Index cards on the corkboard

I have been searching far and wide for software that would mimic the capabilities of physical index cards, i.e. the ability to retain each note as its own unit, and to lay them out in front of me for organization. I certainly thought I found this in Scrivener. I love the idea of the corkboard. I planned on taking notes on the index cards using RTF, then organizing them when need be.

As far as I can tell, this is impossible for a few reasons. First, RTF isn’t possible when editing the index card face. At this point I don’t even know if I can skip a line. It seems I’m restricted to left to right typing. (If I copy the text from the editor, it does retain the spacing, however) Also, anything I type in the editor can’t be seen on the face of the index card. This limits my ability to easily organize my notes.

So I guess my solution would be to type the note into the editor, then copy it to the index card face (losing the RTF, of course). Is this the only option?


Index cards in Scrivener show they synopses of associated documents; that is their whole point, and they don’t support text formatting as they are displayed in areas that don’t support such formatting. So, yes, RTF isn’t possible in synopses and they do indeed not show the text of the document.

The idea instead is that you make notes on the cards about what will go into the associated document, which you can then view alongside the document later as you come to write it up. (That said, there will be a preference in the next update that allows you to view the first lines of text from the associated documents on index cards if the index cards are blank, but this still does not allow you to enter text into the index cards that will appear in the documents.)

You can, however, enter multiple lines of text. You can either hold down Option while hitting return to go to the next line (a trick that works in all OS X controls) or you can deselect the “Return key ends editing in corkboard and outline” option in the Navigation pane of the Preferences).

As for your final question, yes, for now you would type into the editor and either copy the text into the index card or use Documents > Auto-Generate Synopsis (which you can apply to multiple selected documents at once), which will populate index cards with the few few lines of their associated documents.

Hope that helps.

All the best,

I would like to see the physical index cards capable of automatically transferring the words on them onto full-sized pieces of paper, unless you’re taking the “paste” of “copy & paste” back to it’s original, literal meaning. :stuck_out_tongue:

We do get spoiled by all that computers let us do, and what they are theoretically able to do, don’t we.

Wait, wait, wait! The main reason I was planning to try Scrivener was for the index cards feature. I wrote my first book from physical index cards. Each index card included a code (for the source), key words, and a quote. I would thumb through hundreds of cards, piling them, moving them, rearranging them, until I finally had an outline, a structure, and a path through my material. I was hoping that Scrivener would let me do this digitally, that I could compile hundreds of bits of stuff on cards and move them around, but this post indicates that the index cards are not actually to be used as index cards but as excerpts of longer documents. Please let me know: how and where could I find digital index cards that function as mobile research notes? Is there something in Scrivener that almost works that way?

Index cards in Scrivener do work as you describe. They aren’t forced excerpts of larger documents; they are to hold brief notes, which may have a document associated with them if you like. Typically, they’re used for writing a synopsis of the document (either what will be written in the doc or what has already been written), but there’s no rule it must be that. Some people just jot a couple short notes, others jot a relevant quote or two that it helps them to see there, etc. Usually you want to keep the index card text short, to maximise its visibility in different areas of the interface–you can resize cards on the corkboard and change their ratios, but of course the larger they are, the fewer you can see without scrolling; you can also view this text (which we’ll call the synopsis, regardless of what you choose to write there) in the inspector and in the outliner view. For longer notes on a given document, there’s a separate dedicated area of the inspector (wittily named “document notes”).

So in your scenario, you might for instance start out with the whole Draft folder displayed in corkboard mode and then just start creating index cards and filling them out with the quote, the code, etc. that you want on them. Color code them with labels if you like, at a status stamp if relevant, and rearrange their order until you’re happy. I will point out here that the corkboard doesn’t display hierarchies–like a normal corkboard, it’s a flat, two-dimensional surface, so you can normally only see one level at a time. You can drop cards onto another to demote them to subdocuments, and you’ll then see the dropped-on card as a stack of cards to indicate it has children, but you won’t see those children until you drill down to view that set of cards. This helps keep things tidy and allow you to get a good view of what you have in each tier; you can use the outliner to view all the same information (and more) while displaying multiple levels when you need that perspective. (It is also possible to “flatten” the hierarchy and view all the cards and their children together on the corkboard, if you do want that sort of birds-eye glance; you just can’t move the cards in this view, since it can’t map to the hierarchical structure.)

Once you’re happy with all the shuffling and structuring of the cards and want to start writing (and this of course may be a back and forth process), you can switch to viewing the document associated with the card, so instead of writing on the index card, you’re writing in the regular text editor, just like you’d expect when sitting down to a word processor. This is the piece of paper that’s clipped to the index card: the text on the card in this scenario is what you created in the outline stage so you know what you’re supposed to be writing on that paper. In Scrivener, you can view the index card alongside the editor while you’re writing, just like you’d refer to your physical index cards; you can also split the editor and view a whole group of cards together while writing, for instance if you want to see the cards for the larger section of which your current item is just a small piece. Since the index cards and documents are linked, represented by just a single entry in the binder, if you move your cards around again later on the corkboard, that simultaneously moves the document associated with it. If you decide that point C really should be moved up to become point A, making this change in your outline simultaneously makes it in your manuscript, moving the document text tied to that card before the text of what used to be A. (The idea behind Scrivener is that you write your manuscript in small chunks–how small is up to you and the needs of the project. Some academic writers go down to paragraph level or even smaller, which allows the synopsis you type on the index card to be highly specific and gives authors a lot of control when they arrange and rearrange and rearrange their arguments. For other users, one card might represent an entire scene, or even an entire chapter.)

However, you don’t have to make this bunch of cards your live outline. There’s nothing that says you can’t create a bunch of cards in a folder in the project and only ever use them as cards (with no associated document text, just the text on the cards) and then build your actual manuscript separately, just referencing the cards as you like. They don’t have to be a synopsis of a document; they can be any short notes that are convenient to write on a card. I find the corkboard and outliner views a great place for just dumping ideas (it helps me to keep them short and to the point and to break up my thoughts and reasoning into segments, which makes it much easier to do anything with them six months later). Sometimes I flesh out the idea in the document; sometimes they just stay as that “synopsis” text.

I suggest downloading the trial and just playing with it some yourself so you can get a better idea of the flexibility. If you go through the interactive tutorial, you’ll be able to get a feel for the basics of how the differet pieces work and common usage, and then you can muck around to see what might work for you.


I will try out Scrivener and return with more questions after I’ve tried it.