Scrivener for qualitative research

Dear Keith and other L&L folks:

Thank you for writing Scrivener. Like many others, I’m sure, I was hampered by the linear nature of traditional word processors and had developed my own (cumbersome) system of myriad plain text files. Imagine my delight at discovering Scrivener, an implementation of “my” system, yet magnitudes better than I could have hoped for.

I have a few ideas for new features that would improve my Scrivener experience. I hope you will indulge my sharing them with you. I will briefly explain how I use Scrivener, which should make clear (I hope) the reasons for my requests.

I am using Scrivener for a large qualitative research project. I have dozens of source documents in my Research folder — field notes, interview transcripts, and so on — which I have split into hundreds of smaller “scrivenings” for sorting and ordering into themes, categories, and such — each in a separate Binder folder. I write sections of my manuscript in the main editor, constantly referring to and switching among various source-data snippets in the alternative editor.

Ideas for possible features/changes:

  1. Create a toolbar button and keyboard shortcut for the “Swap Documents” function. Currently, it is buried a little too deep in the menus given how often I want to use it.

  2. I use the forward and backward document-history buttons in the editors’ header bars frequently. Navigating this way does not change what is selected in the Binder (the reason for which eludes me at the moment). I find it a bit counterintuitive that invoking “Edit Scrivenings” will always act on the Binder selection rather than on the document I have open — with the keyboard focus — in the Editor. Might it be possible to create a Preferences setting to have the Binder selection “track” the editor document with the current focus?

  3. I wanted to transcribe my interview audio files in Scrivener, but quickly discovered it was too cumbersome. I’m not a fast typist, so I need to start, stop, and jump backward a bit every five seconds or so as I am transcribing. Ideally, all three of these functions would be done with a single keyboard shortcut. Instead, I used Matthew Weinstein’s TAMS Analyzer, which does this: pressing Command+K toggles the Quicktime player on and off, and each off toggle jumps the “cursor” back in the file a number of seconds that the user sets in Preferences.

  4. Sorting qualitative-data snippets into affinity groups is a creative and iterative process. Russell Ackoff called it “formulating the mess”. Groupings are always contingent, subject to revision. I use keywords to assign categories to each snippet, any of which may become the basis of (perhaps temporary) groupings in Binder folders. This qualitative-analysis approach also requires iterative revisions and refinements of my keywords. I discovered that changes to a keyword in the Keywords HUD do not update all instances of that keyword assigned to snippets. I understand that keywords are simply text strings without unique identifiers to “link” them together within Scrivener (as they would be within a relational database). How about a Find & Replace for keywords?

  5. I know Scrivener is for pounding out a rough draft, not for page layout, but I couldn’t resist making this request. I assess my own progress much better in pages than in words. It’s a bit bothersome to divide the Outliner’s word counts by an average word-per-page number. You already allow your users to set their own words per page in the Project Statistics dialog box. Why not provide an estimated-page-count option in the Outliner and editor footer?

You may want to keep Scrivener’s features focused on its main purpose, which is not qualitative analysis, so feel free to disregard any or all of these suggestions as you wish.

Thanks again for a great application! :smiley:

Changing keyboard shortcuts.

Binder selection and the Editor

That’s a pretty cool idea about automatically rewinding a few seconds. You can’t do that in Scrivener, but you can control a QuickTime media object that is in another split with Cmd-RETURN and Cmd-Opt-Shift-[ & ] to step back and forward by a few seconds. This can be done while typing, basically, without moving focus from the editor.

I think you’ll find the new and improved keywords to be more what you are looking for, but they aren’t due out for a while yet. However you should be getting a message regarding global name adjustment. When you double click on a keyword in the HUD and rename it, do you not get a message asking if you want to change all identical keywords in the project to the new string?

Again, I think you’ll like the next version. It will have a page preview function which, while not intended for layout, will give an accurate (so long as same fonts and metrics are used) count as you work, as well as a visual representation of the page, which a lot of people appreciate.

Thanks for the feedback. As AmberV says, many of your suggestions have already been addressed in version 2.0 (including an improved QuickTime player with shortcuts for better rewinding and fastforwarding).

Apologies for the short reply, but it’s Christmas Eve and the kids are about to put out a carrot for Rudolph…

Happy hols,

An alternative that costs a few (but not many) shekels is an app called Transcriva, which lets you set up your own keyboard shortcuts, set an automatic rewind-after-pause to whatever length suits your typing habits, speed up or slow down the playback, and automatically match your typed words to the spot they were said in the recording (very handy for finding your place if you’re coming back to work on a transcript after doing something else for a while). I use it for transcribing talks and interviews, then export the results into Scrivener.


Dear Keith, AmberV, and David:

Many thanks for considering my feature requests and gently pointing me to the current solutions to my Scrivener work-flow problems. I look forward to the release of 2.0 with anticipation.

All the best for 2010,

Right on for using Scrivener for qualitative research - i’ve been using it (on and off) for nearly three years to act as repository for my secondary source notes, as a research tracking notebook, and for typing drafts. BUT…

I think what would be helpful would be the ability to “tag” text (words, sentences, paragraphs) with keywords, in much the same way that one can currently only highlight them; I envision the added ability of assigning keywords to those “highlights.” Once that “tagging” is done, I would create a folder that reunites all the text I highlighted with a certain (or combination of) keyword. This, in fact, is the basic basis of qualitative research software: coding textual passages (“tagging”), and reuniting and reorganizing those passages according to categories of codes (tags) that you assigned, for analysis. (in a nutshell)

Gosh, it seems so simple, but other than TAMS Analyzer, which is free and a bit complicated, no other software package exists for Mac that does the same thing, and if you find one that does, it’s EXPENSIVE (nVivo, HyperResearch). And NONE for Mac will code/tag PDF files Atlas.ti does, but windows only)…hmmm, insert-software-program-to-fit-niche-market-here. If Scrivener added this functionality, who knows what would happen to the academic market in this area.

Anyway, Is this something that can be added (ahem…easily?) or even desired by others than myself in 2.0?

Thanks for a great product, Rich

Hmm, not exactly anything like this, but in 2.0 you can highlight text and have a comment associated with that highlight - a new comments system, in other words. There is also a better way of storing searches. So you could add a comment to a selection of text, enter the keywords in the comment, and then run a search on those keywords. When searching for comments, Scrivener treats the search as though the comments are in the main text, which might not be perfect for your requirements (but it would be something I’d be happy to look at refining post-2.0 - for now I just need it to work :slight_smile: ).

All the best,

Dear Keith & AmberV,

After reading the text at the end of your supplied link, I now understand why the Binder selection doesn’t automatically “track” the document in the Editor (or in the Alternative Editor). But this behavior wasn’t the crux of my feature request #2. Permit me to attempt a clearer restatement.

Let’s say I navigate to a document in the Editor using the document-history buttons in the header bar. Also suppose that this document has sub-documents attached, in hierarchical fashion. For this scenario, Scrivener, at present, disables both (1) the Edit Scrivenings button on the toolbar, and (2) all options in the menu at View > Edit Scrivenings.

I understand that the reason Edit Scrivenings is prohibited in this context is because I didn’t select my document in the Binder (I used the doc history buttons instead). But Scrivener need not prohibit Edit Scrivenings in this context, as long as it can tell that the document with the keyboard focus – either in the Editor or in the Alternative Editor – has sub-documents. Nothing need happen in the Binder.

Like Rich, I too have used qualitative data analysis software (specifically Atlas.ti and TAMS Analyzer) and would love for Scrivener to have the features necessary to succeed wildly in this niche. The new commenting and search-saving functionality that you describe for version 2.0, Keith, do seem to bring Scrivener closer to what’s needed, but hands-on experimentation would be required to assess how close.

As I said in my original post, qualitative analysis is not Scrivener’s main purpose. We can only hope, therefore, that some features serving the needs of Scrivener’s main target audience also happen to support one or more approaches to qualitative data analysis.

Thanks again to all,

This whole interaction will be greatly improved in the next version of Scrivener. A lot of thought has gone into the very problems you state, and I think you’ll find the solution to be much more elegant and reactive to the way you structure information. The Binder will still be de-coupled, but the editor itself will gain more power in where you can go with it.

I’d have to think about it a bit, and play with it in the context you describe, but off the top of my head, I think you could do what you want with it. Some of the nicest things about the new feature are what you are looking for. It isn’t exactly what you want, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a named tagging layer that can sit on top of a text layer, but it’s pretty close to that!

Dear AmberV,

Thank you for your gracious reply. I’m glad that my request falls in the category of the-developers-are-already-way-ahead-of-you. Of course, I am now even more eager for 2.0!