multi-criteria filtering/researching


I post this here on the advice of Katherine from the support team.

Actually, I’m looking for an app which could do something special for me, and (as usual!) every app I see can do a part of it, but none seems to be able to do all of it. Yet it seems rather simple to me…

I’m a screenwriter, and for some years now, I have been noting ideas on a simple Word document. Just a list.
In fact, I use three documents : for “stories ideas”, for “situations ideas” and for “images ideas”.
But they are so linear and non-labelled that of course I never looked at these three lists when I was searching for ideas.

Some weeks ago I realized how silly it is to have all these ideas and never use them.
So I thought about it and came to this conclusion : what I need is to create one single list with all the ideas (because some ideas can be “stories ideas” and “situations ideas” at the same time) and to be able to filter them according to criterias like type (“stories ideas” or “images ideas”, etc.), themes, for example (comedy ideas, drama ideas, whatever) or some more precise elements (if the word “subway” is present in the text of the idea, etc.).

Scrivener is great for the possibility of reading a list as a whole or as an addition of little parts.
Scrivener is great for the possibility of dividing a text in little parts when importing it (by chance I put a dash before every ideain my list).
Scrivener is great for the presentation of the searching list (like in a blog when you can click and have all the entries which have one keyword).

But my problem is : as a writer (and I think it could be useful for every writer), with Scrivener, I can’t (for the moment) filter a list of ideas to find the useful ones in a flexible way like :
I need an idea for a situation I’m looking for.
I need an idea for a funny situation.
I need an idea for a funny situation which takes place in the subway (because the character is in the subway at this point of the story).
This is a simple example, the need can be more complex…

To be honest, I’ve used Journler to keep a diary (I discovered it years before Scrivener). The filter function of Journler is I think exactly what I would need (it’s like searching in the mac finder) but you have to create a new entry each time you have a new idea (and can’t divide an existing list in little parts), and all the entries are contented in the “diary database” like all the photos are contented in iPhoto’s library. And I don’t want my ideas to be mixed up with my diary entries, or the entries of another file…

I had a look on Tinderbox and DevonThink, but it seems far too complicated for me and my needs.
If somebody have an idea of an app that match my need, I would be grateful!

There’s an e-book for Devonthink by the rather clunky title of “Taking Control of Getting started with Devonthink”, which ironed out the learning curve on that tool. I’ve used it for a while now, and it really seems like the tool for you, in that it has the complex searching capabilities you want. It’s like Scrivener in that there are lots of features you can ignore if they don’t apply to your needs, so don’t be intimidated by that.

There are other organizational programs that might also work for you (Bento Box is one I’ve heard good things about), but I haven’t had a lot of experience outside of DT.

If you need to use a tool that doesn’t automatically divide your lists, may I suggest you import & split using Scrivener, and then use the Export function to output your ideas as individual files? That’ll save you a lot of time getting your ideas into whatever tool you want, I’m sure.

Contrarily, I vote for Tinderbox (which unlike DT has an “explode” feature). There’s a lot about Tinderbox, including how to use it simply, on Steve Zeoli’s website here;

BTW, this probably best belongs in “Software by Other Folk”.

Since it sounds like you look for stuff in an additive fashion (this + this + that), wouldn’t Keywords do what you are looking for here? A document with Funny + Subway + Idea in its keyword list could be found quickly by selecting these in the Project Keywords window and clicking the Search button. The binder filters the view to showing only those items matching the query, and from there you can use the main editor to view them, or view the filtered search results in a group view (corkboard etc) by clicking on its header name in the binder sidebar. What Scrivener currently has more trouble with are negations, but there are ways to structure your method of taxonomy which can avoid problems like this, such as selecting dichotomous keywords when you can. Day, Night, Male, Female and so on. So long as the semantic width of the keyword is not so vague as to be useless, you can accomplish quite a lot with a positive-only matching system. The other thing Scrivener’s searching system doesn’t currently handle is mixed Booleans. So things like (Funny AND Subway AND (Idea OR Anecdote)) aren’t yet possible in a single move. They are possible with two moves. Search for Keywords: “Idea Anecdote”, setting operator to Any Word. Select all items in the search result list, and search for “Funny Subway” setting operator to All Words and options to “Binder Selection Only”. If you use the Idea OR Anecdote a lot, you could save that step as a Saved Search Collection and skip the set-up phase next time.

As for other software, I’d vote more in the Tinderbox realm as well for this one. It’s designed around the concept of short notes, and revels in this sort of problem (it’s search query system can be used simply, but ramps all the way up to being a programming language; mixed Booleans with conditional negations and self-modifying usage analysis? No problem!). However it’s as you noted more of a power tool. You might be more comfortable in something like Twig. Twig has a more friendly face (not to mention price tag) and still has a lot of the “guts” that Tinderbox has in terms of query power, including its version of a “saved search”, the Agent.

Why not just make each “thought” a file? Set up three or four broad Topical folders, stick your thoughts in them as they occur. Starting a new file is as simple as clicking the +.

Or drop them into the Scratch Pad, always only a keystroke command away if Scrivener’s running, and then simply move the new files to the appropriate folders, or append to the appropriate file, as the organizational move strikes. I usually clear out my Scratch Pad weekly; on a typical week it accumulates several dozen ideas of varying degrees of usefulness (some I discard upon review, because unexpected brilliance tends not to age well).

Tag them with Keywords–funny, subway, whatever–and set up Collections with all those. And/or use Labels, which, like Keywords, can be user defined. Or use Rube-Goldbergian internal tags–as simple as typing Funny anywhere in the file, and relying on Project Find to boing up all instances throughout your massive and ever-growing project?

I think we spend too much time these days looking for the One True Program To Rule Them All, and not enough time figuring out what the programs we have can actually do. Scrivener, increasingly, does pretty much everything for me. Except math.

If you think of “files” as “index cards” and interface with them primarily on the corkboard, this is a very efficient way to capture and browse ideas. Keyword colour tags on the side really help; throw in the freeform capability and it’s a very natural way to work.

Wow… Thank you guys for your quick and precise answers (I’m actually a newbie in forums, and french… sorry for my english)!


  • I’ll have another look on DT, I didn’t think it would be possible to write a text and divide it into little parts… (but it’s still intimidating…)
  • Bento Box : is it possible to write a whole text and divide it? (because I would like that it would be possible to read the text as a whole or pick some ideas inside by filtering…)
  • Thanks for the tip about import-split-export, so smart…


  • I’ll have also a look on this site about “TB for the dummies”, thanks!
  • You’re right about the topic, I hadn’t seen “software by other folks”… but can I change this topic and put it this other forum?

Thanks for your suggestion, but I might need to search with criterias of different types : for example,

  • keyword : situations ideas
  • in the text : subway
    and a third kind of criteria…
    Besides, I tried to search “situations ideas” (keyword) and “subway” (in the text) in the two stemps you suggest, but then the result is not given in the form ofa research list, it’s less practical (hope I’m clear on this).
    But thanks again for having taken time for answering!
    And I’ll have a look on Twig…

I’m not familiar enough with Scrivener to know exactly what you mean, I will look at this closer and try your suggestion… thanks.
I agree about the Great Only One Program, but I just wanted to see if it exists on this, without changing the way my mind works!

Thanks for this other suggestion.
I don’t see for the moment how it works with words to find “in the text” (not familiar enough with Scrivener, etc.).

For the moment, it seems that there is no other obvious (and “simple”) app that would do what I need… Seems that I haven’t missed something obvious then…

To search in the text in Scrivener, change the search type to “Text” (though “All” will work as well, though that will pick up “subway” in anything). All of these search options are handled by clicking on the magnifying glass icon, by the way. I’m not sure what you mean by a research list. It should just update the search results list on the right—narrow it down basically from the original selection from the first search.

(I’ve moved the thread for you, to the software forum).

I use Simplenote to capture ideas like this as it uses tags. I use tags like ‘dialogue’, ‘observation’, ‘character’ etc. Also, it is cross-platform, so I can add things from my phone or iPad and then see them on my iMac when I’m at my desk, although I think you need a subscription for this.

The other thing is that if you do use Tinderbox to brainstorm and plan a project (which is what I use it for) then it can import any Simplenote notes with a particular tag, so you can add notes when away from your desk and tag them with a particular project.

Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have a look, but still intimated by TB.

Thanks for having moved the thread…

And thanks for the suggestion about the searching process!
I’m working on it, and begin to get used to it…
Maybe what I need is possible with Scrivener after all… I must try some more…