how to collaborate with others not using scrivener

Hi. Apologies for posting on the tech support forum, I wasn’t sure what the most appropriate place was for this question.

I recently downloaded the trial of Scrivener, and it looks like it may be a great writing tool for me. I am a PhD student, so I mostly write research papers and I am about to start my dissertation. The biggest pulls are a) simple formatting and b) splitting up documents into sections.

However, there is one use case that I do not know how to get around, and it is a make-or-break on whether I can use Scrivener. If I get a good solution, then I can invest in buying Scrivener and on the learning curve to get started.

How do I collaborate with others on a paper? When I co-author papers with others, one of us writes an initial draft and then we go back and forth a lot, using the track changes feature of Word, mostly. I could live with viewing the suggested changes and accepting/rejecting them in Word, then pulling my document into Scrivener again, but …
a) do I lose my previously defined sections?
b) what happens if I had a research section before I sent the document out?

Does someone have a good workflow for this use case? Or am I out of luck?



Best workflow for this will be to use Scrivener’s Folder Sync feature, in the File/Sync menu. What this lets you do is dump out a bunch of files in the RTF format. They can be optionally numbered so that they stay in order. Any annotations and comments that you put into the documents in Scrivener will show up in Word as regular margin notes; and likewise any margin notes they add will come back into Scrivener as annotations or comments (depending on your preference). So by using a combination of notes, highlighters, and on your end the revision pens, one could do quite a bit without the Track Changes feature in Word. In Scrivener you can search by highlight, notes, revision levels and all quite easily. Given that it’s all rather fluid, you’d want to set up a protocol so that everyone is on the same page about what tools mean what.

Combine this with a shared folder on Dropbox or some other similar tool, and it’s quite easy to use. When you fire up Scrivener you’ll get a notification if anything has changed in this folder, with the option to sync. After doing so, a list of everything that has changed will be assembled for you so you can audit the changes and compare them with Snapshots if necessary (which will show revision marking similar to Track Changes).

Give it a try on your system with the trial. Set up a simple sync folder and try opening up a few documents in Word and seeing how it works back and forth. For full details on some of the concepts here, see Synchronised Folders, §13.2 (pg. 107); and Chapter 16 (pg. 174), in the user manual.

Also, using Growl notifications with Dropbox will pop up a message if anything changes in the synced Dropbox folder, so if you’re in the middle of working and your collaborator updates, you can get a notification of it right away. I’ve been loving that with my collaborative work. You’ll probably want to set up a system so that you and your collaborator are not working on the same document at the same time, thus making it less likely you’ll have to go through and merge changes manually, but if you’re mildly obsessive about it like me, it’s nice to get the notice right away when the update happens so you don’t have to putter around clicking “sync” all the time just to see. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the fast reply!

I just gave this a quick try and I can see the workflow you mean. However, I think it would be annoying for my collaborators to see the document split up into all the subsections.

I guess this is the problem with the adoption of new tools, we always have to figure out a way of integrating with those that are stuck in their old ways. I think I need some kind of solution that puts the file back together for my collaborators to work on. It should be, in theory, invisible to them that I am not using Word.

Any other ideas?


By the way, the solution you propose is actually pretty amazing. I can see myself using it with other Scrivener users or with those who are less change-averse.


You could always merge the documents in Scrivener before exporting, then hack it back up again when you bring it back in. It’d be a little more work on your part, but if you use section headings to flag where you want to split it in Scrivener, you should be able to move through relatively quickly and chunk it up again using the “Split with Selection as Title” command (as a keyboard shortcut, this would be relatively quick). The main problem with this (off the top of my head) is that you’d lose the specificity of synopses and document notes–that is, they’d get merged, so it’d be less convenient for you. Likewise your snapshots from the sync would be of the entire merged document, although that’s not the end of the world or anything.

You might want to make a duplicate of your draft folder before you sync, then merge the documents in one and sync that merged document. When you get it back, you’ll be able to use your duplicated folder as a basis for the structure–possibly unnecessary (and it’s possible also your collaborators will have changed this around so it’s no longer quite right), but if you do a lot of levels in your binder hierarchy, this might help to arrange everything again quickly. Conceivably, rather than splitting the revised single document into chunks, you might just want to use split screen to copy/paste sections from there into the corresponding documents in your duplicated Draft folder. That way you’d maintain the proper notes and synopses as well.

Another alternative, if you are drafting the initial paper, is to write the paper in Scrivener, export it to Word and then go through the editing process with your collaborators in Word using the normal track changes method. That is, use Scrivener for (one of) it’s main strength(s), writing the first draft, and Word for it’s main strength, ubiquity (although Word is also an OK solution for collaboration).

You do know that rtf is one of the formats that Word uses right? Word opens and saves in rft with no issues. HIde the extension and they’ll never know…


If the document is divided up into 15 sections and subsections, with folders, then it wont be so invisible. Unless you have a tool that lets you look at all your folders/parts together (such as Scrivener), it would be annoying for a Word user to have to open each subsection as its own document.

Isn’t that what many Word users do anyway, for long documents? I see a lot of people who’s primary complaint with Word is that it’s not very good for book length documents, so you have to be shuffling all of these smaller section files around.

I’m not saying it’s okay to encourage them, they should be using Scrivener :slight_smile: but at the very least it might be an annoyance they are already accustomed to.

Ha. Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’m looking for a way out. But my primary use-case are academic papers around 30 pages, not exactly the ones that Word users are tempted to split. I suppose I could deal with having them the whole paper in one single section in Scrivener, but then I’d miss out on the main reason I want to use it.

I’ve written dozens of scientific papers in Scrivener. I have each section broken up in Scrivener and then export it as an rft. They tweedle it and send it back and I reimport. It is now easier with the way comments have improved from 1.54. See the above posts on how that works.

(Note that my papers make heavy use of complex formulae and that is an added step. However, I still use Scrivener all the way up to the final upload to the journal site as most require Word.)


alright, I am convinced to give it a go for my next paper. One last question. Is it possible to have Scrivener use Heading levels when compiling to Word? And then do the inverse by automatically splitting (based on Heading levels) when importing from Word? This seems like it would resolve my situation and it seems feasible to do with minimal effort.

Unfortunately no. While stylesheets are something that can be conveyed with RTF, Scrivener’s engine doesn’t support them, and adding them would be quite a lot of work. I believe it is still on the long term list of things to look in to, but this is the list of things that would likely require an engine rewrite, moving away from Apple’s provided kit—a rather large step to take as you can no doubt imagine.

What about from HTML? I can see going from Word -> HTML -> Scrivener. Word’s HTML save must use

I’ll stop asking soon. I’m using Scrivener to write a short piece right now and I’m loving full screen mode! I’m probably going to be willing to make the effort to split documents manually because of all the other benefits.

It somewhat depends on the nature of the collaboration.

I do a lot of ghostwriting: I interview the client, write a first draft (in Scrivener), and export to an RTF file which I send to the client. The client sends back a marked up Word draft, and often provides additional feedback, additional research materials, or whatever. I pull all of that into Scrivener, slice and dice as needed – the ability to move small chunks around is invaluable when the client wants to change the outline – and create a clean second draft, which I send back out to RTF.

The key in this workflow is that revision history doesn’t matter. The client doesn’t need to see how something looked in the first draft, or what their specific comment was, just what it looks like now. All the behind the scenes work is irrelevant, so I can use whatever tool I like.

At the point where we get down to line by line revisions, staying in Word and using its track changes feature makes a lot of sense. But by that time, the overall structure is set, so Scrivener is much less necessary. Also by that time, details of layout and figures and all the other things that Word is good at start to matter more.