How is Scrivener useful for humanities scholarship?


I’ve never claimed Scrivener does full footnote support. Footnotes become true footnotes only when they are exported. Given that Scrivener isn’t a page layout program or word processor, it can’t do true footnotes and was never intended to. It is a drafting tool. The way footnotes work is based on the way I draft footnotes for academic work myself. When drafting my MA thesis, for instance, I would put the footnotes in square brackets in the text (this is in Word) until the later stages of formatting (the stage at which you would export to Word in Scrivener). That might look something like this:

Some text waffling about 14th Century alliterative poetry. [See Hanna's discussion of the four-stress line. Hanna, Alliterative Poetry, p. 14.]

Using a bibliography/citations manager such as Bookends, Endnote or Sente in conjunction with Scrivener also means that you only need the barebones of the reference information in Scrivener, which gets turned into the full reference info when processed through Bookends or whatever after export. You can also safely insert a couple of newlines at the beginning of the grey bubble to separate your footnotes text - the extra newlines will get removed upon export.

All of this notwithstanding, footnote support in Scrivener most certainly won’t suit everyone, and it sounds as though it may not be the right tool for you.

Thanks for your feedback, it is valued.

All the best,

Thanks for the replies. I did, in fact, use the search function before posting my question, but failed to turn up anything that looked like a viable workflow to me. After the first two replies, I searched again, and did indeed turn up a lot of talk about the topic, but none of it was very helpful. The various workarounds proposed that I found were either convoluted or potentially dangerous, i.e. rife with opportunity for losing critical citation information.

I tried using endnote back in the late 90s and hated it (it wouldn’t cite odd things properly, so I’d have to do it manually, then it would get all screwed up), so I’ve done all my research and writing since then in word. Recently, I’ve switched to mac and indexed all of those word files with DevonThink Pro, so that they are searchable, and any NEW research I do gets put directly into the database.

I was tremendously excited to be able to pull things directly from DT to Scrivener and then use Scrivener as my primary writing space. I don’t write in a linear fashion at all; I’m constantly rearranging things in long word docs and struggle to get a clear sense of the overall structure of my prose. I want Scrivener to work so badly because it is perfect for how I think, but I"m also used to doing the notes as I draft. When I move sentences, paragraphs, or sections Word renumbers and keeps that intact, and that basic functionality is the key component that Scrivener lacks for my writing style.

Maybe I can learn to do the brackets, like Keith suggests. I could try that for my next chapter. But some notes are a paragraph long, and I’d hate to have all that text cluttering up the prose when the whole point is to get a sense of structure.

I assume that Bookends and Sente are much better than Endnote was back when Windows 95 ruled the world. Maybe I should try that, but I’ve already got 2/3 of the diss written without and it would be a huge pain to input all that bibliographic data now, right? It seems like Sente doesn’t even do footnotes (I can’t even find decent documentation for that product), so that leaves Bookends. But then, instead of dealing with a single app for research and writing, I’ve got four: DT, Bookends, Scrivener, Word or Mellel or Pages. All I want is footnotes that stay with my text; I don’t mind typing them myself or compiling the Bibliography (which I do as I write), so the ONLY reason for getting Bookends would be to be able to use Scrivener.

I guess I’m just not sure how to adapt my workflow to the Mac. It wouldn’t be so urgent of I didn’t just really hate Word on the mac so badly (crashes a LOT more than it did in XP and even Vista). I was set to switch to pages, but then found out that DT doesn’t read pages files. Aaaarggggh!!!

Someone please take pity and help me…

I would be interested in suggestions for improving the footnotes support. There are certain things to consider. For instance, in Word, you are dealing with one long document, so finding and renumbering all the footnotes is more straightforward. In Scrivener, you are dealing with multiple documents, so the footnotes have to be numbered upon export or print. Also, Scrivener was never intended to do proper page layout. So, although the next update has a “wrap to page” view, that is more there for the script writers who need to work in pages. Footnotes at the foot of the page aren’t something that are ever likely to be part of Scrivener. So, the question would be, considering that they couldn’t be auto-numbered or placed at the foot of a page (given that Scrivener doesn’t show you what will be on the final printed page in most circumstances as you “compile” everything for another word processor or printing), what would be a better system?

One thing I recently considered is the way MultiMarkdown does things, which is to insert a tag after the text and then insert the footnote in a paragraph of its own. E.g.:

This is some text.[fn1]

[fn1] This is the footnote.

This is another paragraph.

But there are numerous problems with that, too. So, there are certain limitations in that Scrivener does not provide page layout, as that was never its intention; and other limitations in that I am a one-man team; that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in hearing alternative solutions to this problem for future versions. As I say, the current system is just based on the way I work for theses and essays.

All the best,

You don’t have to do brackets. If you use Scriveners footnote functionality (Text->Footnote), it deals with this for you. And also, if you enter Ghost note mode (Text->Ghost Note mode"), the footnote text will be faded out unless you click inside it, which will make your text look cleaner and less disturbed by the footnote.

I actually very much like the way Scrivener handles footnotes.

Anyway - hope you figure out something that will work for you!


Last year I finished my dissertation, and I wrote it from beginning to end in Scrivener. I had countless footnotes, and, though they didn’t really bother me, sometimes they distracted me when I was trying to reread a paragraph. Considering that Scrivener is not a layout program, and we don’t want it to be one, I believe that its current footnote support is good enough for academic writing.

The only improvement I’d like to suggest is to have an option to hide the footnotes (perhaps, View-Layout-Hide/Show footnotes), leaving only a symbol or a dot where the footnotes are (the same could be used for notes). This would allow academic writers to footnote to their hearts content, but also would given them a chance to hide the distracting footnotes to review a paragraph, a page or the whole document.

I would love to be able to do that, and I used an Apple technical support incident on trying to achieve it… But it turns out even Apple’s text engineers have problems getting this working. Please see the whole thread dedicated to this which is a sticky on this very Feedback forum:

Hiding/Collapsing Annotations/Footnotes


Here’s how I do it. (Granted, this is for physical sciences, not humanities, so notes are generally shorter.)

In the body text, I put a placeholder for the footnote, like this:

Then, I create a completely separate document, like this:

(This could obviously be an explanatory note instead of a bibliographic one. If I had multiple note streams, I would use different naming conventions to differentiate.)

The note can be a subdocument under the text to which it refers, or I can put it in a reference folder at the end. It doesn’t really matter. When I’m ready to format the document, I use global replace to turn the [Genius08] tags into numbers (or symbols). If I need footnotes, I create them now. If I need endnotes, I group all the note documents into the appropriate section.

It takes less time to do than it does to describe, and far less time than I would waste if I used Word for the draft. As an added bonus, pulling references out like this makes them easier to find if I need to verify whether I’ve cited a paper already, whether the citation is correct, and so forth.


Something I have done for a couple projects is to have a “footnotes” document attached to all my chaper/subchapter/section documents.

So for each section or whatnot there would just be the text in the main document:

Serious academic sounding stuff.[2] Serious academic sounding stuff. Serious academic sounding stuff. Serious academic sounding stuff. Serious academic sounding stuff.[1]

The footnote placeholders are numbered in the order I made them, so because I tend to move things around as I write, when you read through a paragraph they may not be in order, as shown above. That doesn’t matter however, as the numbers serve only to refer the proper text which I will insert later. Then I have a footnote document for the section:

[1] Footnote
[2] Footnote

I usually work in split screen with the footnotes in the bottom panel. I started doing this for the very reason you describe: I have very long footnotes sometimes and I needed to get them out of the way so i could actually read my text. When I am done writing I take a few minutes and just plug in all the footnotes where they should be before exporting to Word for final formatting. On a 10,000 word paper with about 100 footnotes, this takes me about 15-20 minutes.

I am not sure this would work for everyone but it’s been fine for me thus far.

This has to be the most helpful forum on the entire internet–it’s amazing, really. So many good ideas for how to work around the (what I see as a) limitation.

Either Katherine or Plette’s methods would probably work for me, but I think Plette’s might be closer to how I work.

Can I ask, Plette, whether the [ ] are actual brackets in the text, or the footnote function of Scrivener? And then, at the end, when ready to format, do you just cut and paste in Scrivener or in the word processor?

Thank you all so much! I have a book review due in a week, so I’m going to test all of this out for that.

Here is the germ of an idea which, if it is not crazy, might be relatively easy (ha-ha) to implement with code you already have.

The basic idea is to leverage the Edit Scrivenings function. One of the fundamental beauties of Scrivener is that it gives you a punishment-free way to divvy up your content into whatever size and kind of chunks best fit your conception of the material and way of working with it. The punishment factor is eliminated by Edit Scrivenings mode and the management functions of the Binder. So, why not think of this footnote challenge as just more of the same, i.e. another case where some people need a cost-free way to be able to divvy up their content in a certain way?

There are various ways one could pursue this idea, but here is one sketch:

First, have a Split-at-Footnotes function which would be like the Split-at-Selection function, but would slice before and after each footnote.

Second, have a toggle command (and toolbar item) which effects whether Edit Scrivenings mode would show or suppress these footnote-only documents (or maybe collapse them to a symbolic mark) when in Edit Scrivenings.

[Possible third: Since, unlike the underlying Apple footnote subsystem, you are in charge of which documents show in Edit Scrivenings mode, you might be able to deliver on individual expand/collapse of footnotes this way. Moreover, there may be no reason not to have a function that would enable someone working in Edit Scriv mode to insert a footnote-only doc then and there. If that were possible, then folks with the frequent, heavy, ugly footnotes problem could get relief with a workflow which just made more heavy use of Edit Scriv mode.]

There are obviously details to fret about (I could almost hear your heart turning over as we worked through those last few paragraphs!), and it might be crazy or impossible to do, but worth considering, perhaps.

I obviously have not thought about this for a long time, but the main worry for the /idea/ is that, for the people whom it aims to help, it might split their documents into a mad number of pieces–but maybe this is just what the notion of a “container document” was born for! One would need a good sample of the sort of document in question and to split it out that way and see what it would be like to work with using split, edit scriv, and merge.


P.S. For my own purposes and I think surely for most people (and most academic disciplines, too), the current footnotes system is quite adequate. They turn into real footnotes upon export and they are easy to use. For most circumstances, they are much preferable to having footnotes in a linked separate window as in Word. Like so many things about Scrivener, the simplicity of the footnote system eases my brain when I write. So, I think the only challenge is finding something that would help people who work in an area where footnotes are frequent, long, and non-discursive. (Ghosting was a step in this direction, of course.) I thought this recommended a move like the above which kept the basic system intact for most users, but provided a function that someone like a historian could avail themselves of.

I use the footnote function of Scrivener, although I don’t think there is much of a difference. I took a screenshot of one of my projects - this might help convey what I mean.

When I do the plugging in of the actual footnote text, I do it in Scrivener. So I write the way you see above, and then at the end I plug the footnote text into ‘Scrivener footnote bubbles’ in the right place, and then I export. This saves time, at least for me, because Scrivener is lightning fast on my machine but Word tends to be sluggish when dealing with large documents. So it’s better to do the cutting and pasting in Scriv.

Hopefully this helps, or gives you some ideas about what might work for you.

I should also note that I tend to work differently for different papers. For some things I actually do keep the footnotes inline, generally when the footnotes are comments or asides on related subjects as opposed to citations, because then to me they’re part of the thought workflow and I want to keep them in mind as I work.

Thanks so much for sending us that screenshot. I wish folks would do this more often, because it makes clear the many uses of Scrivener in all kinds of writing situations. I liked the way you organized the Research folder by file types, for example.

Can’t resist this observation: I used to have a Dock as cluttered as yours and really hated it. Then I heard about Overflow, a $15.00 utility from Stunt Software. Lets you arrange icons of your favorite apps by categories. Witness my screen shot of the writing apps I use often.

  1. EndNote is far better today than in '95. A campus license is $25.00. You may copy citations to DTPro with a Cmd-C (short) or Cmd-K (formatted). You may store abstracts, commentary, and URLs in EndNote. It’s a database in itself. And it integrates smoothly with Word, so if you move citations, no problem.

  2. Word '04 never crashed for me on PPC or Intel machines. Word '08 was sloooow on the PPC only. Your crashes may be either an installation problem or lack of RAM. There’s a recent update to '08 that fixes many stability problems.

  3. I do sympathize, greatly. I wrote a dissertation and supervised 100 others. One piece of consistent advice I gave: don’t over-annotate. Notes are a burden for the writer, a distraction for readers, and publishers won’t print them. But I also know how much advisers, fields, and institutions differ on this score. Good luck, and stick with the Mac!

Druid, thanks kindly for the tip. I do have a cluttered dock and it definitely irks me. I have Quicksilver installed, and while I use it for many things, I can’t seem to bring myself to take those icons off the dock - I seem to need a visual reference when it comes to my application icons.

Overflow looks like it’d be perfect for me because I could pull up the interface and still see the icons whenever I wanted to open something, but it wouldn’t be in the way all the time. I’m going to go check it out right now, so any reduced productivity this afternoon while I set it up and play with it is completely your fault.

Thanks! :slight_smile:

You know, I love OverFlow just fine, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out you can basically emulate the program’s effects for free in Leopard. Just make a folder somewhere, fill it with Aliases over your favorite programs, and set the stack to display in Grid mode.

I’ll need to experiment with that to see if you’re right. I think Overflow allows more control over how the apps display (they don’t have to be listed by name or kind) and I can make the categories suit my ideas about what goes where. But thanks for the advice.

I’m still running Tiger, unfortunately, so I don’t have access to anything as fancy as stacks. I’ve got Overflow all set up now and it’s exactly what I needed. My dock is now nice and empty except for the open programs.

Thanks again, druid. The Scrivener forum is a useful place indeed.

Here is one everyone may find interesting and it is free. A DIY solution.

When going down to the dock is a pain I find doing this alternate helps so it puts my apps at my fingertips no matter where I am either using the dock or just using finder windows…

Here is a picture.

Notice my finder windows at the top? (you will have to scroll right and down in the inline picture) Notice the pull down menu on the side that lists what is not shown?

Notice I can access all my favorite applications from any finder window I open?


:neutral_face: Also another trick is in Leopard making a folder full of shortcuts that is related to that parent folder (Example A folder named writing tools) Inside that folder put SHORTCUTS of the apps that best fit in that category inside that folder. Remove most of the applications from the DOCK except those most commonly used a lot (think top 5). Organize the rest in these shortcut folders. Drop the folders on the RIGHT side of the little line on the dock. In leopard confidure them as stacks, in tiger they are Hierarchal menus.


Poor Mans organized dock. :slight_smile:

Combine that with customizing the Finder Window Headers and you can have everything you need just a mouse click away

This may be one of those things that the Help files say are due to Apple’s handling of text, but I can’t seem to be able to cut and paste into a footnote. My attempts seem instead to split the footnote into two bubbles on either side of the pasted text. Does Scrivener actually handle pasting of text into a footnote, or am I just doing something wrong (even just reading the display wrong)?

So far I actually quite like the way that Scrivener handles footnotes, but since I use MLA formatting they’re used less for citations and more for extra commentary.

Thanks in advance,