Meta-Question on Usage (Academics)


Abstract: I like Scrivener, but can’t get my head around quite how to use it. Also, as I sync out to Dropbox and a SVN repository, Scrivener didn’t seem to be a good fit for me at last examination. The text below deals with the following topics:

  • Using Scrivener with Dropbox.
  • Using Scrivener with CVS systems.
  • Using LaTeX-like references within Multi-Markdown.
  • Inserting references/citations in a .scriv document, and converting this into a bibliography.

First, I tried Scrivener on my Apple iBook G4 a few years ago. I thought I had purchased it, but apparently not (that was Mellel). The take-home point here: I really, really want to like this software. I like the guiding theory, I like the interface, I like many things that are novel and/or “just done right.”

Second, I found last time I looked at Scrivener that it didn’t seem to work with Dropbox or CVS systems very well. I believe it was because I ended up with a folder rather than a single file, as I would with LaTeX (document.tex) or a simple word processing program (document.doc, document.mel, document.docx).

My scenario is this: I’m an academic looking to work entirely within the electronic domain. I do cross- and inter-disciplinary work and connect disparate fields–a fancy way of saying, “my stuff comes from all over the place.” Scrivener appeals to me–really, really appeals to me–in that it offers a virtual “note-book” as well as a cork board. Brilliant! But, not so fast…

I’ve recently been mucking about with LaTeX. I REALLY enjoy being able to drop citations into a TeX document and saying, “give me APA” or “give me IEEE” and so forth. I ask, BAM, it formats. I don’t like to think about fonts, spacing, and so forth while I’m writing, as these will be typeset by the publisher anyway. I have read on this forum many posts about MultiMarkdown, which Scrivener seems to use internally. I’m still not sure what the final conclusion was on the, “see figure {ref:figure-one} on page {ref:figure-one-page-number}” conversation, but it is my conclusion that Scrivener does not support this … yet.

This itself is not a deal-breaker for me. Although it is a really, really big time- and labor-saver, it’s not a deal-breaker.

Not being able to sync and version-control via atomic files, however, will probably sink the Scrivener ship for me.

Philosophically, I am having trouble getting my head around just what Scrivener DOES for me. It’s not quite a word-processor (Word, Mellel), not quite a pre-processor (LaTeX), not really a reference manager (EndNote, ProCite, Mellel, Zotero, etc.) … I am certain that it would make some things easier for me, but I just don’t quite see how it fits in to my current needs.

Any advice or words from those who use Scrivener–ideally in academic manuscript creation–would be appreciated. Again, please understand: I like the software, but just can’t seem to figure out how to integrate it into my workflow or how to change my workflow to better suit it.

Please, help me understand!

If you need to get your material in the right order, Scrivener is the only thing to use. If you write bits of text as the ideas come to you, and need to rearrange them later, Scrivener is the only thing to use. If you just write everything from beginning to end without ever turning back, or moving a paragraph from one place to another, or if the structure of what you write is not important, then perhaps you don’t need Scrivener. It doesn’t suit everyone.

I research and write in psychology and history, and my material also comes “from all over the place”. Like many others who haunt these forums, I use Devonthink Pro Office for storing all my research material, Sente for bibliography (I used to use Bookends, but have recently switched, partly because there are some useful scripts for integrating DT Pro, Sente and Scrivener), and I write in Scrivener. Afterwards, I format in Nisus Writer Pro.

I start writing by placing every thought on a different line with a carriage return between each line. I keep almost every paragraph in a separate document – the title of the document tells me what the subject of the paragraph is supposed to be, so if I stray off the point I either have to move material (easy in Scrivener), change the title of the paragraph, or shoot myself. I’m obsessive about getting a proper flow, and Scrivener is central to achieving that – for me. It’s a system that probably works best for people who don’t have to do much (any?) collaborative work, and don’t have complicated formatting to deal with.

Play with it – it may work for you, or it may not.


Ah, yes, collaboration.

As my formal field (psychology) does not use LaTeX, trying to do electronic collaboration with colleagues is killing me.

I certainly don’t write everything, in order, in the one shot (my M.Sc. thesis aside), and your mention of this made me think of another feature that I thought was really good in Scrivener: snapshots.

Is this feature useful, or do you find that hacking away at individual paragraphs is a better/more intuitive paradigm?

Personally, I’ve never used snapshots, but that may just be because of the way I write. I tend to have a paragraph, or a folder, labelled “Junk” and if I cut something out, but don’t want to throw it away in case it might be useful, I paste it under “Junk”. Sometimes I go back and recycle phrases or sentences from there. In other words, for me, writing tends to be a very slow, sentence-by-sentence process of laborious construction, in which I worry about the order in which I’m presenting the ideas, and whether that needs to be changed to assist comprehension, or to develop an argument properly, and I try to get a proper rhythm and flow – I used to teach English literature, and I regard the music of the language as being extremely important. Others won’t necessarily be troubled by these things – as one can tell from trying to read what they have written. But if one is interested in the craft of writing – as many of the people who use Scrivener clearly are – then Scrivener’s tools are very useful.

MMD, by the way, is merely a system of using codes in the text – like this – instead of using this.


Another academic user here. I couldn’t imagine writing without Scrivener now. For me it is all about the words or, more precisely, using words to express ideas and concepts. Binder outline serves a visual reminder of the context of the current document (which for me, like Martin, is often at paragraph level). I often find myself splitting up text into smaller documents and then moving parts of them around as I realise that idea I was working on belongs elsewhere. The highly value the sequence of ideas and, like Martin, I value the music of language. Sadly, I do not have his expertise, and am not nearly as talented as he is, but I aim for it and Scrivener helps.

I have never used LaTex (and have no desire to start) so I can’t address that. Nor have I used Scrivener with Dropbox - the only computer I use is my own laptop. I do sometimes create text on my iPhone, in these instances I sync the text with Scrivener using Simplenote.

I don’t use CVS systems (seems overkill for what I do) but I do use Scrivener’s revision mode (for marking new text) and Snapshots for text I want to keep a record of just in case. For me, the coloured revisions text works really well as it lets me see the modifications overtime when I want to, or I can just ignore the colours and focus on the text itself.

Collaboration is trickier, but can be done by compiling to Word and then re-importing the subsequently edited text. I’d rather have a collaborator use Scrivener, but despite encouraging several colleagues to use Scriv, I have yet to write anything with them.

Other benefits of Scrivener are things like Scrivenings mode (selecting any documents to see in the editor and work with them as if they were a contiguous whole); split screens; full screen mode; daily word counts and targets; …the list goes on.

Oh I forgot to mention that I had no problem using EndNote with Scrivener.

Ah, word counts and targets! I’d forgotten about these features.

It may be time for me to look at the trial version and see if I could at least get documents out of it in LaTeX, for final typesetting.

Insofar as collaboration, my experience is the same as yours: Word seems to the standard when electronic documents are swapped.

Martin: your system of preserving writing that, while not immediately useful, may become useful in the document sounds like a very good one. It actually is a better tip about writing than I received all through my formal schooling.

And done so well (watching the bar grow and change colour is a great reinforcer) it almost justifies the purchase cost on its own. :smiley:

I meant to mention that one too. I do something similar, but also I mark entire passages (i.e. documents which, as mentioned earlier, can be as short as a paragraph) with a “delete” tag and then set my compile to ignore them). I then keep them in place until I am certain I want them gone. In the meantime, using “Open with compilable sub-documents” in Scrivenings mode, I don’t need to see them at all even though they are still there, waiting if needed.

I don’t use Collections, so I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface.

There is a whole section of this forum on how to use Scrivener with MMD and LaTeX. You may want to look into it

I thank you, but you do me too much honour, and yourself a disservice! I spend much of my time stumbling in the dark and tripping over small obstacles.

Best, Martin.

Sorry, I meant to say “thank you” but got diverted. I hope it does prove useful. It comes out of bitter experience! (And from a time before there was Scrivener, and snapshots.)

Cheers, Martin.

So do I, but I bang into the big ones too*. :unamused:
I struggle to remember the difference between a verb and an adjective, let alone a preposition or pronoun and predicated subjects make me think of monarchies gone wrong. I wish I knew more about the mechanics of good writing; my writing suffers from my ignorance. Hence, when I say I aim for your level of expertise, I am genuine.

[size=75]*Sadly, this is literally as well as figuratively true. One of my wife’s funniest moments was me almost knocking myself out by walking into closed passageway door at night. I had closed the door.[/size]

There’s a name for that disorder.

Isn’t it called marriage?