ProWritingAid with Scrivener

Hi, I am thinking of purchasing a lifetime licence for ProWritingAid as there’s a discount code and have two days to make up my mind. It integrated well with Scrivener when I used it as a trial at the end of 2017 but since then I’ve seen people in the Scrivener Users Facebook group who’ve had problems with it losing work and so on. One of them told me that because it 'appears to have reversed engineered Scrivener’s file formats ’ it could mess up file contents. So I have two questions.
What do the Scrivener technical team recommend - do you think this software will be likely to mess up Scrivener files?
And, is the software likely to work as well (or better) with the forthcoming version 3 of Scrivener?
Thanks in advance.

Hi Tricia -

I’m not part of the technical team here, but I’m aware of the users group discussions you referenced, and wanted to add a comment. From what I gleaned from the other user’s experience, they were trying to use PWA to open individual RTF text files from within the Scrivener project folder. That’s not how it works, and I can see where that would lead to files being mis-placed.

PWA opens the Scrivener project by reading the XML file to build the binder, and then lets you open each RTF text file for editing. When you save, all PWA does is save the RTF text file(s) that you edited in PWA. (It won’t even let you edit the binder, just RTF text files.)

I’m using the desktop version of PWA and have had no problems. I can’t speak for future compatibility, but given the simplicity of the XML and RTF combo structure, I doubt there will be any issues. If there are, I’ll bet PWA will respond since this is an important set of clients for them to support. They are very responsive to emails, so you could also ask them.

I have no knowledge of, nor experience with PWA, but I do want to point out that it could result in a few problems. First, since Scrivener isn’t involved in the edits, it won’t keep its word counts in sync until you end up editing those files within Scrivener. There’s a good chance that footnotes, inspector comments, and a host of other Scrivener features will be mangled or at least shifted from their original locations, as they are additions to the RTF file format, and so PWA may not be keeping track of those additional kinds of mark-up.

Upon release of Scrivener 3, you’re going to have a new file format. Presumably, PWA’s developer(s) is(are) looking at the beta and preparing a new release. S3 will introduce real styles, which are also not part of the RTF format, and so may be difficult to maintain while editing outside of Scrivener.

You’re unlikely to lose text, and I’m sure the developers of PWA are aware of the limitations of their RTF editor with respect to Scrivener’s features, but there are frequently drawbacks to editing any part of a Scrivener project with tools other than Scrivener.

ProWritingAid (PWA) is a grammar-checking program. It’s mostly about sentence structure. It has no application to any other part of a Scrivener project except the RTF text files in the Draft folder. There is no reason for it to be looking at footnotes or any of the Inspector stuff, so I doubt that stuff will ever appear in the PWA interface. I’ve never seen it.

Ok - thanks so much for this input. I have gone ahead and purchased as I was impressed when I trialled it and I’m not using footnotes or any complex formatting. I will make sure i open the whole project so it shows the binder in order to edit each scene and then make sure i save it in Dropbox again afterwards. I will also ask PWA about Scrivener 3 and if they respond I’ll post the answer here.

It may not have any reason or even ability to modify footnotes and inspector comments, but those features are ‘anchored’ to the text that PWA is potentially modifying. What happens if the word that a footnote is associated with is changed or even deleted? Probably, the footnote is lost; that’s what happens IN Scrivener when you delete a word associated with a footnote.

As I recall the last comment by the developer of Scrivener regarding how he hacked the RTF format to support inspector comments and footnotes, it kept up with where a footnote was located in the text by counting the words from the beginning of… the paragraph or the document*, so editing the RTF file so that fewer or more words preceded the footnoted word would make the footnote/inspector comment shift to another word.

I’m just passing along what I believe is a reasonable caution; if you make use of features that in some way touch the text, you need to be aware that editing the rtf documents outside of Scrivener may result in unexpected results; probably not catastrophic results, but still it could be frustrating and seem like Scrivener is to blame where it’s not.

[size=85]* I’m just going on my admittedly lack-luster long-term memory here; the feature may not work this way anymore (or may never have worked this way at all), but the end result of footnotes shifting around due to adding/deleting words outside of the Scrivener interface is very clear in my mind. That said, YMMV/take my statements with a grain or two of salt…[/size]

Fair enough. I suppose the safest way to use PWA then would be to make a COPY of the project, open that in PWA, but make the edits in the original version in Scrivener while following along. This because you don’t want to have the original open in two different programs at the same time.

In the past this was a concern, because the file that carried all footnote/comment data basically worked like an “overlay” on the RTF text, and use character offsets to determine where highlight ranges should be drawn. Change the underlying text and all the highlights end up on the wrong text. We improved that a while back, unless one is using a fairly old version of Scrivener, comments and footnotes are pretty resilient to external modification these days. They are accomplished using a standard RTF hyperlink, with a special URL that Scrivener scans for when you click on a file in the binder, and pairs with a sidecar file that contains the footnote/comment metadata and content. In a very abstract sense, you can think of each footnote and comment being like a little web site that gets loaded when you click on links.

So long as the external software is capable of working around a hyperlink URL it doesn’t understand (which in theory all should, as software shouldn’t be dictating what is or is not a valid hyperlink given how such things as evernote:// can exist), then they will be fine—albeit nonfunctional if the viewer/editor does not have the same pairing logic Scrivener does.

It would indeed still be an issue if one cuts text with such a hyperlink out of one section and pastes it into another. Scrivener wouldn’t know what to do about that.

Otherwise, I don’t think we have anything left that would be terribly risky like this. There are proprietary codes we use for non-RTF features, like linked images, inline footnotes, style codes for that matter—but the way in which they are implemented will result in visible code in anything other than Scrivener. Basically everything that makes them magic in Scrivener is like a standard text parser looking for patterns in the written text, rather than our own custom RTF codes that are invisible and thus at risk of being omitted or damaged by editors that don’t support them.

One that uses a lot of styles will be presented with a bit of a mess in third-party viewers that don’t support Scrivener’s styles though, that is for sure, and I don’t know what a grammar checker would make of markup around text. :slight_smile: Being very careful to not disturb the balance of these markers would be paramount.

The main thing I would be concerned with, if PWA doesn’t do it automatically, is to be sure and rebuild the search index, which won’t reflect the external edits. That may happen automatically as Scrivener has protections against files changing on the disk in unexpected ways.

In theory an external editor can do as good a job as Scrivener at editing .scriv projects, and as noted above, the format is very easy to figure out—it was designed to be human readable on top of being machine friendly and standards-based. Of course a poorly programmed editor could make a huge mess of things as well—this is true of any file editor really.

I cannot speak to PWA directly. I don’t really know what they are doing well enough to say whether they’ve taken precautions to be a good citizen with the format.

Thanks, Amber - I think in my case there shouldn’t be too many problems as I’m writing straightforward fiction with no footnotes or styles applied. The PWA version of the .scriv file doesn’t show words in italics or bold - but it doesn’t seem to interfere with them either, so that’s the only difference I think, for me.

By this do you mean that if I then search for a word which I’ve changed within PWA that it might not come up if I search for it in Scrivener? I didn’t really understand what you meant. I’ve just checked and it seems to. But, I realise you may be talking about something entirely different!

I asked ProWritingAid the same two questions, about possibility of it corrupting files in Scrivener and whether it’s likely to work with Scrivener 3 for Windows. I received this short reply;

We’ll see!