Better Footnote Integration

Hi there!

My husband and I are both law professors and we LOVE using Scrivener for our long-form law review articles. We’ve been talking up the program to every other law professor that we know (and we’ve managed to convert a few of them!).

The one issue that I have with this program is that its footnote interface is clunky and difficult to use. The academic convention for legal scholarship is that writers footnote after virtually every single sentence, so, as you can imagine, that means that our papers have hundreds upon hundreds of footnotes by the time that we’re done.

Because we spend so much time on the footnotes, the “pop out” screen on the right that appears and disappears as we add footnotes is frustrating. The footnotes are also incredibly difficult to move once placed (I usually just wind up deleting them and re-adding them if I need to place them somewhere slightly different). I would far prefer to see my footnotes displayed constantly at the bottom of the screen. It always seem like the pop out screen is disappearing on me as I’m trying to copy and paste from a prior footnote and it’s also difficult to tell which footnote goes with which sentence.

What winds up happening now is that, about three-quarters of the way through my writing, I actually just switch over to using Word because dealing with the footnotes in Scrivener becomes far too clunky and frustrating. I would far prefer to stick with Scrivener, but it just becomes impractical.

I know that Scrivener was developed for a different kind of writer and so footnotes are probably not a huge priority for a large portion of your customer base, but I can also tell you that I think your program is superior to the other “academic” writing programs out there. If you offered better reference and footnote support, I think you would stand to pick up a significant number of academics.

Thanks for reading!


I presume you’re not using [inline] footnotes then? Might be worth giving them a go, to see if they don’t suit your needs better.

I shared/share(?) your frustrations about the footnoting, but switching to inline, made things easier. One of the overlooked benefits was that I could now read them in the context of the main passage, which made it easier to judge whether they were aligned with where the text was at, at that point.

My sense was over in Word, I would - in the course of ‘reviewing’ what had been written - lose things with my having to jump out of the main text, into the (very often-very long) footnotes text at the bottom of each page. By having them [inline] over in Scrivener, this had me re-evaluate what explanations etc. were being put into the footnotes.

When I first jumped into Scrivener, I initially started off with the footnotes on the side. This kind of made sense, since it was the closest to what I had become used to in Word. But what jarred, was the inability/difficulty in working out which footnote text I was looking at, was related to which particular footnote over in the main text. I spent far too much time trying to work out if the footnote I was reading, was part of sentence/paragraph 1/2/3/4 etc., - complicated obviously by the lack of footnoting numbers.

The above was what finally drove me to try out the [inline] option, and I haven’t looked back since.

That all being said - I also find myself jumping quite frequently into Word, through a section compile. I battle to get a sense of how many ‘pages’ my text in Scrivener is, until I’ve dropped it into Word, and run the scan with Bookends, to “see” what it will look like as a final product. Of course, the ‘creation’ is still being done over in Scrivener, and I wouldn’t have it any other way… But yes – I too sometimes wish there was a way to incorporate Word’s approach to footnotes, i.r.o. its page layout, into Scrivener. Nonetheless, I try not to dwell on it for too long! :wink:

I’ve seen a fair amount of requests about the above that have popped up in these forums. And most of the time, a bit of a debate ensues before the gentle reminder is issued that Scrivener is first-and-foremost a writing tool… And that managing footnotes is not Scrivener’s focus, and probably never will be [despite how many Academics use it!]… I reason that to be fair enough.

Just figured I’d drop you a line as a fellow legal academic, if only to say “you’re not alone!”

I appreciate your thoughts and camaraderie as a fellow legal academic. :slight_smile: I’ve tried the inline footnotes and it’s too distracting to me. (The obsessive compulsive in me likes a neater-looking main text, haha). You’ve convinced me to try it again, though.

I export to Word every night and have my research assistants Bluebook for me in that file. Even just a small change in Scrivener-- adding footnote numbers to the side bar, for instance – would make footnoting a lot less frustrating. The current system feels very much like an afterthought within the program which is disappointing given how well designed the rest of it is.

I guess I also resist the notion that footnoting is different than “writing” proper. I’ve noticed that sentiment on the boards here, too, and had sort of a visceral response to it. Footnoting is a central part of my writing process (as it must be for most academics) and I don’t consider it subsidiary to the rest of my written work. It may be true that Scrivener prioritizes a different KIND of writing (namely, people writing fiction or non-fiction with significantly fewer references than academic work), but to say that footnoting isn’t writing seems silly to me.

I don’t know if you’ve seen this, too, but a number of my law professor friends have switched over to Scrivener, loved it initially, but ultimately abandoned it because the footnoting was just too difficult. I’m going to stick with it because I think it’s far superior to word, but I am also frustrated by its limitations.

Happy law review submission season!

The problem with putting the footnote numbers in the sidebar—and presumably the same number as a footnote marker in the text—is that one of the fundamental features of Scrivener is the ability to write in small chunks and move them around. So, if you write chunks, lets say A, with three footnotes, B with four footnotes, and C with two footnotes, and you have the footnotes assigned numbers, 1, 2, 3 , 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, then you decide to move chunk C before B; your footnotes now have the sequence 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 4, 5, 6, 7. Or perhaps you split A and move the second part between B and C, so now you have 1, 2, 4, … 3, 8, 9.

The thing is Scrivener doesn’t “know” anything about the whole text, unlike Word where the whole text is a single file, and so if you move things around Word knows what the new order of the footnotes is. A Scrivener project consists of potentially thousands of files, each of which may have it’s own footnotes attached, but Scrivener can only know the relation between them all when you compile. So to do what you want, every time you added a footnote anywhere, anytime you moved a paragraph, whether as a single binder document or within a binder document, Scrivener would have to do a background compile to sort out the footnote numbers … and it would be the Scrivenerati who use lots of footnotes who would be the first to complain vociferously about the continual non-responsiveness.

That said, if you’re using the Mac version — I don’t know if this is implemented yet in the Windows version:

  1. you have “Format > Options > Show Compiled Footnote Numbers in Inspector”. If you turn that on, and compile your document periodically—when you stop to have a cup of coffee, perhaps?—you will have the footnote number given in the top right corner of the inspector pane, though it doesn’t affect the footnote marker in the text;
  2. if you click on the footnote marker in the text, it should scroll to and display the footnote itself with a darker box round it;
  3. if you work in small chunks in ‘single document’ view, only using ‘Scrivenings view’ when you want to take an overview, only the footnotes associated with the binder document open in the editor will be shown in the inspector, thus reducing the amount of searching for the footnote you are looking for.

But I am not a legal academic, so have no knowledge of your particular problems, but I hope my comments are useful.

Mr X
No relation to Literature & Latte, just a very long-term Scrivener user.

I appreciate your comments and tips. Thank you for taking the time to post. I understand the issue with footnotes vis a vis multiple sections. For me, the ultimate number of a given footnote doesn’t matter… Having a footnote labeled 4 in one section but ultimately having it wind up as footnote 45 in the final, compiled version isn’t a problem. What I’m looking for is just an easier way of viewing and working on the footnotes as I write.

I think the “clunkiness” of the current footnote interface wouldn’t be so much of an issue if I wasn’t doing a type of academic writing that is so footnote heavy. It would be easy to overlook the limitations of the current footnote interface if I had, for instance, 50 total footnotes in a given project. I have 350, though, in an average paper, so I think it wears on me (and other law professors) much more than it does other types of writers.

I do see where you’re coming from, but cannot know, not being a legal academic, how long your binder documents need to be or how you prefer to write: I know there are Scrivenerati who work with whole chapters as single binder documents, but I tend to work in paragraph length documents—working with Chinese-English translation—which in places means sentence-length. That may not be possible for you or not how you prefer to work.

I don’t know if it would be possible to assign footnote numbers temporarily in each binder document, but I suspect it would still mean compiling frequently and definitely every time you opened your project in “Scrivenings View”, and the only way to make sure the compile was quick would be to set it to only compile the document you were working on—which in itself would be an incredible bore. I’ll leave all that to Keith or one of the team who know the innards better than I do.

My friend and collaborator in China is a university lecturer teaching interpreting and translation. Among the projects she sends me, are texts that she is going to use with her students, the Chinese source as well as her version of it, for me to edit and comment. I use both footnotes/endnotes and comments, footnotes/endnotes on my edited version that I think she should pass on to her students, comments for explanations of where she has gone wrong for her own benefit, only to be passed on if she thinks fit. So a single A4 page English text can end up with over 30 endnotes and a dozen comments.

I started by using inline footnotes and comments, but at that density, I found it almost impossible to read the text itself, so switched to inspector footnotes and comments. Using the tips I gave in my last, I find them totally manageable, even in “Scrivenings View”; in fact I far prefer Scrivener’s inspector comments to the way they are displayed in Nisus Writer Pro—I think it’s the same as the way Word displays them, but I don’t have Word—as the document ends up looking as if someone has dropped a handful of uncooked spaghetti over it, with all the lines connecting points in the text to the relevant comment.

However, there is one other tip that I forgot to mention … in “Format > Convert>” you have the ability to convert inline footnotes to inspector footnotes and vice versa—and you could set appropriate keyboard shortcuts. So you could write your footnote as an inline footnote, then when you’re satisfied with it, convert it into an inspector footnote to keep it out of the way; and when you wanted to look for a footnote in context, you just convert them back into inline footnotes.

Mr X

Over the last decade the aspect ratio of computer screens has changed—they gained width and lost height. As computers to many people are more than just working machines this developement is understandable. The present screen aspect ratio is much better for watching movies.

The one company that did not at all care for that was Microsoft when they cluttered the lower screens with their office ribbons. Add footnotes and you have even less space for the main body of the text.

So in my opinion it is one of the clever design decisions of Scrivener (or better: of Keith) to display the footnotes in a side bar.

Like I said, I prefer having the footnotes at the side and not at the bottom. But I would be frustrated too if the side bar appears and then disappears again. {INLINE FOOTNOTE: This is by the way one of the reasons I would never be able to work with Ulysses. It pops up and then hides the footnotes (and pictures) to not “distract” the user. Users who get distracted by their own content are a different brand of users than me.}

But Scrivener does not hide the footnotes, either in standard or in Scrivenings mode. Just turn the Inspector visible and voilà! They are always there just not at the bottom. (EDIT: If you are using the Inspector for footnotes only, that is.)

The footnote concept of Scrivener to not just inject superscript digits into the text but actually link footnotes to words or sentences does make sense. But it is confusing first because we are used to the tiny superscript digits and know how to handle them.

And yes, without the digits you can not just look into the main body of the text and then into the footnote area (wether at the bottom or at the side) or vice versa to easily compare both. Which without doubt gets very annoying in texts with a high footnote density like yours.

Me, footnote lover but not addict, I almost always can keep track which note belongs to which part of the text. And if not I just click on either the note or a linked part of the main text body and its counterpart gets highlighted.

But for heavy lifting cases like yours maybe some interim footnote digit (in Scrivener 3?) might come very handy.

Moving footnotes is different but not difficult: Just drag the footnote on another word and that’s it. If you want to link it to more than just one word highlight these words first and then drop the footnote onto it. The caveat is not to delete the word(s) the footnote is linked to as there is no invisible footnote anchor behind it. The word is the anchor.

And one last word to references: I really like the combo of Scrivener and Bookends. Hit the shortcut for a footnote in Scrivener, hit cmd-y to open Bookends, choose the reference, hit cmd-y once again and your are back in the footnote to add a page number.

If only the collaboration with Mellel worked better. Both Mellel and Scrivener work extremely well with Bookends, but you can not just exchange structured rich text between Scrivener and Mellel. Which is sad because Mellel is one of the programs that can handle two different streams of notes like Scrivener.

Even on my 13" MBA I have the inspector visible all the time, together with the binder and two editors … not a problem, and no great zooming of the text necessary even with 70 year-old eyes. The inspector normally shows the note pane for me; only occasionally I switch to view a snapshot of an earlier stage of the text.

Actually, the anchor doesn’t have to be the word. As the OP is on Mac, turn on “Project > Text Preferences… > Use Footnote Marker” and choose whatever character suits; the default is *, which is what I’m happy with. Then you can just select the marker, pick it up and move it anywhere else in the text. I haven’t tried copying and pasting, but it’s worth a try.

I agree with you on Bookends. Although I use Nisus Writer Pro in preference to Mellel—and I don’t really need two note streams so don’t know if it’s possible in NWP, though it might be—there shouldn’t be any problem opening an RTF created by Scrivener in Mellel. I don’t have Mellel installed on this computer at the moment, so can’t check, but I’m sure there are other Scrivenerati happily working in conjunction with Mellel.

It’s perfectly possible to set up Scrivener to compile an RTF using fonts or font sizes for headings and colour variations for body paragraphs like block quotes, etc., and then in Mellel with a few minutes convert them into proper structured styles. Have a look at


Mr X

EDIT: Scrivener v. 3, due out whenever, will apparently have proper styles, so it will be even easier to use Mellel/NWP/Word in conjunction with it. :slight_smile:

Hi tressea,

Thanks for the kind words about Scrivener, and your thoughtful post on how footnotes in Scrivener don’t quite match your needs.

Can you not just leave it visible? One thing I am adding for the next major version is for footnotes to appear as popovers in situ when you click on a footnote if the inspector isn’t already open, which may help, though.

I’m surprised you find it difficult to move them - what method have you tried? By far the easiest is to select the text you want to move the footnote to, then just drag the footnote you want to move from the sidebar and drop it onto the text you selected. This will move the footnote. Another method is to select some text in the editor, then right-click or Ctrl-click on a footnote and select “Move to Selection”. I’m not sure how I could make this much easier, so I’m hoping that you have just overlooked these methods.

I’m afraid that there are no plans to add numbered footnotes, so even if they appeared at the bottom of the screen, it wouldn’t really help. xiamenese has already pointed out why footnotes are not numbered in Scrivener - Scrivener doesn’t know which footnotes will be part of the final document until you actually compile, and because sections of the text are scattered across different documents, it would have to try to keep track of them all. But, as Mr X already pointed out, there is already an option to show the compiled numbers of footnotes in the sidebar. This means that if you compile each evening, you can see the numbers from that compile.

Also as has already been pointed out, if you click on a word with a footnote associated, that footnote is highlighted in the footnotes bar, and if you select a footnote in the footnotes bar, Scrivener highlights the word associated with it in the editor and scrolls to it, making it easy to find where each footnote is in the text.

I think the others have given a lot of other useful tips too, so I hope some of this is useful. I hasten to add that I’m not against change - and some improvements are coming, as I say (including the ability to print end-of-page footnotes directly from Scrivener) - it’s just that in this case I think the basics of the current implementation make sense for Scrivener.

All the best,

I was just coming here to give the same general advice as Keith above. As a historian I use many, many footnotes. I also view them as an integral part of the writing process where, apart from references, extra information or clarification of concepts can be put when they would otherwise clutter up the main text.

I find Scrivener’s integration of footnotes to be generally excellent, and it has in fact improved in recent .x updates. I always leave the footnote sidebar (Inspector) open when writing footnote intensive output. I love the fact that I can click on the footnote place holder and have the footnote text highlighted immediately; and vice versa that when in the process of editing footnotes I can click on a footnote and be brought to its insertion point in the text automatically. I haven’t been able to reproduce what you describe as the pop out screen disappearing when you copy and paste - that’s odd.

Cassady’s suggestion of inline footnotes is very good to a point, but as noted can interfere with reviewing text once the footnotes start to pile up. I wonder why you prefer to know what number footnotes have? Are you cross-referencing footnotes a lot? If so, perhaps experimenting with not finishing the numbering until the final draft might work? You could leave a place holder instead. I personally polish footnotes as the very last thing on a draft; read through, ensure that they are in the correct format for whatever convention is required by the journal, and fill in any page ranges where I have used placeholders (usually as simple as ??) when I didn’t have the text to hand or didn’t want to interrupt the writing of the main text.

At the end of the day, I see Scrivener’s footnoting as very similar to Word in implementation, and better in execution. I simply look right instead of down to check/write the text, and I have never missed the numbering. For me it was a relatively quick way of adapting to a slightly different way of having my information presented to me, but then again I was so sick of Word moving footnotes to the next page, and all the other hassles of footnoting in that software, that I’ve never missed it. I found it to be an appalling piece of software for academic writing!

Another historian here. I read Keith’s comments last night and came here at lunchtime to agree with him, only to find that Kinsey had beaten me to it. So now I agree with both of them … I’ve used Scrivener for all of my academic work for a number of years (and now use it also to write historical non-fiction) and never found the footnoting capabilities lacking: maybe I don’t footnote every line, but at textually dense moments they can come pretty thick and fast. I also use them for more than simple references - expanding, explaining and exculpating - and in fact during the draft stage often use them as a wider writing aid.

To be honest I think it’s time to lay to rest the continuing urban myth that Scrivener is really only perfect for novelists and is compromised for other kinds of writing. I couldn’t write what I do with anything else.

Thanks, I did not know that. Because I was happy already about how the footnotes worked I did not even look for different footnotes settings.

Thank you again for the links. I know that using colour variations and such can be used as a workaround. But I would prefer if a workaround was not necessary. And I doubt that not tech-savyy user can handle this.

Can’t wait to get my hands on the beta. Styles will make a fantastic writing program even more fantastic.

I used to wish that Scrivener had styles. However, Nisus Writer Pro not only has regex search and replace available, it also has a very powerful macro language—does Mellel? I get the impression that it doesn’t—so, just this minute I have finished putting together, with a lot of help and advice from the ever-supportive Martin of Nisus Software, a macro which I can apply to any RTF from Scrivener and which will:

  1. open a dialog for me to choose a “style collection”—i.e. stylesheet to all intents and purposes—from my Style Library and then import that into the document, replacing the definitions of any existing style names;
  2. go through the various headings and impose the appropriate heading styles from the style sheet;
  3. go through the various body paragraphs imposing the appropriate paragraph styles and removing the colour attributes that define them in the Scrivener export.
  4. and, for my own purpose, remove the unnecessary superscript attribute of footnote markers—I have brewed my own footnote marker style, so I don’t want it superscripted.

The result is that I can write in Scrivener with presets for paragraph formatting, all with keyboard shortcuts; export to RTF without having to think about end use, just using a standard compile preset; open the RTF in NWP, run the macro with the click of a mouse, and Bob’s your uncle.

In a way, it’s taking the original premise of Scrivener to it’s logical conclusion: write without concerning myself with layout, other than the occasional use of a keyboard shortcut, and leave all the formatting to NWP where it’s done through a macro which will let me choose from different “style collections” set up for different end uses. However, I have no idea if something similarly effortless can be done with Mellel, but I presume the style assignations will have to be done manually, not by macro.

It would be possible to add code to the macro which would scan my documents through Bookends, but I’ll see about that. More important for me is, with more help from Martin, to get the macro to go through and find all the Chinese text in it and mark that with the Chinese language attribute and set the font for me away from Apple’s current default.

When 3 comes out, I’ll give the styles system that Keith has created a try and modify my workflow as I see fit.


Mr X

To continue off-topic a little: the styles system in Scrivener (the next version whose number I refuse to mention because I can’t think about it until iOS is out…) replaces the presets system and its UI is very similar, so you should be able to switch over seamlessly. You still don’t have to think about layout, because you can override styles at the Compile stage if you wish. And the really nice thing is that Scrivener for iOS has the same styles system built in. A project created on Scrivener for iOS or Scrivener 2.0 will just use formatting presets on iOS (you can import your styles.plist into iOS, in fact); a project created in [the next major update for Mac or PC] and opened on iOS will have the styles available and ready to use.

Anyway, that is off-topic… I hope the footnote tips have helped tressea, at least.

Keith, this sounds just utterly utterly delicious! — Dear Scrivener Version that-which-must-not-be-named, I don’t know whether it is normal to be excited about a software update, but I sure am!!!

xiamenese, sounds very slick! I never really gave NWP a try (for reasons I can’t now remember), but perhaps i should give it another go…