Example of outlines in scrivener?


Obviously new here :wink:

I’m an outline person. I can’t help it …

Many years ago, I started working with Maxthink, the author of which is credited with inventing hyperlinks. Unfortunately, recent versions are very unstable on my computers and I’ve been looking for a reliable tool

Are there any tutorials or videos or else chronicling how somebody begins a new project in outline mode and fleshes out an entire complete document inside scrivener?

Tips, comments, ridicule are all welcome …


Howdy, I don’t have any videos or tutorials, but maybe my admittedly rudimentary method is easy enough without one. I just
1 open a new project,
2 import the research,
3 under Draft in outline view, create documents (remember, in Scrivener, a document = an outline point), for each point I want to make in my story (extracted from the research), without worrying about the order yet, placing any needed references to the research in the Notes pane of each document.
4 organize those documents in the proper order and hierarchy (i.e. which points are major outline points, which are sub points, etc.,
5 view the entire document as scrivenings and fix transitions etc,
6 compile as text or rtf file

Is that what you’re looking for? I’d be happy to modify this extremely simplistic method; I realize I don’t take nearly enough advantage of Scrivener’s manifold features.

I think for me, the big leap in going from outline-generated stories (first in AppleWorks, then in one of those old free copies of OmniOutliner that used to come bundled with Macs, or in any word processor that offers basic outlining) to Scrivener-generated stories was realizing that the Binder IS the outline, at least the way I use Scrivener. It’s probably dead obvious to everyone else, but to me, it’s the conceptual leap that I thank Keith for every time I use Scrivener!

Being an outline-addict is nothing to be embarrassed about, Helices. Outline and be proud! :smiley: I long delayed upgrading my Mac operating system just for fear of loosing Appleworks and its outliner function, which for me was like an additional lobe of my brain.

I think the technique Brett describes pretty well summarizes using Scrivener for the traditional function of outlining-- what you might call “prospective” outlining: i.e. to create a structure which you then fill in with created or researched text. Split and Merge are a couple of other good moves to know if you use Scrivener for “retrospective outlining”— i.e., for reorganizing and making some sort of logical sense out of an unstructured piece that’s already been written. Here, the content comes first, the outline second.

Split and Merge are both on Scrivener’s Document menu. If you have two sentences/ paragraphs in one document (= one outline point, as Brett says) that need to be separated into two points at that same level, Split will divide them where you select a phrase or park the insertion point. The name of the new document/point will just be a variant of the old name— e.g. Doc 7 and Doc 7-1, unless you use the “Split With Selection as Title” option under Split. Otherwise, you can rename it in the Binder; and you might want to choose a title that hints at the content.

The reason for this is that if you now switch to Outliner Mode —where reassignment of “children” (i.e. subordinate points) to other “parent” points is most easily done —you don’t see any body text. This, to me, is a serious shortcoming for Scrivener’s Outline Mode: you want to move your points around, but you don’t know what their content is. This can be overcome to a certain extent by writing a short synopsis for each point, and setting your Outliner Columns (under View) to show both title and synopsis.

Another workaround here is to view all your points/pages as Scrivenings. This will show you all the content, while the hierarchy of points is represented by the associated folder/ document sequence in the Binder. Unfortunately, you can’t always tell at a glance what content is associated with what document in the Binder, since individual titles are not shown in Scrivenings mode. (You can find out, of course, with Command Option R— Reveal in Binder. Kinda tedious.)

The Merge function allows you to select any two or more documents in the Binder and combine them into one. Children are united with parents; siblings are combined under the title of the uppermost. This is useful, for example, for gathering up all the scattered observations that relate to some common topic.

I love Scrivener dearly, but I have to admit that for my purposes (almost exclusively retrospective outlining) the Outline function is mostly a workaround. I’m no Scrivener guru, and there may be lots about its Outliner mode that I don’t know; but right now I much prefer to use Omni Outliner. Since I also love Dragon Dictate and it is not optimized for Omni, I tend to use the outliner function under MS Word.

Thanks, elefem, for that elaboration. Merge and Split are indeed very handy, and so are viewing as Scrivenings and in the Outliner (if you use synopses, which I find quite helpful in long projects like my book; it also conveniently displays the word count for every section and chapter).

This makes me wonder (and maybe this should be posted in Software by Others): how many Scriveners here use OmniOutliner or other dedicated outliners, like one I recently heard about called Outlinely, or Folding Text, which isn’t an outliner per se but seems like it’d sure make doing so easier? Do you use it in conjunction with Scrivener or separately, like for shorter pieces?

I’d try opening a second split and then clicking the double-arrow “auto-load” button in the footer bar for the Outliner. This will cause it to act like the Binder, in regards to the other split: single clicks will load up there automatically. This will cause Scrivener to work more like OmniOutliner when notes are shown in a pane rather than inline.

There are four ways to get this information without disturbing your binder selection:

  1. The header bar for the Scrivenings session will print the name of the section the cursor is active within, after the session name itself (usually the folder title). Hovering over the title area in the header bar will also print the full path.
  2. The Inspector’s index card can be used to briefly check the title if the header title is too long and truncated to be useful.
  3. The “Go To” menu in the header bar icon menu will automatically hoist to the current session, and place a checkmark where you are. This is also a good way to jump from one section to another.
  4. Finally, the most obvious and useful method that you mention yourself, does in fact exist: Format/Options/Show Titles in Scrivenings menu command. You can edit titles when they are printed in the text like this, too.

We also have some cool new ideas coming down the way for the future that should make reactive outlining more seamless.

Speaking personally, I’m a “retrospective outliner” as you put it. I tend to type into holding containers until I know where I’m going with them, and split things up and re-organise as I go.

Overall, Scrivener’s approach to outlining is more of the “2-pane” variety, be that with the Binder + Editor, or Binder + Outliner/Corkboard + Editor, than the embedded outline philosophy used by word processors and some dedicated outlining programs, as well as mark-up based formats like Markdown+Folding Text and Org-Mode. The idea behind Scrivener is that for large form material, such as books or dissertations, it is more useful to separate structure from content into two separate mechanisms, while keeping those two things tightly integrated, rather than merging the structural mechanism directly into the content mechanism. I would not say that either approach is better or worse for prospective vs. retrospective outlining. They both have their pros and cons—I would say Scrivener’s approach is better at keeping the bird’s eye view just that, without have to collapse and expand content sections repeatedly. On the flip-side, being able to push aside all structure and just read the text as a reader will is also something that is not as easily done in an embedded-outline environment. You can usually hide notes, but not headings!

It is also worth noting that although the content is mechanically separated from outlining, you can do a bit of “outlining” within the editor view too. Hit Ctrl-Cmd-R to pop up an indent level (either broadening your Scrivenings session, or switching to Outliner/Corkboard), creating and splitting new items can be done within a Scrivenings session as well, just call the commands from within the editor, and with option #4 on, you’ll find this even more seamless as the cursor won’t jump out to the Binder at any point to get a file name from you, as you can just type it into the editor. I often do quite a bit of organisation work directly in the editor itself.

The main thing I would agree with is that for pure outlining via the keyboard, a dedicated outliner is usually going to have Scrivener beat, mainly because you have to create and then move new nodes, rather than having a four-point option to establish the relationship from the current node (sibling, child, prior-sibling and parent-sibling). You can do all of that of course, just not in one move. For straight node creation though, the Enter key is a nice way of building out a bunch of ideas.

For advanced stuff though? It’s great. Hoisting, collections for advanced non-linear marking and gathering (physical and by proxy), sorting by meta-data components, custom fields, component based output, type and depth based stylesheets… all stuff you’ll only find in dedicated outlining programs (and to my knowledge, not in any writing programs like Scrivener).

Brett —re using other programs with Scrivener: for big stuff, like an extended writing project, I will typically do my initial brainstorming in either Omni Outliner or MS Word in outline format, but get it into Scrivener as soon as possible since that’s where all the assembled other resources are: character notes, partially written drafts, and so on. I may go back to Word for creative composition using Dragon Dictate, but I always have Scrivener open at the same time, for reference.

AmberV— thanks for the amplification on Scrivener’s outliner potential. It literally opened my eyes, in many cases to things that were right in front of me. (I’m glad I got my non-guru disclaimer in upfront!) I’m still working out the implications of some of your suggestions. I hope that one of the coming cool things you allude to is macro capability; that would do a lot to increase the speed of outlining in scrivener, I think — speed being a key factor in successful brainstorming.

Here are a couple of moves that may have a place in the outlining picture. One is that if you have an interesting line of text in Document A, you can select it and drag to the Doc A icon in the binder. This will result in creation of a child for Doc A, with a title that reflects its content. In this way, for example, what was originally a list can be quickly converted into outline points. Another is that one could do one’s brainstorm babbling right into the synopsis panel of a page, putting the focal topic (if you happen to know it) in the title and the rest into the synopsis body-text. Now you’ll see both of these important things when you shift to outline mode to juggle the order and parentage. (The synopsis text could also be appended to the main text via that option in the Document menu.)

I do find the outline view very useful for organising my writing. But I sometimes find it cumbersome to move items within the outline and land up between two other items, using the trackpad. I have tried to find out if there is any key combination that lets you grab an item and, using arrows move it up or down in the list. Does such a feature exist? I haven’t found any.


Yes, assuming the item’s icon is selected in the binder: then you can use control-command-[direction arrows] to change its order and status. Regrettably, the command Reveal In Binder highlights a document’s binder icon but doesn’t select It. So if you have been working on a document and now want to shift it, you’ll still have to track-pad over to the binder and select it.

Or you can use the keyboard shortcut CMD-OPT-CTRL-b to shift focus to the binder instead of using the trackpad. Other handy shortcuts:
CMD-OPT-CTRL-e - move focus to the left/bottom (or only visible) editor
CMD-OPT-CTRL-r - move focus to the right/top editor

Thanks for tips. Perhaps I didn’t clearly explain what I wanted to do. In my case I’m working in the outline, listing all my files in the Draft or whatever folder. Focus is in one of the items/file in the outline. What I want is to move this file up or down to change the order of the files. I know I can do this - in the outline, not the binder - by dragging and dropping the file, using the trackpad. My question is, and I’ve really searched deep in the Scrivener Manual, if I can do this using some keyboard command - without shifting focus to the binder (that is usually hidden).

    Hey, thanks! This often happens: I'll be wishing Scrivener would have some feature, and somebody points out that it already has it. Actually, Reveal In Binder and Shift Focus to Binder can be used together: if, for example you have selected an item in the binder and are editing the document, but migrate away, say to work on a previous one via command-[. If you simply Shift Focus, the original icon will be selected; but you can Reveal first, and then Shift Focus, and  the icon of the second document will be selected.

   All this would have application to the problem of reorganization we've been discussing. Say you're looking at a page in a Scrivenings environment, and you wish it were higher up in the hierarchy, for instance. You Reveal, Shift Focus, and then use Control-Command-Arrows to move its icon around. Then Shift Focus back to the relevant editor.

   This gets to be a lot of tedious keyboard work, but if you happen to be using Dragon Dictate, which permits macros, the whole thing could be over in a flash.

Sorry, Mat, I did misunderstand your question. But the control-command-[directional arrows] should also work to move your selected item around the hierarchy in the outliner. No?

CMD-CTRL plus up/down/right/left arrows will move items around while you’re in the outliner. If you’re editing a title, synopsis or other column values, you’ll have to hit the ESC key to get out of edit mode first.

These move commands are also in the menu under Documents->Move, which show the shortcut combo for left, right, up and down. Shifting focus to different parts of the interface are partly covered by the View->Move Focus To menu, which shows the keyboard shortcuts for the options. Note that moving to various other parts of the interface (inspector, document notes, keywords, etc…) are in the next menu down (View->Inspect). The menu after that (View->Outline) shows the default shortcuts for expanding and collapsing entire branches of the outliner. These also work in either the binder or an editor in outline mode.

If you don’t mind customizing the Scrivener shortcuts, you could find a combo of modifier keys to hold down for the entire set of operations. For instance, Documents->Move->Up could be changed to CMD-CTRL-OPT-up (and likewise for down, left, right), and also for Reveal in binder . Then you’d just hold CMD-CTRL-OPT and press r b up up up e to move the current document up three times and get back to editing. Of course a macro might be easier, but you’d have to invoke it three times in my example.

Thanks Robert!

For me, the ability to differentiate ‘title’ levels in scrivenings to match outline levels in the binder would go an enormously long way to solving all the outlining problems.
Of course it would be even better if we could expand/collapse, or choose which levels to include/exclude.

But the simple ability to create some kind of visual/typographical distinction between levels (whatever meaning the levels have for you in your particular project) would make all the difference.

I keep coming back to Scrivener with complicated writing projects but keep giving up on it because it is so hard to integrate outlining and writing.
If there is talk of new features in the pipeline, this is one I sure would love to see. I keep checking back here in case some clever person has a good workaround but I haven’t found one yet!.
Just to be clear - what I would like is to be able to (1) brainstorm points into the binder, (2) move them around into a good hierarchical structure, then (3) open in scrivenings to see that good structure, and (4) write in the text for each item (returning to the binder for rearranging etc using all the brilliant Scrivener features).
Right now I get so confused at 4 because all the headings look the same! Trying to keep track of where I am totally interrupts any kind of writing flow (precious commodity that it is) that I might have generated with the free-flowing outlining in the binder.

Any help VERY gratefully received!

From within the Scrivenings session, you can use View > Reveal in Binder (Opt-Cmd-R) to highlight the current document in the binder, so you’d be able to see its position in the hierarchy that way. If you lock the editor on the Scrivenings session (Opt-Cmd-L), you can also use the binder or the other editor split in outliner mode as a TOC to navigate to the different sections. That might help you maintain your place while working.

I’m the OP in this thread and I’ve been away since the last entry

Now, I’m back to Scrivener and the update I just installed implies many changes and improvements

So, what changes are implemented in outline functionality since I was here last?

Please, advise. Thank you.

Hi, I just purchased Scrivener today and I’m happy with it so far.

I have a simple question and perhaps this should be a new topic thread.

Is it possible to import an outline from MS Word and have each item of the outline become an entry within Scrivener that preserves the heirarchy structure of the Word outline?

That would give me quite a jump start.

People have talked about retrospective outlining in Scrivener after the writing process has gotten going. Clearly Scrivener is good for that. But sometimes I make an outline in Word (sometimes ten pages long) and then I’d love to be able to work from there. Split does not manage what I’m talking about.

Here’s what I like about outlining in Word.

-Create a new entry with one keystroke (enter)
-Create a child relationship with one keystroke (tab)
-Promote item with two keystrokes (shift-tab)

If that simplicity could exist in Scrivener (or already does) I’d love (to hear) that.

If this doesn’t fit with the Scrivener concept, that’s okay. But please let me know. Thanks.