Reference Manager

Hello there!
First and foremost, thanks for a great writing tool. I use it every day for my academic writing (mostly literature essays). What I am really missing in Scrivener, and any other writing software, is a way to add my references and create a bibliography. I understand there are some ways, such as floating citations with bookends, but they seem complicated to me. So my suggestion/desire would be to have a way to manage references and citations directly in Scrivener without the need to rely on third-party software.

Thanks so much and very best wishes,


I’m just another customer, so I have no inside information, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for this. This idea has come up at various times over many years and the response has always been that it is outside the scope of the program. Having used bibliographic database software since the 1990s I would say that it is far too complex to bolt onto a writing program. That is why bibliographic databases (at least, the ones I know of) are stand-alone programs.

Hi, thanks for your reply. May I ask which reference manager you use and how you make it work with Scrivener? I am striving to find a good solution…
Thanks again

mbbntu might well add to this himself, but the two replies to this thread might be helpful:

If you search the forum for threads on integrating Zotero or Bookends with Scrivener, you’ll find plenty of advice. Good luck.

At the moment I use Bookends. As always, there are advantages and disadvantages with any solution. Over the years I have come to realise that any recommendation that a person can give will tell you as much about them, the work they do, and the way they like to do it, as it does about the program or solution they are using. My view is that we all have to find what works best for us, and that this is something that can only really be discovered by personal experimentation. Many years ago I wrote a 560-page book, which had something over 300 references, using Word 5 and EndNote. In the intervening period I have used Sente and Papers (the former is defunct, the latter had a horrible transition between versions a few years back) and I have played with Mendeley, BibDesk and Zotero. The only program that has stuck with me is Bookends. I used it in conjunction with Scrivener 2.5 to write an 85,000-word thesis (I cannot remember the number of references). The combination worked very well for me. Others have different needs, but I have found that having used Bookends, moved away, and then moved back to it, I am unlikely to change again. It is undoubtedly a big and complex program, but it is constantly under development, it has an iOS version (which is useful) and pretty extensive documentation. The developer is responsive to changes in databases like Google Scholar and JSTOR, which is important to those who use them. But in the end, only you can know how you like to work, and you may only discover that by trying out a few options. In my case I found that hitting Command-Y became ingrained in my habits. If I need more complicated stuff I can call on Keyboard Maestro, which is a marvellous Mac utility.

I’ve been gathering ideas for bibliography and research workflow in Scrivener for an art history book. There are so many ideas about how to do this, some very complicated. What I have figured out so far is:

  1. Search the internet for sources (articles, books, websites, PDFs etc) using Zotero (which is supposed to be superior to Bookends for searches- more libraries etc.)
  2. import these into Devonthink Pro (the advantage is DTP has OCR capability
  3. In Scrivener organize files in the research section that match the chapters I’ve already set up.
  4. Import DTP files into appropriate research folders
  5. As I’m writing my draft enter “placeholder citations” example: (e.g. Casey, 2009, 213)
  6. When done with writing select Bookends as default bibliography manager in Scrivener. Bookends is supposed to be superior to Zotero for the compiling of the citations.
  7. Have Bookends scan the document to create a bibliography.

How does this sound? Do you see any bugs in my proposed system? I’d like to get feedback before I actually try it although all 4 of these apps offer free trial versions. Thanks for your input!

Don’t use both Zotero and Bookends. Choose one or the other.

You will need to experiment to find a workflow that suits your preferences. We are all different.

The vast majority of pdfs you find in journal databases will already be OCRd.

I use Endnote and am happy with my workflow there. The trick is just to use what Endnote calls “temporary citations” — this is what you get by default if you click on an item in Endnote and hit Copy. These are simple plain text items you can paste anywhere you want a reference — and there are ways to add pages numbers or suppress author name etc, as might be needed in context.

There are two ways these temporary citations might then get formatted to a particular citation style. Much of my work gets compiled to Word for finishing. Endnote integrates directly with Word, so when the time comes to make a fully formatted text with bibliography, I can just ask for this from the integrated Endnote menu.

Alternatively, I can compile my text to rtf format and let Endnote process the file directly.


P.S. It is not like I have shopped around for other ways to do. I am a longtime Endnote user and so have a large scale investment in the (customized) reference database I have developed with that software over the years.

I love DevonThink, and use it as my main repository for journal articles. I rarely bother dragging the materials into Scrivener: it seems like unnecessary duplication to me.

In my field, at least, the vast majority of journal PDFs come with a text layer already.

I’d recommend looking at DevonAgent, too. Has some pretty power search capabilities and integrates directly with DevonThink.


I still use Papers 3.
Search, read, annotate and then copy reference+annotations Scapple or Scrivener using an Apple scrpt provided by Papers support.

Thank you for this information about DTA. So would you still obtain reference material via Zotero or Bookends or would DTA be a good (better) substitute and then when the writing is finished (in Scrivener) a connection with a Biblio manager such as Bookends or Zotero could be linked to create the bibliography?

I don’t use a bibliography manager in my own work, so I can’t comment on that.

The DevonTechnologies forums are pretty good. Probably someone there could speak to the tradeoffs and integration opportunities between Zotero/Bookends/other and DevonAgent.


Thank you everybody who responded. It seems the consensus is that I must try these different apps and work flow and figure out what works for me. Too bad! I was hoping to save myself angst by copying a hopefully simple workflow that someone else figured out. Keep the ideas coming if you think of anything else.

It sounds as if you are engaged in academic work. In my experience, all academic work starts with a bibliography of some sort. So a bibliographic database becomes the centre of the work. You need to know what your source works are, keep notes on them, and find that material again when you need it. So choose a good bibliographic database.

I have lost count of the number of good ideas about workflows that I have taken from various places and abandoned when I realised they did not fit me and what I was doing. I have said this many times and in various different forums: I take the view that one has to think in terms of a “system” consisting of researcher+software+work-to-be-done. Change any element of that system, and it will not work as well. I always feel that when anyone recommends a program or a workflow, they are telling us as much about themselves as they are about the things they are recommending. In short, I have usually found that the best workflow is the one you make up for yourself. And in fact, making the workflow is actually a very useful exercise, and an important part of the research. It makes you think about what you are doing and why.

I am a non-academic writing a semi-academic book. You’re right- I’m seeing a lot of people on line admitted “wasting” their time opining about workflow when they should be writing the darn book or thesis. But you’re also right that the work should begin with the bibliography and so I will try using Bookends for that and place all the articles I already have in Bookends. Then I will notate them either in BE or Devonthink. Then what I’ve been reading is when the bulk of the research is done move it into Scrivener for the writing piece. After that I’ll figure out if I need to integrate Bookends into Scrivener or whether the bibliography I already generated in Bookends will be sufficient. Luckily these three apps have free trials so I need to start with that. I appreciate your taking the time to respond.

It might be worth observing that Bookends, DEVONthink, and Scrivener are all programs with a lot of features, which means complexity. Their manuals run to hundreds of pages and you will not learn them in five minutes. This, perhaps, is a good reason for learning them one at a time, in the sort of flow you mention. Gain a decent understanding of Bookends first, then move to the next program. I made heavy use of DEVONthink for about a decade, but the recent upgrade to version three was problematic for me, and I have abandoned the program. There is a thread of several hundred posts on their forums discussing one of the features they removed, which disrupted a lot of well-established workflows. But I digress. If you want to delve into ideas and methodologies of “knowledge work” there is an abundance of theory and discussion at The method is not for everyone, but they certainly thrash out some of the problems of collecting and re-finding research material. Best of luck with it!

I am an academic who has written both academic and non-academic texts, and I don’t agree that it all starts with the bibliography. My experience is that it all starts with an idea about a subject, which develops into a desire to learn more, which leads to a lot of reading and research, which then develops into a desire to tell a story. Even academic research, published as scientific articles, is in a way a kind of story-telling.

Workflows can be used for fairly simple tasks that can be automated, but not for more creative work where you don’t really know where you will end up.

So what is your idea? And do you know enough already to know what story you want to tell, or do you need to learn more?

Just to be specific, I quite carefully wrote that it all starts with A bibliography: in other words, a list of things to read. It is not necessarily a formal bibliography, and might just be a few recommendations from people. I find that the ideas tend to come out of the reading. But in any case I would make those first readings the first entries in my bibliographic database, just in case I need to cite them later. But I suspect processes may be different in different fields and different working environments. I have worked in history, psychology and counselling and psychotherapy, very often on my own. I’m aware that working in a UK university, for example, with the REF looming, is a whole different exercise. My own personal experience is that the final text I ended up with was always very different from what I was expecting to write when I started out. So I don’t see it as being a story so much as the journey of a metal ball inside a pinball machine. But I was never very organised.

If it’s not a story, it’s seldom worth reading (unless it’s a recipe or some kind of simple instruction). All good scientific work is a kind of story.

Many fiction writers describe exactly this kind of experience.

The first few entries in the bibliography are just the chapters in the story that were written by someone else. It’s your job to carry the thread from there.