Need advice on beginning non-fiction project

I have never used Scrivener before, but it feels pretty intuitive. I have a question though, as I feel the beginning of a project can be crucial in setting it up the right way.

I’m working on a book right now, a non-fiction informative book about a specific subject with several chapters of history in the first part before getting into the main topic.

I have all of the information outlined, with just several extra chapters that I need to decide on their placement in the narrative and little bits of information here and there.

What is the best way in your opinion to start this project in Scrivener? Should I use the cork board and just throw everything up in the order I feel it will go at this time? Is that efficient and will it be easy to organize this way, or will it get confusing? Is there another feature that would be more helpful? What advice can someone share with me?

thank you all!

When you first launch Scrivener, open the interactive tutorial and learn the app at your own pace.

I can’t say that’s the best advice, but it’s what I did when I first downloaded the trial. Heck, I’m still learning about the app and I’ve had it for almost 2 years now.

If your outline corresponds to chapters or sub-section, I’d suggest making one entry per item in your outline, indented the same way you did in the original outline. The corkboard only shows one level deep of such an outline however; Select the Draft folder, and you’ll only see the level one entries (corresponding to I and II and III and IV in a typical outline). If you select the third (III) entry, you’ll only see the A, B, C, D, etc… entries on the cork board view. The outline view, or even just the binder, will let you see the whole outline at once, expanding or collapsing various sections of it as you see fit.

Scrivener is a helpful tool when trying to figure out how to plan a fictional story, where you have a natural narrative path to follow. With non-fiction, you lose the constraint and therefore safety net that this normal path provides, and Scrivener really comes into a league of its own.

Now, giving advice on how to approach a field as broad as ‘non-fiction’ without anything further to drive or recommend an approach would be the act of genius or supreme arrogance. So naturally I gave it a go.

The post linked to below outlines the basic process I go through when structuring non-fiction (be it an article, a letter, a report, or a strategic argument). Depending on your chosen subject and audience this may or may not be helpful, but have a read. Work your way down steps. Put folders and documents in your binder that reflect the questions and points you raise, and use the outliner / cork board (whatever you prefer) to play with the order until you have a structure that is as polished and convincing as you can make it.

Then just go back an fill in the blanks with research and prose. … n-fiction/

1 Like

I break each source interview/article into component bits, one fact each, and keep those in the Research folder.
Then I set up an outline in the Draft section (mine is mostly chronological, but that depends on the project), and, using a split view, paste the appropriate facts into the document notes section of the appropriate outline point.
When all the research info has been transferred to the appropriate outline points, I go to No split, and then write up the actual text for that outline point using what’s in each document note displayed next to it.
There’s probably an easier or more efficient way, and if so, I’d love to hear it! Let us know what workflow you settle on, and good luck!

1 Like

You could probably skip the pasting into document notes step, and just write with the text in one split and the note in the other. If you have more than one note relevant to a particular section, you can use Scrivenings mode to show all of them at once. (Tag with keywords or use Scrivener Links so that you can find the appropriate notes when needed.)

You could also duplicate your notes files, and drag the copies directly to the appropriate parts of the outline. (I’d use duplicates so that the originals are still there if you need them.)


Your best friend is the Cmd-Option-K tool,
to break up long Word or Text files into re-arrangeable bits.
I always start at the bottom of the file and work up to the top.
Place the cursor where you want to create a chunk.
Select a few words, which will become the title
Or type in a few and select them
Do the C-O-K, et voila, you have a labeled bit in the Outliner.
These you may collect (shift-select) and drag into an item
That serves as a heading or sub-heading in your project.
It’s important to remember than non-text files
Like pdf, mov, etc should remain in the Research folder.

Since someone just liked an old post of mine above and the link is now defunct ( has undergone a hugely expensive creative redesign since then), here is what you would have read if you’d been here 9 years ago:


Structuring non-fiction

You often hear people say of fiction writing that you should be true to yourself. I think that’s good advice. Generally speaking it’s easier to write what you’d like to read. However, when you are dealing with non-fiction I think this is the wrong approach to take. With non-fiction the audience is king, and taking that approach can completely change the tone and possibly even the subject of your book.

How you write and structure your book will vary depending on your audience. For example, if you are writing for academics (a text book, a thesis, etc) then you will need to have a very different approach. Academic works have a much higher ‘burden of proof’ whereby you essentially have to establish that it is not currently possible to disprove your writing. As such, your writing needs to cover all bases, and your research needs be all encompassing. Frankly, the writing style is less important than the research as the people reading your work will most likely have no choice but to wade through it and will be interested in the minutiae anyway.

But why saddle yourself with the same burden of proof if you’re not looking at writing an academic essay, but instead something like a magazine article or a self-help book? You have a different burden of proof: You just need to be plausible. You need to make your point and get out of there as soon as possible.

The approach I tend to use is outlined below.

(1) Decide what your objective is. What is the ONE thing you want people to do / do differently as a result of reading your book? Phrase it along the lines of: “I want to convince the reader to stop eating meat.” Don’t have any “ands” or other conjunctions in there. Distill it to a single thing.

(2) Go back to step one and check that this is really what you want. If the reader did EXACTLY what you asked for would you be happy? If not, revisit.

(3) Work out what YOUR AUDIENCE (not you and your buddies, but your audience) would need to believe in order to do what you want. What questions would they like answered? Keep this in bullet point form now. Eg,
~ eating meat is bad for you
~ eating no meat is tasty
~ eating no meat is cheaper
~ it is easy to eat no meat: No meat is everywhere

Each bullet must pass the “so what?” test, and must be essential to convincing your audience. If it isn’t, delete it.
For example, in the above list, “eating animals is wrong” isn’t in there. For the intended audience (meat eaters) this argument does not pass the “so what?” test.

This is what I meant earlier by “getting out of there as soon as possible”. Everything you include that doesn’t pass the “so what?” test dilutes and therefore weakens your ultimate message. I’m not saying you have to make your book as short as possible; I’m just saying make it as relevant as possible.

(4) Work out how important each of these points are to THE AUDIENCE. Put them in the order of most important first. This might take them out of what you view as the logical ‘story telling’ order. This doesn’t matter. It’s non fiction, you don’t need to hide twists in the plot. What is important is keeping your audience reading until the end, and that means answering the first question they would ask first.

For example, there is no point leading the above off with a great recipe for spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Carnivores know that chicken tastes good, so won’t care that other things also taste good until they have a reason to think maybe they shouldn’t eat chicken. This is the realisation that can change the complete tone of your book. In our example the book we are writing to stop people eating meat becomes written as a book on how to lose weight and be healthy.

(5) For each bullet point, start to populate the evidence, facts and arguments that make your point. Note, I’ve not done ANY research until this point. Now, I’m only going to do the research that makes my case. I’m not writing an academic paper. I don’t need to show a balanced view, or explore every single piece of human knowledge on the subject; I just need to convince the reader. Eg,

a- eating meat is killing you (dramatic increase in rates of high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer)
b- eating meat makes you fat (contains ‘bad’ fats, low sugar content means the body can’t convert calories easily so stores them as… fat)
c- eating meat makes you unattractive (causes appearance to age faster, also smellier and (see b: fatter)
d- eating meat makes you miserable (can’t process efficiently so causes toxin build up, impacting production of serotonins. Food intolerances can make you bloated and uncomfortable)

(6) For each of those, write your prose. Back it up with research. Quote other people. Make a convincing and compelling argument.

As I said, this won’t work for an academic audience, and may not be appropriate for the piece you are writing. Fiction might be about the story you want to tell, but often times non-fiction is about what the audience needs to hear.

Oh, and I’ve made everything up in the above post about meat. In fact, I was munching on a chicken sandwich while writing this post.


That “supreme arrogant genius” line—that’s funny.

So I’ve read thru your other comments and I’ve read the tutorial and I’m worried b/c my non-fiction Memoir project on my Grandmother’s life is all about research material. I want to rely on my jpg pic of an 1880 Census or a screenshot of a newsclip to guide my storyline. I have saved eminent domain descriptions of life as an indentured servant etc.

From everything I’ve read so far only Word processed work goes in the binder! Pics, pdf, jpegs all go into research where they have to stay, correct?

If this is so I’ll be so disappointed as Scrivener won’t work for me.
Thanks for any genius replies.

Not correct. People incorporate images into their text all the time.

Read the section on working with images in the manual. It discusses linked vs. embedded images, and how to deal with large image files without making your project explode.

1 Like