Scrivener Research as "shoe-box"?

Hallo everybody!
New in this forum, but not so new on Scrivener. But, as everybody, I would like to use somehow better this (great) app. So here’s my question.

Until now I organized my “research” section as a (big) folder, linking and/or embedding files. I now find myself in the need to work like I did some decades ago: making cards out of some books, organizing them according to themes and storing them in a shoe-box.

I’ll try and explain my needs using a simplified scenario. I’m working on an Author, who wrote three books (say: B1, B2 and B3). Of course in each book he touches many themes (say: T1, T2, T3 and T4), and each theme can be treated more than once in any page of any of the three book. I would like to be able to “tag” somehow each and any citation/quote from these books and, of course, being able to retrieve them in any moment.
In the old days I used color-coded cards (each card containing a quote had colored dots, one for each theme that citation touched). Is it possible to “attach” tags to a paragraph (or, anyway, in a set of lines) in Scrivener? And, moreover, is it possible to “export” all paragraphs using, say, T2 in B2 and/or in all books?

Or: how should I build my research folder in order to be able to do this search?

Hope I succeeded in explaining my needs. If not, please, feel free to ask more info!

I looked into this for a recent research project where I need paragraph and other intra-document coding. I ended up demoing nVivo, MAXQDA, ATLAS.ti and a few other qualitative analysis packages and went with MAXQDA. (See … ur-results

The issues with trying to do it in Scrivener were several: Scrivener isn’t set up for paragraph-level coding unless you want to put each paragraph in a separate document, & add keywords to each. Alternatively you can use in-text hashtags and the like and use search. But you’ll spend a lot of time scrolling around to the exact find, bouncing back and forth between Binder and search, etc.

Another low budget possibility is to put all your notes in TaskPaper, which actually does a great job of paragraph-level filtering by tag, but then you’re limited to plain text. I experimented with this and wrote some scripts which will add MacOS tags corresponding to TaskPaper in-text tags, which makes some progress towards reporting / filtering / search. But I need to be able to code PDFs and rich text, so this wasn’t a long-term solution. But if you’re generating all the notes you’re coding or don’t mind plain text, it could work. (I’ve corresponded with Jesse @ TP as well as the developers of Bear to try to convince them to add a few features that could allow either to replace pro QDA software for most users, but no bites).

You could certainly do a Scrivenersque analog of your shoe box system and achieve many benefits.* There would be many ways to proceed, but here are some useful elements of a workflow:

  1. What was an index card in the old days is a Scriv document down in the Shoe Box folder in your Research folder.

  2. You can tag any document with as many Keywords as you want and have a project-wide Keyword window to organize and keep tabs on your keywording system.

  3. You can easily search for all docs that have certain keywords. These searches can be saved as Smart Collections, so you can call them up at a moments notice (and they are always up-to-date, i.e. always pull the things that now have those keywords). Searching reduces your Binder to just the “hit” docs and so you have easy ways to look at just the stuff you want to focus on. If you design your keywords with effective searching in mind, this can be very powerful. A lot easier than culling all the red dotted cards from the three actual shoe boxes (and then refilign them)!

  4. There are, of course, other ways to mark docs and you can also add custom metadata fields to documents. So far though it sounds like your shoe box system could be wholly emulated with keywording.

There are more complex shoe-boxing-on-steroids systems out there (someone is going to mention DevonThink), but so far it sounds like your needs are easily handled inside Scrivener – which is great because you already have it and have facility with it and it is probably where the product of your research will get written. One-stop cognizing!


  • I think derick is thinking of a somewhat different use case which would involve long, unbroken source texts in Scriv for which you would then face the limits of intra-text tagging (though in Scriv you could break up a source text into “card”-sized chunks as needed just as easily as you can do this with anything else). When you speak of tagging quotes, derick is supposing you mean having the source text in Scriv and tagging it in situ. I am assuming in this post that what you are meaning to do is more like the card system of old that you describe (which is a thing that is separate from the source texts – the quotes being extracted as part of your “card”-making research process).

Why yes, someone is going to mention DevonThink … but I don’t really see it having much, if any, advantage over Scrivener for an application like this.

DevonThink would be the tool to use if you wanted to do this kind of analysis on, say, the complete corpus of Elizabethan literature, simply because of the volume of data. DevonThink on the iPad handles million-word databases without breaking a sweat. But Scrivener has it beat in the ease with which it emulates “index-card like” behavior.

The only real alternative that I can think of would be Tinderbox, but the Tinderbox learning curve is very very steep.


Well, first of all thanks to all of you for your suggestions.
I’ll carefully read (and try) all your topics, but what seems to me is that any solution is some kind of a workaround, while for this kind of “paragraph code” I should use third party apps.
Let me say it again: I just quickly read some words of your answers, and I’ll dive in them more thoroughly ASAP. I just wanted to answer thanking you all (and anyone else should reply to this thread) :smiley:

Just to follow up, I’d vote against DevonThink as an alternative if you’re attached to paragraph-level coding. I demo’ed it for a while and decided against it. But here are some resources I found really helpful: … esearch-i/ (see links at the bottom) … en-review/

Thanks, derick! I’ll take a deep look at your links.

Just a little thought on what I already read on previous posts.
I currently (and happily) use DevonThink as my Documents folder replacement (well, turbocharged with a very powerful dBase engine, to be more precise… :smiley: ), since version 1. But for my needs it would be “too much”.
I think the thing that is more like to my needs is the tag system of blogs (you know: you click/tap on a tag and every article containing this tag is displayed), but I still need to figure out how to make article titles meaningful (I was thinking about a sort of mini-colophon, say Author-Book_in_two_words).
But, again, I would like to have everything in Scrivener, if possible, just because I’ll be using Scrivener to write my papers (maybe even a book?) on “my” Author.

Any further help is very welcome, but let me remind you that I still have to go deeper in what users suggested me in previous posts.