Scrivener for journalists

Hi. I’m a UK-based freelance journalist and downloaded Scrivener3 in the hope it would make me more organised and focused. I’m well aware Scriv is mainly designed for long-form writing. But I’m slightly gob-smacked there are no templates for journalists. Script-writing, fiction, non-fiction, miscellaneous. But what about articles?

When I think of all the research I put into a piece – web articles, YouTube clips, notes (I tend to use Apple Notes), etc, etc – it seems a bit lazy there’s no tool in Scriv to help a hack collate and plan. Some of my pieces are 4,000-words plus.

I’ve only just started to prod under the bonnet with Scrivener so maybe I’ve been a bit hasty in my judgement. Still, the lack of effort in this direction seems a bit lame… :open_mouth:


Master Munchkin, London

Why don’t you create a template? Set up a project the way you want it and save it as a template. :smiley:

Amusingly enough, journalism is one of the counter-examples that I give as guidance to people when they offer to provide feedback on a new template for inclusion in the base install. The first guideline I provide is in finding the core aspects of what the template should provide that are commonalities between most of the writers who will be enticed to use it. For example, in the book-based templates we offer an example of how to structure a “chapter”. It’s a pretty safe assumption to make, so having a ready-built chapter example can save people some time and get them past the “blank page” phase of Scrivener learning.

The second category are things that may not be broadly useful to everyone, but that demonstrate a core capability of the software so that one can easily design a useful result themselves. I’d say the character sheet examples in the fiction-oriented templates are a good example there, or the automatic figure/table numbering codes in the non-fiction stuff. It might work for you out of the box, but the odds are you’ll want it slightly different, but you might have never figured out how to do such a thing without an example.

And then I go on to provide what makes for a less than useful template idea:

Care to prove me wrong? :slight_smile: That is how this works. We need either precise instructions for what does and does not work, or a working example. I’m not a journalist, I wouldn’t know the answers to these questions.

As for myself, I start everything from Blank in fact. I mean I have my own Blank starter project that I use, which has some settings I prefer (like titles on Scrivenings enabled and label colours in icons), but beyond that it has no structure, and every project no matter how eventually complex, will evolve from that simple core of having four binder items: the trash, the draft, a dumping ground and a starter file with the cursor blinking in it, ready to type.

Thanks for the above replies. In haste…

Lunk: I hoped Scriv could have provided a template. Isn’t that Scriv’s job? If I go to a cafe, do I take my own cup and spoon?

AmberV: There are many ways of reporting. Long-form article writing is not so different to writing a play or other creative piece of work. You piece together your quotes, sources, notes, internet bits-and-pieces. Perhaps audio or interview clips. Perhaps photos. Perhaps some bookmarks.

From that collage you craft the piece, brick-by-brick. Sometimes at speed. Ideally with a reasonable deadline. Some projects can be fairly unwieldy, especially at the beginning. So some structure can help.


Scriv’s job is to let you structure your ideas and formulate them in the style you want. Unlike the café, which has a limited choice of stuff to eat and drink, Scrivener let’s you choose whatever you want. Like AmberV I seldom use the built-in templates the way they are. For my scientific articles I have modified the APA template to a style that fits my way of writing, and for everything else it’s just the blank template.

Scrivener templates are not like Word or Pages templates, with a lot of built in styling that you can apply to a text. They are more like suggestions for how you can structure things before you start writing.

I’ve been using Scrivener for nearly 12 years now, and the only template I’ve ever used is the Blank template—originally there were no templates and so that may be relevant to my case. However, somewhere down the line I did make my own version of the blank template so that it included various custom settings like using the footnote marker by default; when Scrivener 3 came out, I modified it again so that it automatically loads my styles. And every project, whatever its purpose, starts from that.

I did, on a couple of occasions, try one of the built-in templates—the “Cookbook”, for instance, or was it the “Recipe Collection”?—but within minutes I’d shut it down and gone back to my Blank template to start again. The whole point of Scrivener for me is that it lets you work and structure your work the way that suits you, not how the app developer or some other user likes to structure their work or organise their workspace.

So my take on this is, just start from the Blank template, set things like preferred font and basic styles, and with minimal structuring to your project. Then as you work, sorting research and organising the Draft folder with your articles in the way that suits you—it’s easy to move things round—when you’ve sussed out what structure for your projects best works for you, make a template based on it to speed up starting new projects.



Like Mark, I’ve been using Scrivener for 12 years: magazine columns, book reviews, cover blurbs, feature articles, a couple of books, not to mention editing a complex magazine at every stage from acquisitions (and rejections) to final transmittal to the production department.

Over time I tweaked the basic inbuilt templates to suit my needs, made my own templates for specific projects the easy way: I found a page that looked like it might work (or had worked for me previously in Word), copied it into Scrivener, saved it as a template, and diddled with it until it performed as expected.

I won’t say that Scrivener is the easiest tool writers might find, but it’s by the far the most versatile I’ve found, dating all the way back to CP/M and Wordstar.

I’m a former journalist, TV and newspapers, regional and national, tabloid and - as they used to be - broadsheet, features and news. As regards templates, I agree with AmberV above.

For feature pieces in the newspaper industry, although there’s of course some commonality of structural approach amongst outlets, in my experience it’s pretty basic - intro > colourful illustrative story > history etc - and even then it will tend to vary quite a bit from outlet to outlet, depending on their particular styles and approaches and the type of feature - celebrity interview, backgrounder, investigative etc.etc. Just think Daily Mail picture piece versus Sunday Times investigation.

In any case, I also tend to agree with what others have written above: the value of Scrivener is less in its templates and much more in its other attributes. (It’s not that the templates aren’t valuable - they are. It’s just that for me other features are more valuable.)

In particular, for me the greatest value of Scrivener (amongst many) lies in enabling the writer to engage in “chunking” - that is, allowing the writer to write a long-form piece in chunks that can then be extremely easily and quickly re-arranged, multiple times possibly, with the aim of creating the very best experience for a potential reader. Incidentally, the technical term :wink: “chunking” was I believe coined some years ago by a doyen of long-form journalism, James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. Once you start writing long-form pieces in Scrivener, you’ll doubtless appreciate the advantages of this particular feature.

I’m another one of those who began using Scrivener at version 1 point something. Not only have I never used a template other than blank, but I’m rather puzzled as to why anyone would want one. The coffee shop analogy is completely wrong, in my view. The correct analogy, for me, is with a reporter’s notebook. The ones I use have ruled lines, and that is it. I find the blank page is exactly what I need, because it gives me freedom and few constraints. But perhaps that is because I learned to write before there were computers and you had to use a pen and paper.

Chunking is what it is all about, but I believe it was used in memory research before it was used by James Fallows :wink:

Adding to the “who needs a template” chorus here. I also use the Blank project template, and for output I’ve configured a very basic Default article Compile format that doesn’t do much beyond adding a standard header.

To expand a little bit, my process goes something like this:

  • collect material. In my work, I read a lot of technical papers. The papers themselves go in DevonThink Pro. Notes about them go in my Scrivener Notetaker project. (One per year, notes collected by topic.) So do notes from interviews, notes to myself, and so on.

  • organize material. For a shorter item, this happens mostly in my head. For longer articles and series, I’ll split the notes into smaller chunks, using keywords to keep track of which source said what, and shuffle them into piles/groups of notecards by topic. I may or may not bring in Scapple at this point to make a visual outline as well.

  • start writing, using the notecards or Scapple board as a guide. One project per client per year, or per book-length work. Separate from the Notetaker project to reduce clutter, although I’ll often drag relevant notes from the Notetaker project as a starting point.

  • write/revise/write/revise/fact check/source check all in Scrivener. Refer back to Scapple as necessary to make sure I didn’t leave anything out. Compile, usually to RTF, and send to my editor. Done,

I’ll just finish by saying that if you find a template useful, it’s easy enough to create one.


I also use DEVONthink Pro Office as my repository for research material (on Mac, iPhone and iPad). My present database totals over 5.2 million words and doesn’t bat an eye when I search it. I just tried a search for two names appearing in the same text and got 9 results in 0.075 seconds, graded according to relevance. That is a search of over 4,700 different files (text, pdf and others) in 228 different folders. For organising my thoughts before writing I tend to use mind maps, like iThoughts (also on Mac, iPhone and iPad). James Fallows is an enthusiastic user of Tinderbox, but I’ve never got it work for me.

I’m a professional journalist who’s used Scrivener’s Blank template to commit journalism just about every day for the last decade: previews, reviews, interview features, reported features (short- and long-form), essays, editorials, even a book. My usual reporting-organizing-writing method resembles Katherine’s, though of course it varies from project to project, and my thoughts on the journalism template idea basically mirror Hugh’s. After a long ago fling with DevonNote, I now just use the Finder/Dropbox to collect research, then import what I need for each story into its own Scrivener project. I can’t think of what I’d need in a template that the Blank template doesn’t already provide, but if the OP can supply one, I’ll give a try, and offer feedback based on my usage.

Master Munchkin, can you maybe let us know what kind of functionality you’re seeking, maybe an example of a story workflow where specific journalism formatting would be useful? Maybe we can help you achieve that via sharing how we use the Blank template? Or who knows, maybe we journalist Scriveners can come up with a template together. I just can’t at the moment envision how it would work.

Hi all. I’m coming at this from a different direction and in need of a template. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator who was introduced to Scrivener when I was working on a role playing game rules set. The ability to make chunks of copy and rearrange them and not write linearly gave Scrivener a HUGE advantage over any sort of word processing app. Now I’m using it for writing my first novel and I love it. I work in a university communications department and have heard from many of the press officers, journalists, and marketing writers that they have trouble collecting all of their sources and references in one place and keeping their written pieces organized. So I thought they might all like Scrivener and that it could help them solve a lot of their workflow problems. So I asked if anyone wanted to check it out, I’d give them a demo. Nothing. Zero interest. “I’ve been using Word for years, why stop now?” “New software? I don’t have time to learn that!” I feel like if there was a journalism template you might be able to get more people to try this thing out. Take advantage of their laziness. I get that everyone organizes things their own way; it’s common knowledge that there are as many ways to accomplish a result in Photoshop as there are Photoshop users. That doesn’t stop Adobe from shipping their products with pre-made workspaces to get you going. Maybe it’s calling them “templates” that makes it a mental barrier of use. To me, the Scrivener interface is more akin to a Creative Cloud workspace; a place to organize all of the components and commands for a given project in the way you want. Instead of palettes there are cards and references and notes. i work with nearly 20 writers and haven’t been able to get one of them to even look at your software, which is a shame. Maybe templates can be looked it as a sales hook instead? I really think that Scrivener is a pro-level app and that pros should be using it, not that POS Word. As a designer I think that there could be some advantages in the way Scrivener handles styles and it’s compile function that could improve the workflow of getting stories into layout apps and CMS’s in a smoother way. What do you think?

You can lead a horse to water…

In my experience, either the Scrivener approach “clicks” almost instantly, or it doesn’t.

Short form writing is usually taught in a very linear way, and that approach actually works pretty well for anything up to a thousand words or so. Most marketing collateral, press releases, op-eds, and breaking news articles fall into that category.

Much as I love Scrivener, I only really need it for feature length and longer works. That happens to be most of what I write, and it’s a good fit for my “natural” process, but I can see why people in other niches might not see the advantage.

James Fallows is probably the most visible professional journalist using Scrivener, and he too mostly writes features and longer projects.


Fair enough. Maybe as a visual artist and designer I’m just used to having to learn new software constantly. I’m a newbie as a writer. I was just so disappointed after presenting a potential solution to their aired problems, only to hear . . . nothing. Oh well, I like Scrivener and think it’s a great tool for writing.

I created the attached journalism template following suggestions from “The Art and Craft of Feature Writing: Based on The Wall Street Journal Guide,” by William E. Blundell.

It has a really nice list of sections (History, Scope, Reasons, Impacts, Countermoves), each with prompts like these for the history section:

A. Roots in the past? What are they?
B. Is it a clean break with the past? How?
C. Is it clearly a continuation of the past? How?
D. If history seems a potentially relevant part of my story, are there any historical details that I can use to lend authenticity and interest? Can I relate them briefly? (Little things that add glitter and points of contrast)

(For more detail about these sections, I recommend reading the book.)

I also created a note called “Steps,” which offers tips for organizing your notes. The process intends to guide the development of your structure and is based on John McPhee’s famous advice for longform journalism, which Roy Peter Clark at Poynter summarized.

I find the template helpful, but I always modify it a lot. Happy writing!
WSJ Feature Writing (86.3 KB)

HeyHelloAndy :+1::man_bowing:
Your post alone was well worth the price of admission to the forum. I sitting here, 50 years after my high school graduation, thinking, where were you when I needed you 5 decades ago - and 4 - and 3!
Seriously, Throughout 7 years of university, 30 years of teaching, and countless struggles with getting & maintaining focus I have never been introduced to anything as remotely helpful as what you have written, and linked here.
The book will be on order as soon as I finish this post, and your template with its oh so valuable sections will become a guide to my deep dive into podcasting. The writers blocks - the mind dams - the failed attempts - all a thing of the past!
Again, thank you, almost 3 years after your post!

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Wouldn’t a combination of scenes (“chunking”), Notes (e.g. interviews, as one example), Research, and leveraging footnotes/endnotes, actually comprise all the basic elements you would need to ensure you have composed a thoroughly researched and source-validated piece of journalism? The result will be a 4,000 word piece. Everything that underlies it (e.g. footnotes mapping to all your source material) will be retained in Scrivener.

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I agree. I have a friend who wrote a massive nonfiction (investigative journalism) book that was highly reviewed, and that’s exactly the process she used. Everything – every interview, every PDF, every image, every link – were all in Notes and Research. The project was huge (500 page book) but it was entirely in Scrivener.

I wrote a memoir about the same case (it’s a true-crime situation) and I used the same technique. We were both Scrivener users before we met.

I’m not sure it’s OK to name either of our books, so I won’t.

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IMHO writing books with Scrivener is the goal and success should be claimed by naming the books. Maybe the moderators think differently or rules somewhere say something about that. Dunno.

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