Outline numbering

First: I think Scrivener is the best tool for non-fiction writing since the invention of the book wheel. (Sorry if that’s an obscure reference: I’m a historian of early modern reading.)

Here’s my usage scenario: I have recently begun using Scrivener to write all of my lectures for undergraduates. I’ve switched from Word, where I used its elaborate “outline numbering” system to organize my thoughts. I’m pretty digressive, so to keep on task when time is short, I read only the leftmost points.

Here’s what my notes look like in Word:

Screen shot 2010-11-20 at 5.55.24 .png

This works well for me. But moving to Scrivener is just so elegant and sensible, for all the reasons readers know already.

When I save them as RTF and import them to Scrivener, the numbers are intact–BUT they aren’t flexible: that is, I can’t insert a 21 after 20 and expect the others to renumber themselves, and I can’t insert new sub-points like a new 20.3 in the example above.

That’s okay: so Scrivener prefers its own bullets and numbering system. But when I explore the list options, the most I can manage is something like this:

Screen shot 2010-11-20 at 5.56.27 .png

I’ve searched the forums, tried many different options, and tried to make do. But I’m wondering if [1] Word-style “outline numbering” is something that Apple’s bullet system would even support, and [2] if so, lists could be more flexible and customizable in the next version of Scrivener. This is assuming I’m not missing something vital: if so, I’m sorry if I posted this to the wrong forum!

Michael Ullyot

This might sound off the cuff, but one of the reasons why Scrivener doesn’t have a massive outliner in the text editor is because the binder is a massive outliner. While most commonly it is used to house documents, there is nothing to say it must be used for this. It is perfectly acceptable, and actually pretty efficient, to create outlines in the Outliner view without even once going into the text editor for them.

Yes, it doesn’t have numbering. There is that. For some people this wouldn’t be a a problem since items can be cross referenced in the Reference pane, that means you don’t have to say “See 21.4”, you can just drag whatever “21.4” would have been into the Ref pane for that node.

Also if it’s a matter of wanting the numbers at the end of the day when you print out your notes for lecture, you can make the whole thing in Outliner and then print with a number outline with the lovely new compile settings, and boom, there you go.

Precisely, and this technique could be used to produce an RTF that you then import back into Scrivener as a reference while writing. It would be, as with the Word import, a static list and not a dynamic list, but you would be getting a numbered outliner based on your Scrivener work.

And if you don’t want numbering there are a wide variety of bullet styles. When you hit tab to indent to another level, just hit opt-cmd-left or right arrow to cycle through various bullet styles.

I do agree that it is annoying that the numbers don’t get updated. Apple’s standard list implementation that Scrivener uses is rudimentary to say the least, and it would be nice in future to replace it with something much more flexible - it’s just low on the list, I’m afraid, and it would take a lot of development effort (I’m guessing something like a month or more).


P.S. I have just added a “Re-number List” feature to the ctrl-click menu for the situation where list numbering goes out of whack. This calls on a private, for-Apple-use-only-not-exposed-to-developers method, which I found from Bean, which is why I’ve hidden it away in the ctrl-click menu, so that it can be removed easily if it stops working. This is a big problem with lists - most of the code that handles them is a “black box” to developers. Apple have only made a single line of code available for developers - the line that calls up the “Lists…” panel. Even to add the lists control to Scrivener’s format bar I had to use hacking tools to find private internal OS X methods just to achieve it - and if Apple are strict about private APIs for their Mac App Store as they are with their iOS store, I’ll have to strip out most of Scrivener 2.0’s lists support for the app store version…

All the best,


Is there any reason you need to see the numbers on the items while working in Scrivener? Or would it be sufficient to your purpose to have a workflow where the numbering would only emerge when you got the stuff to Word? I can imagine a workflow for the latter.



Fellow Scriv user here. I do a lot of work with outlines and their graphical cousins, mind maps, And so moving outlines in and out of Scrivener and doing outline work within Scrivener is something I do a lot.

I wonder if a workflow like the following would work for you? If you had things set up the way I do in Scrivener and in Word, then achieving what you want could go like this:

a) You do your outlining work in Scrivener using a strategy for within-document outlining that I will describe below. Within-document outlines simply appear in Scriv as paragraphs with varying levels of left indent.

b) When it is time to put your outline into your final preferred format, you either use Copy and Paste to get the content into a fresh Word document (or use Scrivener’s Compile function with the Format Override option turned off to generate an RTF document to open in Word).

c) Once in Word, you run a simple AppleScript that converts the indent-formatted outline which came out of Scrivener into a Microsoft Word formatted outline.

d) You then apply Word’s outline numbering formatting as you ordinarily would.

e) There is one additional step you would need to make if you started with an RTF document from Scrivener. When you open an RTF document in Word, your personal formatting defaults and customized paragraph styles which are stored in your Normal template are not automatically invoked. One way to get around this is to simply take the content of the RTF document, copy it, and pasted everything into a fresh Word document.

If a process like the above sounds like it would suit you, then you can read a full write up of what I would suggest at the following forum thread:



[size=150]Scrivener 2.0 : The greatest invention since the bookwheel![/size]


Or maybe I got that sales pitch all backwards:

Hi there
Firstly I want to let you know that I tried other programs and got refunds on them when I discovered Scrivener. I am loving my first month working on my 850,000 word novel on Scrivener.

Now, I am a problem. I suspect it is answered above somewhere around your note ctrl-click blah blah…but I don’t really understand the thread of the conversation upstairs so was wondering if (since 2010 when your conversation took place) something has been fixed…

I have searched high and low in the forum and this was the closest I came to finding a discussion about my problem

In my novel I have a numbered list which is a set of spiritual instructions in a manual. I have my character reading the list, which is numbered and I was going along just fine, until I wanted my character’s thoughts to enter the list. In other words, I wanted to leave the list, have her think for a few paragraphs and then go back to the list, which I hoped would start to ‘continue numbering’ the way it does in word.

Know what I mean? Is this impossible in Scrivener? PLease no dont’ say it’s so.

Look forward to hearing back on this from anyone who can help speak in simply dummy language for me!

Thank you scrivener. PP

850,000 words! :slight_smile:

Yes, you can do what you are wanting. There are two ways:

  1. Create a new list that starts at a number other than 1.
  2. Format the thoughts as being a part of the original list.

In most cases I would recommend the second choice because really you are talking about one list here, it just is interrupted by some thoughts and then resumes. The advantage of keeping it all in one list is that if you go back and decided your character had three points to make instead of two, you can add that in without the numbering of the second (and potentially further subsequent lists) needing their numbering offset fixed. So for instance if you used method #1 and added a new line item to the first list, you would have to go back and increment all subsequent lists by one to keep the numbering correct among them all.

So to create a list that starts at a number other than one, just use the “Other…” option in the list menu. Here you have full control over the appearance of the bullet/enumeration, as well as the starting number offset.

To create material within a single list item that is unnumbered, use Edit/Insert/Line Break (or Opt-Cmd-Return). This is a way of breaking a paragraph (which for sake of this discussion is synonymous with a line item in a list) into multiple lines without creating a new paragraph (or line item as the case may be). So you could hit Opt-Cmd-Return, type in the character’s thoughts, and then when you are done hit Return and you’ll be at the next list item. As you can see, inserting list items before or after this break seamlessly updates the following items.

When you might wish to use interrupted lists with offset numbering is if there is a lot of formatting required in between list items, or you if you would like to use paragraph spacing to keep individual lines spaced out. Since line breaks operating within a paragraph the individual lines only use the line-height attribute rather than before/after paragraph spacing and first-line indentation.

In short, method #1 gives you the greatest amount of formatting control at the expense of convenience if the list item number changes, while method #2 keeps everything in one logical list at the expense of a little formatting control.