Index Card Type of Research Notes


I am new to Scrivener. I am planning to write an article-research paper, and the last time I did so was in graduate school 35 years ago. At that time, I would read through my reference material and take notes on index cards, including bibliographic information: author, journal, article name, page etc. I would then organize my research/index cards and from there develop my thesis and outline. I would like to replicate this process in Scrivener (in fact, this is why I purchased it), but after going through the Tutorial, am still at a loss…

It seems one can organize one’s information on “index cards” within the Scrivener “Draft”, but this seems to presuppose one knows where the article/paper will start, how it will proceed, and the goal toward which it leads. I wish to start instead with the basic research and then develop the outline/direction of the thesis. Is there an easy way to manage this in Scrivener, or would I be better off getting a specific “index card” program and using that as the media for my research?

Any thoughts you have would be most appreciated!

The part that you may have missed is that you can reorganize items in Scrivener’s Binder with almost complete flexibility. For example, lately I’ve been following this workflow:

  • Read source material. Take notes into a single Scrivener document, tagged with a keyword to indicate the source. (Smith2012, say).

  • Use the Document -> Split command to split that document into pieces – each of which will inherit the keyword – then use the auto-generate synopsis command to move the chunks to the “index card” portion of the document.

(If you want, you can just as easily put individual notes on individual cards as you go. I find this approach works best for me.)

  • Drag index cards around on the corkboard until I have something resembling an outline. Add my own thoughts and sort into folders as needed.

  • Write.


I use Scapple for that initial phase, having individual notes for all references, containing comments/conclusions and such. I copy the references with annotations from Papers3, which I use for both searching, reading and annotating research articles, using my 12" iPad Pro.

The advantage of Scapple is that the notes can be moved around completely independently, that connections (lines) can be drawn between connected studies, and that they can be arranged in groups of similar references, etc. So Scapple is perfect for analysing and structuring the subject. I also enter “comments” notes, i.e. my own comments, conclusions and hypotheses.

When I have finished that initial, analytical phase, then I move the relevant notes/references to the References part in Scrivener, and start writing. In Scrivener I have already set up the IMRAD structure required for research articles.

There’s no such assumption about knowing where to start. Examples may proceed in a fairly linear fashion, because teaching how to use Scrivener and coming up with new writing is probably too much to ask of a person doing such a demonstration. I sometimes start with a core (fiction) story idea, or a nifty action scene, and start brainstorming on the cork board, which ends up with a lot of random scenes, some of which follow on from a previous card, some which have no obvious connection with anything else. I then sort through what I’ve created, fill in some gaps, throw out dumb ideas, edit, etc…, until I have a decent outline. Then I follow that outline for a chapter or two and everything goes off the rails. :unamused:

There’s no reason that non-fiction writing can’t follow a similar pattern, mixing in research findings and hypothetical conclusions & notes for further investigation until your final outline emerges.

Also, in addition to being able to rearrange index cards in the cork board view, you can view any folder, not just the “Draft” folder, in cork board mode. So start in the Research folder, or create your own folder/subfolder for your research. Then enter cork board mode (if it’s not there already) and start creating index cards for your research findings.

Well, actually there is, at least if you talk about research, which the initial question was about.

Scientific writing follows a very strict outline – the IMRaD structure. Introduction, Material and methods, Results and Discussion. That’s why I’ve chosen to use Scapple instead. In there I can play around with my outline for the Introduction, without messing up everything else. Once I have my Intro-outline acceptable I copy the major subparts to M&M, R and D, so that I follow the same logic in all sub-divisions of the manuscript.

The advantage with Scapple is that I can include all sorts of stuff that won’t actually be needed when I write my article, because it doesn’t fit the hypotheses/structure I finally decide to use.

The way I’m reading the OP’s post, it’s about organizing research on index cards, not trying to fit it into the structure of the final paper. I may have been a bit loosy-goosy in my fiction-writing example, but that’s why I chose to say it could be similar, and not precisely the same. :stuck_out_tongue:

… and that’s why I suggest a look at Scapple. Rumour has it that Scrivener and Scapple are connected, in some mysteriuos way… :stuck_out_tongue: