Compile topics with reference to origin in text

I’m still quite new to Scrivener.
I’m re-working a huge manuscript, getting rid of introductory chapters and introducing topics from those chapters into the remaining text.
This is endlessly confusing, because now I can’t remember what’s been said where, whether in the original text or in the current in-progress text.

What I visualize doing is copying all references to a given topic (let’s say “music”) onto “index cards” into a folder devoted to that topic. A tiresome cut and paste task but it would be worth it.

The trouble is I need a way to quickly ascertain whether that particular reference has been used once (or more) in the current new chapters or only in the original text. I need perhaps a corkboard, maybe with a label showing for each reference where it was found. I’ve thought of colors.

Any suggetions greatly greatly greatly appreciated!

What about linking to the references in some fashion. Either the References inspector pane will do, or a Scrivener Link somewhere in the text where the reference is used. Try using one or both of these techniques to mark the use of a reference from the chapter, and then click on that item itself and check out its reference pane. You should see a list of all the items that have linked to it. If you mark the titles of the old chapters you are no longer using (perhaps by putting OLD in front) then by their name it would be easy to spot if something is used in an old or new spot, or both.

Have you considered using keywords? Instead of cutting and pasting, simply tag each section with keywords for the topic(s) it covers. Scrivener lets you make chunks as small as you like, so there’s no need for any particular correspondence between text chunks and specific section/topic boundaries.

Then, once tagged, you can use keyword search to look at all material on a given topic in a collection, which you can view in text, outline, or corkboard form.


Thanks! I’m still such a newbie that AmberV’s suggestion was too hard for me to understand, but I think Katherine’s makes sense to me. I’ll try that. Laurie

Okay, I’ve tried tagging chunks with keywords, but when I do a keyword search I only get to see a section in the original text. I don’t see all the chunks I added the keyword to. I get nothing at all on the corkboard. I’ve looked at the tutorial videos, but they go at the speed of light and I can’t figure out what’s happening. I guess I need a “scrivener for dummies.” I can’t figure out anything easier than cutting and pasting and labeling each piece as to where it’s from – tho the exact location within the document it’s from can’t be noted since links dont work that way.

When you say “chunks” have you broken the original text (or a copy of it) into smaller pieces? Or are you attempting to tag selections within a larger file? The former is what I had in mind.

For the corkboard view:

  • tag a bunch of files with keywords
  • search for a particular keyword
  • in the list of Collections on the left side of the window, select the Search Results tab. You’ll see a list of files with that keyword
  • select all of those files
  • click the corkboard button

Hope this helps,


Katherine, thanks so much for responding! No, breaking it into smaller chunks would take so long it would be ridiculous. Here’s the problem.
I have text referring to (let’s say) “Georgie” “Gus” “Amelia” in the main (original) document which is in a folder called “Stash”.
In the Research folder I have a series of new “chapters”
In the chapters I also mention “Gus” “Amelia” “Georgie”
What I want to see while I work on the new material is: What have I said or failed to say about the characters in the new material?
Let’s say that in the old material I said that “Gus” was chronically late.
Did I say that in the new material?
I want a cork board that shows every place Gus has been mentioned in both old and new material. I know that a label is a simple way to indicate whether the mention is old or new.
I’ve looked at the tutorial videos, I’ve worked with the built-in tutorial, and I’ve tried and tried to play with Scrivener to create a system, but I can’t figure out how to do this thing.

But to have a corkboard full of relevant pieces you must have those pieces broken down from what was one the larger document. The corkboard doesn’t show anything but literal pieces in the binder—it can’t show abstract portions within a single file. In Scrivener, the way in which you say, “this bit of the scene is different from the last one…” is by breaking it apart. Usually that is most easily accomplished with the Cmd-K or Documents/Split/at Selection menu command. When one works this way, it doesn’t really matter that links cannot jump to a specific piece of the chapter, because the chapter is in 10 pieces and you can link directly to the piece that matters to the link. Labels can be more meaningful, keywords pertain to the whole of the text they are attached to and not just parts of it. Search results are more meaningful. This is really how the program is designed to be used! The larger your file pieces are, the more you find yourself struggling to get to a bit within that file, the more you would in the long run benefit from breaking that file up.

You say it would take a long time to do this, well the question is how much time will you save by having a better picture of what your book really is?

I should also mention that that particular concern is a bit of a teething problem. That first project you bring over that is already 100k or more. Yeah, spending an hour or two fragmenting it down into a 100 pieces or more can seem daunting—but on the other hand, that next project you do that starts in Scrivener can evolve to that point naturally without the big job up front. Plus, if you’ve already formed the habits of working this way it will only make your next project easier.

This is all just advice to be clear. Do as you will and do what suits your creative process best. It just sounds to me as though you are continually running into specificity problems, and the Scrivener solution to that is to have each scene (or whatever) that Gus is in, in a separate card so that when you do a keyword search for Gus + Amelia you get all of the scenes in which they are together and you can track down that behaviour note you were looking for a lot easier. You can’t do that if you’ve got 30 page-long files.

Scrivener is designed for working in small (or small-ish) chunks. To use its linking/keyword/other functionality for the task you have in mind, you do need to divide your manuscript into smaller pieces, as already described. However, if you really don’t want to do that, there are more manual ways of achieving the same end result, and Scrivener has features that can help. Note that this suggestion has nothing to do with compiling topics with reference to their origin in the text (which can’t be done without implementing methods such as those suggested by Ioa and Katherine, and which all involve splitting your document). Instead, I am assuming that your ultimate objective is just to ensure that your new chapters haven’t omitted anything important from your first draft (in its single, long document), and that you don’t really mind how you achieve this as long as it gets done.

So, with those provisos, my suggestion is that you simply collate everything you have said in both your original draft and your new chapters about each character/topic, then compare the old and new material manually.

For example, create a new document for each of your characters/topics, so that you have documents called “music”, “Gus”, “Georgie” and “Amelia” (to use the examples you have mentioned). Go through your original text (make a snapshot of it before you start, in case you change something accidentally). Every time you find something about Gus that you want to make sure you have reflected in your new material, select that text then choose Edit > Append Selection to Document > Gus. Likewise for music, Georgie and Amelia, making sure that you are appending to the correct document each time. When you have finished going through the draft, you will have four separate documents containing everything important that you have said about each character/topic, in the order in which the details appear in your draft.

The next stage is to create similar documents for your new material, appending to new documents called “music new”, “Gus new” etc. When you have finished going through the new chapters in exactly the same way, this time appending to the " xxx new" documents, take a snapshot of each character/topic file (old and new).

Open “Gus” in one split window, and “Gus new” in the other, and analyse them in detail, seeing if each statement in the original draft is matched by one (or more) in the revised draft. Depending on the number of descriptions you have appended to each document, this could take a while, and it is very definitely a manual process (although Scrivener’s find and search functionality should be helpful). If you identify things from the old draft that have been handled in the new material, delete the corresponding statements from both “Gus” and “Gus new” (make sure that you catch all such occurrences in both documents, and don’t just stop at the first one – I always find that I repeat myself more than I realise, and leaving duplicates in place will only confuse things).

At the end of the process, anything that is left in “Gus” was in your original draft but does not appear in your new chapters, giving you a clear “to do” list for transferring missing information. Anything left in “Gus new” is in your new chapters but not in your original draft. And you still have your snapshots to refer to if you want to see everything that you picked out as important – each new addition is appended to the end of the document, so the order will give a degree of indication of position in the text.

This process is a bit laborious, but if you really don’t want to split your original document it might help you to achieve the end-result you want. It’s not really repeatable, without a lot of effort, but if the aim is just to make sure that the important stuff from your first draft is identified and incorporated into your revision, then you shouldn’t have to repeat the exercise again anyway. The first pass through the material will identify what you still need to incorporate, and you can check off those items as you work them into your revised draft.

I’m not sure why splitting the document up is harder than your cut and paste solution…

As Siren and Ioa pointed out, “chunking” your manuscript is integral to many things that Scrivener does. Once you get used to it, it really is much easier.


One other tip that can enhance the usability of a long document: text bookmarks. Say you identify a paragraph relating to Gus and you want to mark it. You don’t want to split it into its own piece so that you end up with three files (before gus + gus + after gus—and to be clear I wouldn’t advocate that type of splitting; the type of splitting I advocate would have that relevant paragraph within it, and since the chunk is small enough to easily fathom in a quick eyeball scan, doesn’t require any further specificity), you just want mark that spot. From anywhere in that paragraph, use Edit/Insert/Bookmark Annotation (or hit Shift-Cmd-B). This will insert a little asterisk in a blue bubble at the front of the paragraph. By itself, that’s a nice and easy to see marker, but what’s really nice about it is when you use the View/Text Bookmarks/ sub-menu, which will show you each paragraph that has been marked this way, and choosing any of them will jump you to that spot. You can even kind of organise this menu into sections by using the “Bookmark Header Annotation”; useful for section titles within the file.

A neat trick to this is that if you type anything in after the asterisk+space, it will be used for the name in this menu instead of the first line or so of text. Here is a sample of what that might look like:

You can do this with the double-asterisk header form as well. So you could even take that further and type in “GUS: mention of his reaction to spicy food”, and that is what will show up in the bookmarks menu. Note these will be stripped from the compiler, so you don’t have to worry about littering your draft with them.

By the way, you can more easily get to this menu from the icon header bar menu. In the header bar of the editor there is an icon next to the title of the section. Click that and you’ll find the bookmark menu there, as well as a few other often used commands that are handy.

So there is no way to link to these with Scrivener Links, and no way to apply meta-data to them (short of what you type in yourself, which is of course a form of meta-data), but if you are hesitant to break this thing up, that’s a way of making a “map” of a longer document that is contextual to what you are working on. Bookmarks do make for a nice way to create a “secondary jump”. You link to the whole document, then once you get there use the bookmark menu to get to the spot you intended to jump to.

Wow, thanks, all. Thanks AmberV for breaking it all down so I could understand it. I didn’t know about “split at selection.” That will make it go faster. Yeah, the original draft is almost 400 pages. The edit will be shorter, but I need to hit the same notes.
So, if I failed to say Gus has red hair in the NEW chapters, I need to know that I still need to say it, and I’ll find that under Gus in a piece I chop out of the OLD 400 pages.
If I HAVE said it, that would show up in the new chapters which are already chunks.
Thanks, all, for your patience. I’ll print this out and study it. I particularly like bookmark thing.
Time to start chopping… sigh. You’ll be hearing from me again, next time I start scratching my head over these moves. I appreciate the help.

Okay, I’m back already. I’ve tried creating bookmarks. Well, in fact I have created bookmarks as you described. But When I go to “view text bookmarks” it tells me “no bookmarks.” What am I doing wrong???

Okay, what I did wrong was I failed to leave a space between the asterisk and the text I added (as you specified.) It works really well. I love it.

Yes, I just like to put my cursor after the asterisk and then type Space—then whatever I want. That way a space ends up on the end of it as well, which kind of helps set it apart visually.