Scrivener for business documents - HOW?

There was an open question on what kind of profiles that might be of interest somewhere, thus these thoughts on Scrivener for business docs.

Have looked at Scrivener for a few days from a consultant’s perspective. My work frequently ends up with a report that is supposed to lead up to a decision, implementation etc. Very common business writing.

For a good view on business writing I always recommend The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto. It is thin, but to the point.

Anyway, the benefits I see in Scrivener are:
added productivity in the early phases,
getting the structure (flow) of the doc right,
keeping all the material at hand, and
having contributing authors supply text, and not being able to fiddle with the formatting, leaving that to the main author.

The drawback obviously is the compile phase, and final formatting (which adds maybe 10 to 15% to the effectiveness of the document, but also acts as an entry bar, it has to look good, or it will not be read).

So the elements required are:

Basic text (a normal paragraph)

Text formatting (regular, bold, italic - no problem)

Heading 1 (section heading)
Heading 2 (chapter heading)
Heading 2 (topic, question, issue, customer set, etc)

bulleted list
numbered list
unordered list

In-line non-text elements:
Figures (and tables, sometimes separated from figures)
Figure text line
Headers and Footers

Document organization
Table of contents
Figure list (similar to Table of Contents)
The same functions for tables

Handling of supporting material:
Handle the list of supporting materials

The final phase, compiling and adding the final formatting in a word processor (Word or Pages most likely) has to be quick and without any risk. This is when time typically is very critical. Half a day lost because something doesn’t work as expected can mean total failure.

So the various text elements would have to be entered already in Scrivener - a heading on level 2 would be written as just that in Scr. (How is that done??)and carried over to the wordprocessor where the word processor style sheet should be able to pick that style up automatically, e.g. no manual work.

The same would be required for the various lists as they are frequently used, and also very important in the arguing process. And lists are not the first line of a paragraph! They are a separate text element.

In-line illustrations are figures, spreadsheet table, pictures sometimes. It would be required to enter a descriptive text line which would be attached to the figure in the word (or pages) document.

The list of figures, and the table of contents are not required to have available in Scr. (the author will know where to find it while working on the doc, these helpers are for subsequent readers), but it is required that these are possible to generate using the normal mechanisms in the output software.

Headers and footers can typically be done in the output software, as it is quick.

I beg forgiveness for being a novice at Scr., some of the above may be trivial subject to being better educated.

I’ve written many documents of this type (although not with Scrivener), and I well remember the sometimes kick-bllck-and-scramble all-nighter last-minute races involved (especially in the days of long reports and slow printers). Avoidance of such experiences seems to me to be the only advantage, absolutely the only advantage, of putting together a PowerPoint or Keynote document instead, but that’s another story…

If I were involved in drafting such a report today, I’d definitely use Scrivener, but I wouldn’t use it quite as far into the workflow as you suggest. I’d use it to get the structure and the text right – which are after all the most vital roles – but I’d insert all graphics, spreadsheets, tables, indexes, tables of contents etc. at the word processor stage. That’s not to say that Scrivener can’t handle most of these requirements – for example, it can enumerate captions in figures and provide a (static) table of contents and can also include tables and lists – but if your documents are anything like those I used to contribute to, the publishing process could get quite complicated quite quickly.

Especially if, as happened unpredictably in my experience, at the very latest stages someone with the authority to do so wants to come in and make subtle changes that ripple through the document…

You know, that is an approach I did not consider. But it is most likely very smart.

Use Scr. until the structure is (fairly) correct, all the sections have good content descriptions, and then dump it into Word or Pages.

Forget all the illustrations, replace them with a short descriptions, and insert the actual illustration once the word processor is used.

Question then is how you should handle the supporting material. Continue with Scr. or simply put it in the ordinary file structure of the OS. (hassle) An alternative to handle the supporting material would be to handle that separately in an application like NoteBook (from Circus Ponies, but be sure to keep frequent snapshots, I have seen failures).

My current way of working is to use a mindmapping tool to arrive at the structure. It is OK, but it is not really good to handle synopsises this way, you tend to end up with keywords only. The output from the mindmapping stage is not really something you can share with others (who are not necessarily into mindmapping).

Then you should force contributors to supply their input as plain text, and return pdfs to them of the whole document (plus the synopsis for the part they should write).

I think this would work well.

Also, this would make it possible to use Pages (which I prefer on the Mac) instead of Word.

Many thanks,


I usually keep supporting materials in DevonThink Pro or Curio. DTP as a general repository for everything related to a particular project, Curio for specific tables and images that I plan to use.


With Pages, it’s easy to take one of the existing Templates and modify it to the form that you want. Then use the command File: Save as Template, give it a name like “Initial proposal” and it’s there to choose any time you want it. I’d suggest selecting one of the Outline templates for a start.

I used the “Classic” because it doesn’t use leading numbers, only tab stops, and I cut it down to four levels: Title, Heading 1, Heading 2, and Heading 3. You edit the paragraph styles with View: Show Styles Drawer on the icon menu.