Getting Started- Biography Work Flow

I am new to Scriverner and big project/academic writing, and have had my Mac just a couple of years so still on a bit of a learning curve. I have watched the Scrivener videos, done the most-excellent tutorial, searched through the manual and forum, and am ready to start the biography that I have been researching for years. I also hope that a portion may end up as an academic article, so plan to write somewhat similar to a thesis but a bit more approachable for the public. Some questions:

  1. Should I first import the hundreds of references/images I have, such as pdf files and images of newspaper articles, etc., even before I start writing?

  2. Is adding meta-data the way to go on all these references? (Couldn’t find much on tagging.) I need to be able to search for each item by date, location, persons, reference type, repository, and/or topic.

  3. I am still unclear as to the advantages/disadvantages of folders v. text, for both drafts and research. Because of the overwhelming amount of research data, I need some way to organize it, probably within decades to stay manageable. For each decade, would I use a folder OR text, whichever with many subdocuments? Some decades might require subfolders (or subtexts) by year for more organization. (I know my draft will mostly be chronological, but chapters may not be strictly split by dates.)

  4. Without using other software for footnotes, what is the best way to not have to type the citation over & over? Should I include the citation in metadata and just copy that as needed? I am thinking I would like in-line footnotes, at least while writing. Or am I going to need to buy and learn citation software for the best product?

  5. What citation style is commonly used for a journal in the history field? I know I need to get the specifics for any journal I submit to, but a good starting place would be appreciated. (I published as a science major many years ago, but history is new to me.)

I greatly appreciate any thoughts you all may have to share, whether concerning the mechanics of Scrivener or the project. I apologize if I missed any of these answers in the info already out there.


I would say the obvious thing – everyone is different, and you have to find what works for you.

Having been through something similar (a thesis that ended up around 100,000 words in total, on a historical subject) I eventually settled on using Bookends or Sente for handling the bibliography, Devonthink Pro Office for handling all the research material, and Scrivener for composing. There seem to be quite a few people who use a similar setup, and I don’t think it’s an accident.

I find it useful to think in terms of the different sorts of task one has to deal with. In my case, seeking information (internet, articles, books, etc) and what tools will help with that; processing the information (reading it, extracting the useful stuff, etc); organising it (putting it in the right place, typically with stuff that deals with something similar, belongs to the same period or theme, etc); ideas (capturing them, jotting them down, putting them in a place where I will find them again); composing; and dealing with references. Others may have different lists, but that one pretty much works for me.

To answer 4 and 5 directly – use a bibliographic manager (Sente, Bookends, Bibdesk). It means you can reformat in a couple of clicks, so if you have to submit your article to journals that have different styles it will take you a few seconds to get a different version rather than a couple of hours – or longer.

You don’t need to set things in stone at the beginning. My methods evolved while I was working. It was the project itself that taught me how to organise it. Think of you and it as a kind of system that will live and develop together.

Good luck with it,

Thanks, Martin, for your detailed reply. It really helps to see how others have approached such a project, though I know I will need to find my own way too. I like your statement, “Think of you and it as a kind of system that will live and develop together.” That has already happened to some degree but starting writing opens a whole new chapter with a lot more growth to occur. I am excited to start using Scrivener, and will look (again) at the other programs you recommend.

I second the suggestion of DevonThink Pro for handling the research material. It is as unique and powerful in that domain as Scrivener is for writing and organizing the text.

Both Scrivener and Devonthink are extremely flexible, and can readily accommodate whatever workflow you ultimately decide on. So don’t tie yourself to an arbitrary scheme too early.


Thanks, Katherine.

So how does it work when you use 3 different programs such as Scrivener, Devonthink, and Sente- how do they all interface? Do I start by organizing the research I have done with Devonthink, then somehow get it into Sente for the bibliography, and then pull articles in from Devonthink to Scrivener when I need them for writing? How do you get the bibliography into Scrivener, or do you wait until after you have exported to Word? Wish I was in college again so I could talk to a prof or grad students about this process, but am not so appreciate any suggestions if it is not too far off this forum.


I don’t use Sente, so can’t comment on its interface except to say that you can use Sente to create a citation placeholder. Put that in the appropriate place in the Scrivener file, then when you’re done scan your output file with Sente to generate the citation text.

It’s possible to drag research from Devonthink into Scrivener, but I usually don’t bother. I just keep both programs open while I’m working.


All academic research starts with a bibliography. You need to know what other people have written about a subject and have a list of source documents that you will quote in your main text. It’s also a useful way of getting an overview of the material you have, and probably of seeing if there are any obvious gaps.

Using a bibliographic manager (I now use Sente) makes the whole process much easier, because instead of having to fill in all the details of author, title, etc. by hand, you can pull all that data from databases on the internet (you can connect to Google Scholar, British Library, and many, many university libraries). Such database entries typically have useful metadata, such as keywords, and so forth, and these will get added to your personal database, too.

Sente has other advantages when it comes to the task of reading. If you have pdfs, you can read these in Sente, and when you find a useful passage, you can highlight it, which automatically extracts the text and places it in the “notes” panel, together with the page number. You can also add a comment of your own — or just make a comment on highlighted text if you don’t want the quote. Then comes the clever part — using an AppleScript by Robin Trew (aka houthakker) which you can find here: … think.html

you can extract all of the notes and the pdf and inject them into your DT database.

Not only that, you can download an AppleScript by Dana Leighton that will turn your notes from Sente into OPML for import to Scrivener. See: … tf-or-opml

Using these methods, Sente and DT become the hub for the early part of your work — the tasks of seeking, processing, organising, etc. that I mentioned above. When you have organised your material (put together what goes together, I was told at school, several decades ago) you can then move on to writing — which you do in Scrivener.

And Scrivener is brilliant for organising the text that you write. Nothing is more important in academic writing than presenting the material in the right order — it is essential to comprehension and to making an argument. While you are writing, when you need a citation, you can drag it or paste it from Sente (or just type it in, if you can remember the author and year — e.g. {Rawlinson 1916}) and when the whole text is complete, you can scan the compiled text using Sente and you will get your citations and bibliography formatted for you in a few seconds.

Use the right tools for each task. You wouldn’t try and make a cabinet with just a screwdriver or just a chisel. You need a complete toolkit for a complex project, which is really a set of different tasks which all contribute to the end product in different ways.


PS: over on the Sente forums I saw a post a few months ago in which someone was asking if they thought it could handle his database of 33,000 items. Someone else replied that it seemed to be coping with his database of 45,000 entries … Now that’s what I call a bibliography!

Thank you both for your time and sharing your expertise- now the process makes much more sense.

A pleasure to be able to help, even if in a small way.

I’d just say that both Sente and Devonthink are quite powerful programs (the latter in particular) and they will probably seem daunting at first. It will take a while to learn how to exploit all that power. Don’t let it worry you. Stick to the basics at first, the frills can come later.

In DT it is worth looking at “replicants”, in my opinion. It’s a slightly odd, sci-fi inspired term, but it basically means that any item (rtf file, pdf, etc) can appear in more than one folder at once. So if you find a quote or reference that is appropriate to chapter one, but is also relevant to chapter three, you can have it appear in both at the same time. This is very useful if you have a structure like the one I used, in which I simply replicated everything that seemed relevant to chapter one into a folder called “chapter one”, and likewise for the other chapters. It is even better now that I use Sente, because, using the script, it automatically creates a folder for each source work, with author name and title, so that you never forget where something came from. Any relevant snippet is replicated from the source folder to the appropriate chapter folder. Sounds a bit complicated, but if you try it with just a couple of test items, you’ll see how it works. This article on the net might help you see the structure of source works and how to search for material: … 00230.html

If you need any more help, get back to us.

Cheers, Martin.

PS: you’ll probably find that a DT database will actually help you to understand your material. As you move it around and organise it (which will probably be a process that lasts as long as the project, and even longer) the changes to the database will mirror your evolving view of the material.