor pane over to the Inspector and back again, you just don’t get an accurate representation of the experience they create.

What do you think about using predefined styles and placing the titles and subheads right there within the document?

I get the sense you would advise me not to do that.

Would it be a nightmare if I did it that way, and then later wanted to compile the book for Kindle/eBook format?

Thanks again,


Okay! It sounds like we are on the same page then.

Some people do work that way, there is nothing stopping you from doing so and it is more familiar from word processing. The main drawbacks are:

  • If you want to change the formatting for level 4 subheads, have fun changing hundreds of bits of text by hand (at least presets can help with that).
  • While you can use auto-numbering in the main editor, it does make for a messier looking and harder to type in text, with things like Chapter <$hn>: Blah blah.

An approach you could consider is to use inline annotations to print the section name in the main text area at the top. Now you have your “internal” header to let you know where you are and get a feel for how the reader will interface with the text—meanwhile annotations will be stripped out when you compile, so you get to use all of the nice features for titles (and in the case of e-books ToC generation) in compile. It means copying and pasting the title into the text, extra work, but you get the best of both worlds.

Thanks for the suggestion, Amber:

I think I can make that work.


I’ve probably misunderstood, and sorry if this is Mac only, but there is an Format --> Options --> “Show Titles in Scrivenings” setting that makes the “flow” very like reading the final manuscript. And the titles can be customised visually (again on the Mac at least).

Yeah, that is spot on with what they are requesting, but is also one of the planned features I was referring to above:

AmberV… do you have a specific roadmap/milestone for including this feature in the Windows version?



Yes, this will be in the next major (paid) upgrade as it required extensive modification to the core methods used in Scrivenings mode, modifications that themselves are dependent upon infrastructural changes throughout the software. Not a small fix in other words. :slight_smile:

Sorry, I should’ve been a little more specific.

Is there a target date for the next major release? And how certain is that date?



We don’t make dates public (and scarcely even use them internally). Instead we prefer to make the software available when it is ready, a goal which, in experience, has very little to do orbital mechanics. :wink:

Hmmm… so at the very least, it sounds like it’s safe to say it won’t be available within a year or so?

Seems pretty clear. Infer from that what you will.

This is extremely annoying. The program is virtually unusable for me without being able to show titles in Scrivenings mode. Please add this ASAP.

I’ve paid for this program; why isn’t the Windows version as developed as the Mac version?

Is there an alternative way to see the flow of my text including headings?

They’re working on things as fast as they can, I believe. The Mac version came out a number of years earlier, so even when the Windows version gets something the Mac version has, when the Mac version gets updated the Windows version is again down a hole. So their problem is they have to put more features into the Windows version faster than they’re being added to the Mac version. Add to this different programming languages and libraries and a smaller team of people doing the coding for Windows as opposed to Mac, and that should answer your question.

Actually, you’re wrong on that latter point. The Mac version had about 7 years of development before the Windows version was launched, but there is only Keith doing the coding; on Windows there are LAP and Tiho_D … I presume he’s still there.

The problem, as I understand it, is that it is impossible to recreate Mac Scrivenings using QT4, which is the system used for the current Windows version. Scrivener 3—due out on both platforms when it is ready, whenever that will be—will bring the two versions up to parity, but the development includes, for Windows, rewriting the code for QT5 to enable Scrivenings mode à la Mac. So LAP and Tiho_D, one understands are fully engaged in that, and presumably there aren’t going to be major changes to the Windows version—other than building in the ability to sync with the iOS version, now in internal beta—until 3 is ready.

That’s my understanding, anyway.

Mr X

Sorry, didn’t realize Keith was all alone on the Mac side. Thought there was a larger team. Regardless, you’re right that there are a lot of technical issues preventing instant parity.

And it’s not like they tell you when you purchase that everything’s the same. In fact, I believe they actually say the opposite. Plus they give you a nice long trial period to make sure it has what you need before you pays yer monies.


Sorry for re-kindling an old post.

Just a quick follow-up question:

Is there any way for Scrivener (on Windows) to auto-convert portions of text into annotations when importing / copying-and-pasting content into Scriener? Or must annotations always be entered by hand?



Annotations are a bit like bold and italics, and pasting into them, or pasting text as bold/italic, is pretty much identical:

  1. Turn of the annotation formatting at the cursor.
  2. Use Edit ▸ Paste and Match Style to ensure the pasted text is annotated (bold etc.).

And as well with bold, you can select text and toggle the annotation formatting on or off.