Hope someone can give me some strategic help with S

I am facing notes on 60 separate interviews that need to be analyzed and organized into a massive report with a very ambitious agenda and an elaborate outline structure. I need to address each point in the outline with all findings that are relevant, support them here and there with quotes from the interviews, and keep track of which interviews are being used to support which points in case they are challenged or in case we need to elaborate or add color. I also need to be developing a compelling narrative as I go.

It’s probably a little bit less awful than i just described, but probably I’m forgetting something that would add yet another layer of complexity. Of course I have an incredibly short deadline.

My normal process has always been to plug things into an outline in Word, creating a new topic header for each insight that emerges from reviewing one interview. I try to keep them in some order but there is always a major effort required to re-order everything before putting flesh on the notes. I also usually have worked from transcripts, but i don’t have them for this.

Casting about for a better way, I was assured that OneNote could help me, but Scrivener looks better (and my Parallels drive failed around noon). I discovered Scrivener only this afternoon, and my main concern was that i might waste time by putting everything into S only to find that it can’t really do what I need. Now that i have been through most of the tutorial, i think Scrivener could be perfect.

What i’m hoping for, however, is to find someone who can listen to the project and help me come up with an attack plan for using Scrivener in the smartest and fastest way possible. I just don’t have time to learn from mistakes as i always have with other software.

Anyone out there willing to give this a shot? I do understand the principles and am a very quick study with software. I’m also good at coming up with shortcuts and refining process. Not bragging for a second. Only trying to reassure you that i’m not just being too lazy to read help files.

What i want to know is how to make best use of the various functions given the specific tasks i face with this project.

Is someone willing to help me out with a conversation about this? Even a little guidance would be a great big help and would help my hands stop shaking. (joking, but not totally joking)

If not you, do you know someone who could help?

Thanks very much for reading this far! Wish me luck!


  • Bill

I’m not sure of the wisdom of trying to learn a new piece of software when working to a tight deadline. Scrivener has its complexities (particularly when it comes to compiling the final text). Having said that, the forum members are usually very generous with their help, so you may get plenty of ideas.

Having written a thesis that was basically a textual analysis of two diaries, I’d offer one observation about working methods: I kept almost every paragraph I wrote in a separate document (or sometimes it was a paragraph of original text followed by my commentary on it).

I found it was a way of making sure that every paragraph had a clear focus. Every document/paragraph had a name, of course, which was a general indication of what the subject was, and any more detailed information could go into the panel of document notes, which could always be seen to the side of what I was writing. Indeed, I sometimes used it as a scratchpad and kept old drafts, or trials of sentences in the document notes panel.

The other advantage of breaking the text into such small chunks was that they could easily be rearranged into a different order. When one is trying to develop an argument, or simply illustrate or explain something complex, the order in which material is presented is crucial. Keeping the chunks very small is very helpful in doing this. And of course, one of the beauties of Scrivener is that you can see the bigger picture with a couple of clicks (the “Scrivenings” view).

Keeping the chunks very small also means that you can assign closely targeted keywords to the chunks (if you want to use keywords) and also create useful Scivener links for cross-references.

I can only suggest you try it for a couple of days. If you don’t get on, you can easily export all your text and carry on in Word.

You might want to think of a system of numbering your quotes or interviewees so you know exactly where things came from.

Best of luck with it,

PS: I did a certain amount of my work in Devonthink Pro Office, which is a very good tool for the kind of analysis you describe, but you probably wouldn’t have time to learn it.

Martin’s advice about keeping documents short and using key words is good (which really just means, I agree with what he said).

I would add that split screen is your friend,especially for any form of qualitative analysis.

The problem you face is the tight timeframe. While I think that Scrivener could be great at things like this, and in many ways matches the features of dedicated qualitative research apps (speaking as someone who has used and survived NVivo, I’m think I’m qualified to make the claim), its flexibility can make it a challenge to develop an initial workflow.

With that said, you could put all your source material into the research folder. Depending on how you like things structured, you could put each interview in its own folder. Remember, in Scrivener, folders are just a special form of document so you could add notes on each interview in the “body” of the folder (i.e. just like in a regular document). Once you have each interview as a document in a folder, you could then split each into smaller chunks. This could be at paragraph level (like suggested by Martin) or by question (if you used a structured interview) or by semantic content or by… you get the idea.

In addition, or an alternative, to split screen, you could also open individual documents as QuickReferences. These open in separate windows that you can move around and resize to suit. I found working in full-screen mode or Compose mode, with a “sub-document” or two of interview data open very helpful. When doing this, I would often put my text to the left of the screen (rather than the default centre) to make more room for QuickReference windows on the right.

This is great response. Thanks very much. Would have replied sooner but was waiting for an email announcing a reply that never came.

These are the main things I want to be sure I can accomplish. I’m wondering if I might be better advised to keep everything in Word since it’s what I know, but could you all please suggest to me the best ways of handling the following:

Distribute interview content across a detailed outline of topics and subtopics as I go through the interview

Keep track of which interview a comment or insight or quote comes from so I can always refer back for context and can get attributions right

Also build profiles of each interview subject: each interview represents a business case study

Thanks again for the great advice already. Hope maybe these questions are the ones i need to ask and that they suggest specific Scrivener capabilities.


  • Bill

I would suggest that you treat each interview as a “source” document, much as an academic would (I am one, so it comes naturally to me!). By that I mean that each interview needs to have a unique identifier – it might be the name of the person who was interviewed, it might be a title (e.g. “Interview with sales manager”), or it could even be just a number, if you really need to keep everything anonymous and confidential. Only you know the nature of the data you have, and what you can do with it. But once you have given a fixed “identifier” to each interview, you can simply type the source after each quotation, or mention of the source. So, you might do something like:

“load of interesting text.” [Interview with sales manager no. 5]

You can potentially work in two different directions – collect all the material from one interview in one place, then work through it and assign it to “themes” or whatever (either by assigning key words, or by copying or moving the relevant text to another folder or document); or you could do it the other way round – put all the material in thematic documents or folders, then gather all the material from one interview by doing a search for the source identifier (in other words, search for “Interview with sales manager no. 5” and copy all the hits to a new document).

Deciding what goes in one topic and what goes in another is the hard part. I think I would approach it by simply putting “tags” or “codes” in the text. They need be nothing more sophisticated than words inside curly braces, or something like that. So you might get:

“some interesting text {sales} and even more on another subject {finance} …”

You can remove the tags or codes at the end of the process by find/exchange. Doing a “project search” for a particular tag will bring up every document that contains it, and you can then work out how to fit the material together. Split editor window is great for that sort of thing.

Hope that gives you some ideas (others may have better ones),

There is another software app that I have put my students onto for doing textual analysis, and which can integrate with Scrivener without too much hassle, and that is TAMS Analyser (free, open software). Dr Nom mentions Nvivo … TAMS Analyser does the same thing free, and, judging from user comments, with much less frustration.

It would be another app to learn … at least the coding/tagging system, so you can do that in Scrivener … but whether you have time to put that string to your bow too, is for you.

I haven’t used it myself; just pointed students working on a project that way, and they were happy. The main one is now engaged on a PhD in sign language interpreting, where I guess she will be continuing to use it. Oh, and it also allows you to tag video/audio, if some of your interviews are in either of those formats.


You’re getting excellent advice from the previous writers.
Here’s a brief summary of what Scrivener can do for your project.

  1. Put all the research data in the Research folder.
  2. Arrange that as well as you can, by topics/sub-topics.
  3. Use the Synopsis cards to write overviews of folders/documents.
  4. Use the General elements (Label, Status) to identify key elements/progress
  5. In your Draft folder, lay out the segments/chapters of your report.
  6. Use the Search or Collections features to locate common/parallel items in the data.
  7. Write the draft, and then edit it by going to full screen and hiding all the data.

After a day or so of working this way, Scrivener should be a familiar friend.
Good luck!