Research and Workflow

Some years ago I used to do some research writing. I used Tinderbox and Ulysses and finished in MS Word. I am returning to writing and Scrivener is taking the place of Ulysses (MS Work is getting tossed for something else for sure).

I used TB in a rather simplistic fashion. I used to capture ideas and take notes. I like the idea of cloned notes that I could put wherever I wanted in the “emerging” structure of what I was working on. I didn’t do a lot of fancy TB tricks, but it served me well.

I am now wondering if Scrivener can take the place of TB. I know this has been discussed here before, but Scrivener lacks a lot of the power of TB, obviously, most glaring for me is the inability to clone notes (unless this is indeed possible).

I have some smaller writing assignments and would like to get used to and experiment with a method before I tackle the larger assignments that are coming down the pipe.

Anyone use Scrivener as both their note taking and drafting software? Anyone in love with TB + Scrivener? Any other standout combinations?

Thanks a lot.


You may be interested in this short article by the historian Steven Johnson in the March issue of Prospect. He talks about using DevonThink, but his method could be easily adapted to writing in Scrivener using DevonThink, the Finder or possibly Tinderbox as a catch-all data/notes repository, and Scrivener’s Research folder as a sandbox/halfway-house.


I do still use both, but not always. Some projects do not have intense information association requirements and so I just write them out in Scrivener and keep notes in a linear “file” fashion. Other projects definitely benefit from more advanced visualisation techniques such as free-form visual mapping of concepts, cloning, meta-data generation and analysis, and so on. While Scrivener has some tools that can accomplish this, they aren’t really designed to compete with a concept mapper and analysis tool like C-Map or Tinderbox.

I’m an ex Ulysses+Tinderbox person as well, and while I have dabbled in “complicated” Tinderbox files (you can find some of my programmatic solutions on their forum), for research and book support my usage of it is pretty simple, much like you described. I liked using maps to visualise information and find emergent patterns in it—that’s probably the most complex I got with it for books. My point is, if you already know how to use the tool, you’ll probably have better results sticking with what you know. I’d be hesitant to recommend Tinderbox to just any novelist because of its potential for complexity (though personally I think Tb in its basic form is only marginally more difficult than any other mind-mapper or outliner, the potential seems to intimidate).

I’ve never seriously tried getting bulk data from Tinderbox into Scrivener though in theory it shouldn’t be too difficult (I’d go the MMD route myself, using hashmarks to re-build the Tb outline). For me it has always been an ancillary tool, just as there are those who deal in bulk research who depend upon DEVONthink as an ancillary to Scrivener. Scrivener has a nice set of tools that will get the 95% all the way there, but for the 5% who prefer or need something a little more, like clones or 8 gigabytes of research, then sticking with a suite of programs is still best.


Very interesting article. Incidentally, this is how I write the most when doing research papers and so on. The music essay I’m writing now has born from the analysis of some other texts on correlated issues, I was collecting as more or less organized notes in a file of Circus Ponies NoteBook. By looking at the contents card and comparing the various emerging themes, the idea of writing my essay took shape.

I created a new section in my notebook, all devoted to snippets and though about my own thesis. At this point, I spend much time in the indexes, exploring and comparing (key)words, and looking at where they are located in my notes. Everything relevant I can find, gets copied to the essay section. Each chapter of my essay is currently a repository of selected notes, citations, references.

In the meantime, this exploration is creating a web of concepts and ideas, that I sometimes shape with a diagram in MyMind (I export my outline from NoteBook to MyMind in OPML, and this data exchange is very fast).

At one point I will move the essay section out of the notes notebook, and start writing the first draft in Scrivener, away from the notes. This is the time when you have the structure clear, and you must write without thinking anymore to the reference materials.

Reference materials will come back later, together with the bibliography, when the first draft is complete, and it is time to write the final draft and look at what you have left out.