Organizing Research Notes in Scrivener

I am writing a historical novel, set during the Civil War, which is requiring a prodigious amount of research. I would like to use the Index Cards for research notes, the way I learned to do on paper in college (a la Katie Turabian) and used to good effect on my doctoral thesis. That is, basically, one fact to a card, with the source/page # on each. But I want it electronic, in Scrivener.

It would seem to me to be reasonable to have research sub-folders for large topics to hold groups of cards, and to use key words to collect cards together in new groupings as needed, with internal links to specific facts and sources once I’ve started writing.

I cannot find specific instructions or suggestions for this either on the site or in the manual, and do not want to be reinventing the wheel if some other historical novelist on these boards has already figured out a way to do this. Right now I have notes scattered around OneNote (which I hated and gave up in favor of Scrivener), some old Word files (from before I discovered OneNote) and a spiral notebook (as recommended by an old how-to book). I want everything all in one place–Scrivener! Is this doable? Am I thinking about it in the right way?

When I’m done, is there some way to print Fact Sheets with the card indexed to the page in the novel in which the fact appears? Could I have a Timeline folder that would work the same way (e.g., Assault on Fort Stedman, with source, page #) that would print out with page #'s in the novel? (Some research, obviously, is more appropriate to Timeline than Fact Sheet, and vice versa).

This is already getting unwieldy and I want to bring some sort of system and order to the madness before it gets any worse.

Thanking you in advance for any help you can give me (or point me to).

To me, “prodigious amount of research” means that you should be using a textual database program like DevonThink Pro. You may organize folders for topics and nest within the folders the factual information. If chronology is important, give each item a date, written 1864-05-15, so they will sort in calendar order. You may also change the sort formula to unstructured, and drag items into topical or narrative order, as you please. The advantage of DTP over Scrivener is that you may collect unlimited amounts of data, and the sort/search capabilities are very fast. DTP will also import the data you now have in various programs.

The Scrivener research folder is of limited use, especially if you have gathered a great deal of material. You may keep both programs open, and write document links between Scrivener and a specific item in DTP. Many writers on this forum use both programs and swear by them.

The only problem. of course, is that Devon products are Mac only. Yet another good reason for switching! But I would agree (having had to manage large amounts of data myself) that Scrivener is not ideal for managing large amounts of research data. There is a point at which it gets difficult to see the wood for the trees.



Just thought I’d recommend a software program called myBase by wjjsoft. It won’t allow you to organize your information by 3x5 card like you want, but it is designed for collecting massive amounts of research. The software has tabs at the top for different subjects (as many as you want) and a folder within folder structure for each tab. The thing that sets this software apart is it zip files each window that you don’t have open, so that no matter how much data you collect, it never should slow down on you.

You can also purchase a separate add on called webcollect that allows you to take snapshots of webpages to view later (you don’t have to be connected to the web to do it).

There is a free trial at the wjjsoft website you can try if interested.

I have found that the research part of the Scrivener software is a bit lacking for me since I have been so spoiled by this other software. I love everything else about Scrivener, but really wish they would adopt the tabbed across the top format for their research category (as well as the zip filing - perhaps they already do, but I haven’t heard about it in any tutorial). For some of us the research really needs it’s own dedicated page.

Good luck with your book!

MyBase looks good. Thanks for the suggestion!

I found something similar last fall for historians, by historians (perfect, right?) except there was no support, really, and there had been any posts to its discussion boards literally in years. I was terrified I’d lose months, if not years, worth of work if anything went wrong. So I removed the program from my computer after playing with it a few days.

So. How’s the support on MyBase?

It’s a great price.

Ginny Wood

Support has been great for me. I’ve sent emails a couple of times and got a response within a day or two.