Scrivener for students?

I first came across Scrivener when using it for Nano, and loved it! So I bought it. I don’t often write novels, so I was wondering how I could use it for essays and other studently things?

Thanks in advance!

I wish all students not only in disability support, with whom I work directly, but the whole gamut would use Scrivener. Using it for coursework/term-paper/dissertation/thesis drafting would improve their writing considerably. No more repetition, no more poor structure.

Take a look at the templates in File > New Project and the Non-fiction tab. Everything from MLA style academic papers to 1,000 page text book possibilities available. And of course if those don’t suit you (or your lecturers/teachers/tutors/etc) then you can always devise your own.

The one major problem with Scrivener for academic work is its lack of any true bibliography features. Sure there’s a Preference for setting a Bibliography Manager but that is rather simplistic. One could compile the document to Word and then use a citation manager such as EndNote. One could compile the document down to LaTeX and then outside of Scrivener use the standard LaTeX workflow to use bibref. Equally one could use MMD and achieve much the same result as with LaTeX.

My own method, which is rather klunky, is to use BibDesk to collate all the references with their bibliographic metadata. Then when writing my paper, book, conference speech, whatever is to cite the sources according to what ever rules the publishers enforce there after drag and drag the specific reference from BibDesk to a Binder “References” document. As an aide to proof-checking I add an inline annotation as a reminder to verify that the reference is within the project.

Look here, you’ll find some hints.

Whether the lack of bibliography features is a “major” problem depends on the project. For a thesis with hundreds of references, sure, you’ll probably be happier if you use something like Endnote or BibDesk. (Although generations of students before you somehow survived without those tools.)

With more manageable reference lists, though, Scrivener is quite enough by itself.

  • In text, put a placeholder citation of the form [Smith2017]. Highlight it or use special formatting so you can easily find it later.

  • Create a section called References in the Binder. (More than one if you need to group notes by Chapter.)

  • Create a document named Smith2017. Put the body of the citation in the body of the document, formatted as appropriate for your discipline. If you’re going to need reference numbers, put the placeholder in the body, too. If you’ll be compiling to an electronic format, create a Scrivener link between the placeholder in the body text and the destination reference document. If the original reference is in your Research folder, give it the same name. (I keep my references in DevonThink Pro and use their Aliases feature for this.)

  • Keep writing. Your life will be easier if you keep the reference list in order of use or alphabetical (as appropriate for your discipline) as you go.

  • Before you Compile, use the project search feature to replace the placeholders with numbers. (You can skip this step if your discipline uses citations like [Smith2017] instead of numbers in the body text.)

I developed this system before Scrivener’s footnote/endnote features existed. If you use those features, put the citations in footnotes, rather than Binder documents, but you still may want to use placeholders so you can quickly identify the reference you want. Also note that a discipline that requires an alphabetical reference list (rather than in order of use) is not compatible with automatic footnote numbering.


True-ish. Any student other than one in the first couple of years of secondary education is very likely to have their work returned for not putting references in their essays.

Right. But it is not necessary to have specialized bibliography software or features in order to put references in your essays.


Also I’m just writing an academic book in Scrivener and it does work quite well with bookends, though there’s been a bit of a learning curve.

I used to actually teach Endnote courses, though this was about 10 years ago, and at least at the time, with a 100,000 word document, you’d have been well advised to (1) split it into different word documents and only combine at the end and (2) not use Endnote’s WYSIWYG cite as you write format but get Endnote to insert temporary citations (then you could add page numbers etc to those by inserting something like @27 into the temporary citation), and then getting Endnote to format the citation at the very end. Otherwise, you were practically asking to lose work. So, getting Endnote to format my entire PhD thesis once I’d actually combined the documents took about 45 minutes of the computer just ‘doing its thing’ with me standing by and waiting. I assume that Word has improved somewhat since then, but I still wouldn’t really trust it to remain stable with a really long document and 1000s of references and would probably, for that reason, still use a similar process now if I still used Word for anything other than final formatting.

Now, I insert temporary Bookends citations into my Scrivener documents, add page numbers to them by inserting something like @27 into the temporary citation and then format the references in the compiled document with Bookends at the very end. There’s not actually much difference between the processes, other than that Scrivener is considerably more stable than Word and I enjoy writing with it much more.

The differences may be somewhat more visible in student essays because they’re short and it would be feasible to work with Cite as you write without Word becoming unstable. But then Scrivener is the better writing tool, and if it’s possible to write academic books on it, it’s clearly also perfectly possible to write student essays with references, even using a reference manager.

I have used the directions at … scrivener/ to use Zotero and Scrivener together for writing papers. I will also be using this for my thesis that I am just beginning. It is not perfect but definitely helps. Once the drafts are done I will move to Word and finalize the references into Zotero format in Word.

… and I use Papers 3 for all my references, both searching, reading, annotating and including in scientific papers, and it works just fine.

But the OP is on Windows, and Papers is Mac only. As far as I can see, we are spoilt for reference managers compared to the Windows folks, the only ones seeming to be available for them being Zotero and Endnote … maybe Mendeley is available on Windows, but I don’t know. I personally use Bookends, but again it’s Mac only.



It’s never too late to change. You should use the best tools available for your work. I switched from Windows to Mac four years ago after having been raised on MS-DOS and Windows 1.0 and having followed through all the different versions of Windows, but finally gave up. I just couldn’t do what I wanted to do on my PC’s :smiley:

There’s also Citavi, which is windows only. Probably others, too. I don’t think Windows users have much fewer options than we have, in the end - the issue, which is an issue no matter which platform you’re on, is figuring out the right word flow for you given the tools you’re able to use on the platform you use.

It’s certainly true that generations of students and scholars did great work without using writing software that provided close integration with a citation manager. Most of them didn’t use writing software, or indeed computers, at all. This is not the point. Other writing applications such as Word or OpenOffice provide a programmable interface so that integration with software like Zotero can be implemented; that is currently the state of the art. Scrivener has so far chosen not to bother to catch up (despite statements such as this back in 2013); I can only assume that this is because academics are seen as a less important market for L&L than creative writers.

I stopped using Scrivener for academic writing some time ago. I still use it to write talks and lectures, but for anything that needs bibliographical footnotes, I’ve gone back to Word.

Scrivener and Endnote work quite happily together for me.

I use Endnote’s “temporary citations” in my manuscript texts in Scrivener and then either compile to RTF and run Endnote directly on that or compile to Word and run Endnote from Word.

It never seemed to me important to see my citations formatted WYSIWYG live while I typed – in fact, I find it annoying. And that is about all the Endnote plug-in for Word does that you would not get with the above workflow.

As an academic, you need to have Word around anyway. And if you are a college student, you probably have access to Word for free. So, it’s no big deal to write in a good writing environment (Scrivener) and do whatever end-processing you need to do with Endnote (and Word, if necessary).


I’d concur with GR though I use BibDesk instead of EndNote. At least in my writing, citations are for the reader – I have no need for the exact bibliographic info while I’m writing - if I need that I’ll go to BibDesk or the source itself. Fiddling with citations comes when the writing is done and the paper is out of Scrivener.

Hi there again

I’ve started to use Zotero for citations, where I make a footnote, and then paste the full note citation in. Is this a good way to do it? It gives me a bibliography at the end, along with numbers throughout the text.

I’ve seen things about using RTF/ODT scanning plugin for Zotero, but don’t really understand why it’s needed if I can do it the above way.


The advantage of using temporary citation markers, of the kind used by Bookends, Endnote, and various other programs, is that it permits you to scan at a later date and output a bibliography and citations in whatever format you like. So, if you write a learned article and want to submit it to several journals that use different formatting conventions, you can make different versions of the article at the touch of a button. Equally, supposing you write a PhD thesis for a university that wants you to use Harvard style, and you then arrange to publish it as a book with a company that wants you to use another style of bibliography, it will take a matter of seconds to scan and produce a version in that style. And if you use a numbered style, using temporary citation markers and scanning when you have finished means that you avoid the possibility of having to renumber everything because you have inserted an item at a late stage.

If I understand correctly and you are just using the footnote system, what you are getting is just numbered endnotes at the end of your doc. Citations in footnotes/endnotes are just a kind of in-text citation.p, and what you are getting at the end is not a bibliography. Unlike a bibliography, your citations at the end are not in alphabetical order, but in “order of appearance”.

Also, the numbering you get this way is not a version of the “numbered” citation style (if that is what you were thinking). First, the footnote numbers probably appear as superscript numbers, not bracketed numbers in the text. Second, and more importantly, if you need to make reference to the same work again in the text, making a footnote there gives you a new number (not the same one as used before), even if the content of the footnote/endnote contrives to refer to the same source text.


P.S. I agree about what was said about using “temporary citations” rather than formatted citations – it gives you access to one of the fundamental features if bibliography software.

Hi. I am using Bookends - or at least trying it out. I have historically used Papers 3 but for some reason the app does not work as well as it used to and I have grown disenchanted. Anyway. I have added temporary citations and compiled to RTF. How do I know get the actual citations to format?? I opened the RTF in TextEdit but can’t figure out what to do from here. It was fairly straightforward when I use to do this in Papers using Paper’s citations.

In Bookends go Biblio -> Scan Document.