Metadata: use and benefits

I’ve read a lot about metadata, and how to create it, including custom metadata. However, none of the tutorials / help files I’ve seen gives examples of how a project might benefit from metadata; how the writer might be able to apply data, and how they then extract the data in a way that improves / eases their writing task. Are there any links that examine the use and benefits of metadata rather than just the mechanics of setting it up?


“Metadata” is a general term, while the benefits are specific.

In non-fiction, I use keywords to track notes back to the original source. In fiction, I use Labels to track character arcs. Some people use custom metadata to build a timeline, either fictional or not; or keywords to track the appearance of places, objects, or characters. The Status field is an obvious way to keep track of the status of individual sections. And so on.

Our webinars have some examples of uses for metadata, but really it’s going to be very specific to the writer and the project.

Well, I usually create a Story Grid using the Outliner View Mode. Vertically are all my Chapters and Scenes, but horizontally I can select colums from Metadata. This means I can keep track of anything I want in a Project, like Story beats, Character arcs, Plot twists, Props. That is apart from the standard metadata like Word Count, Targets, and Progress.

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Thank you so much: useful to know of those webinars. I’ve just watched the “four fundamentals” compile one.

So, essentially, the ability to extract data exists in the spreadsheet type view of the Outliner? Presumably, there’s no way to extract specific data by asking questions and getting answers the way you might, for example, by way of a query in a database?? I imagine you can filter the information shown in the Outliner so you only see items that relate to a particular piece of metadata.

It is likely that I will use a lot of metadata, but I don’t want to load the project up, and then discover that I have added more than Scrivener can adequately report on. If I can get a feel for the limits of metadata use, then I can decide whether to use this aspect of Scrivener, or whether to use an Access database to hold and report on the data.

Scrivener is neither a database nor a spreadsheet. You can use metadata to locate items via the project search, but it doesn’t really have “reporting” or “calculation” features in the same way that those tools do.

If you could describe what you’re trying to do in more detail, we’d be more able to help you decide whether Scrivener is the right tool. You might also want to have a look at the trial version and set up a small test project. You can download the trial here: Download Scrivener | Literature & Latte

Yes, a rather hidden feature is to Search and Filter items in the Corkboard and Outliner View Modes (Ctrl/Cmd+F) to show only those Binder items that match the criteria. If I’m not mistaken, Custom Metadata is part if the Filter criteria. Certainly standard metadata like Label and State are valid criteria.

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I actually bought the program a few weeks ago, but currently spend much of my time trying to work out how best to use it, rather than writing :frowning:

I put a current project into it, but discovered that there were certain deficiencies in the compile aspect (for my project) that meant I had to export to Word, and finalize the draft there. In fact, for the time being, I’m not going to spend any more time trying to troubleshoot Compile, preferring to use a program that gives me exactly what I want. I’m not a great believer in altering work to suit software.

As for metadata, I think my only option is to dive in and see whether my use of metadata assists or overwhelms.

Oh no! That’s not an uncommon first mistake: basically importing a finished manuscript only to export it straight back out, and wiping out tons of formatting you may have, as Scrivener is way more limited than just about any word processor. I like to think of it more as a staging tool for saving yourself as much manual labour as possible when going on to formatting. For example, its settings for handling first-line indent suppression at the beginning of a section (or even following empty line section breaks or non-para elements like block quotes) is the kind of thing that could take many hours of manual labour in Word, but it’s a few checkboxes in Scrivener.

But yes, for the next project, where you’re starting with an empty white rectangle and a blinking cursor: that’s more where Scrivener is meant to shine. :slight_smile:

As for metadata, my advice is pretty much what you concluded. Go over the basic descriptions of what they can do for you in the user manual, in §10.4. I do try to provide a few use case examples here and there, but the focus is on each of their strengths and weaknesses, so you can figure out what will work best for what particular aspect of your work you find yourself finding difficult to see past the outline list.

Some may defy the defaults: for instance I strongly prefer using the Label field as my status indicator, because I can colour-code icons and other elements throughout the software, and thus at a glance see how a particular section is developing, as it goes from red to orange to green. I use many more colours than that, for different states, like pink for a stub that has nothing written yet and may be discarded. Warning states for bad problems that need to be fixed, etc.

Then the “Status” ends up getting renamed and used more topically, usually. It depends, sometimes I don’t use the status dropdown at all.

Sometimes these uses will even change over the course of a project’s lifespan. In the early phases, colour coding status can be super beneficial for me, but once everything goes green… maybe not so much. At that point I might transition to deleting all of those early stub-rough-revised-final draft type markers, and use them for other special conditions.

At any rate, the key is to use what makes sense to you at the time, and only if you find yourself struggling to get a good grasp on some aspect of your work. That’s my opinion anyway—I think there can be a tendency to going over the top with classification metadata, anticipating what you’ll need and spending hours on it, but in the end you never end up using any of it.

And when you think of a practical use-case, search the forum! Lots, and lots of threads have been created over the years, for how to track this or that thing, which then turn into discussions on metadata. You’ll find fewer results just hunting for topic titles on how to use metadata, because most people come in here asking “How can I keep track of the chronology of events…”, not yet knowing how to form that capability into the jargon of the software.

:slight_smile: However, Amber, it was an excellent way of getting to grips with the program so I don’t feel that it’s been time wasted.

I shall re-read the metadata section in the manual: thanks for the section reference.

going over the top with classification metadata,

I’m beginning to realize that, not least because the sort of tracking I was thinking of is going to be far too complicated for Scrivener. So, I shall be like Picasso, and burst through the ever-more-complex ceiling, and achieve simplicity!!

I really appreciate your help and advice.


I’ve created some notes after reading the manual. However, the website software (according to the preview) is resolute in removing a lot of the indentation so the notes are more difficult to read than they should be. Use the numbering as the guide:

  1. Scrivener metadata (data can be exported, imported and printed)

  2. Title
    a. Appears ubiquitously

  3. Synopsis
    a. Appears in:
    i. Corkboard: used to display the content area of the card
    ii. Outliner: placed beneath the Title
    iii. Inspector: sidebar’s notes tab, or synopsis split in Quick Reference panel

  4. Labels (change via Project Settings)
    a. Appears in:
    i. Corkboard
    ii. Outliner
    iii. Inspector (at bottom)
    iv. Quick Reference (at bottom)
    b. Can be colour-coded
    i. Corkboard shows coloured strip to le􀅌 of index card
    ii. Outliner label column
    iii. “View / Use label colour in…” for assignment to multiple areas of project window:
    iii.a. Binder
    iii.b. Icon
    iii.c. Index cards
    iii.d. Outliner rows
    iii.e. Scrivenings titles
    iv. Colour will print in Outlines or Corkboards if required

  5. Status (change via Project Settngs)
    a. Appears in:
    i. Corkboard
    i.a. Can appear as optional stamp across face of card
    ii. Outliner (default column)
    iii. Inspector (at bottom)
    iv. Quick Reference (at bottom)
    b. Can’t be colour-coded
    c. Can identify untitled snapshots

  6. Keywords
    a. Way of tagging items
    b. Non-exclusive: unlike Labels, which can only be used once in a document, multiple keywords can be applied to documents.
    c. Appears in:
    i. Corkboard as coloured strips to right of index cards
    ii. Outliner column, listed by name with a sub-option of coloured squares
    iii. Keywords pane of Metadata Inspector tab (editable)
    d. Organize keywords via Project Keywords panel
    i. Can rename keywords globally
    ii. Can change keyword colour globally
    iii. Add and remove keywords to selected (one or more) documents
    iv. Delete keywords globally
    v. Globally search by selected keyword
    vi. Can drag and drop keywords into other projects

  7. Custom
    a. Types
    i. Text
    i.a. Dedicated column in Outliner
    ii. Checkbox (Yes/No)
    ii.a. Dedicated column in Outliner???
    iii. List
    iii.a. Create as many as you like
    iii.b. Employed much like Status
    iv. Date
    iv.a. Track progress or deadlines

  8. Global (or partial) assignment
    a. Keywords: use Keywords Panel
    b. List types (Section, Label, Status, Custom): use Binder sidebar,
    c. Corkboard, or Outliner
    d. Checkboxes: use Outliner
    e. Freeform text fields and dates cannot be globally changed


@AnthonyMarrian THIS is the type of list of attributes I’ve been searching for! Thank you for sharing!

@kewms Brilliant! I will be adding this to my repertoire! I’ve been puzzling over a good alternative for ages! Thank you!

Very Nicely done Anthony
I would add Bookmarks even though not strictly Metadata they provide a way to quickly link important information across the project (Project Bookmarks) or be tied to a particular file like a scene. (Document Bookmarks)
For example a Scene occurring in New York City with John where he visits Tina, could have bookmarks to my location file on New York City, and Character bookmarks to both Tina and John. I could add a bookmark to previous scene the POV was in, a scene containing a flashback he had relative to this scene.
So though not Metadata, Bookmarks can tie key information to a particular scene/file to be add your fingertips.
(And contain links to particular worldbuilding information you might need as well.)
Or Bookmark files containing links to all your character, location, worldbuilding, or editing resources

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Thank you GoalieDad. Good tip.