scrivener versus devonthink: two very different things, imho

so i’ve been lurking in this forum for a long while, though testing scrivener for months. i noticed several folks comparing devonthink to scrivener and i just wanted to chime in on this with my own notes.

i work in industry as a professional researcher (yeah, a bit vague, roll with it baby)…in the windows world, i used an outstanding academic research and annotation tool called netsnippets (.com) - and when i switched to mac last year, i was like a) duh, why did i wait so long and b) i’m gonna put in parallels and run netsnippets in a vm alongside other windows apps and c) there must be something like netsnippets out there…

so i did a long search and conferred with my research brethren and was led to devonthink pro…while it doesn’t support a few of my annotation needs as well as netsnippets (namely mla and ala style bibliography automation) it blows it away in other areas…typically, i’m researching an industry through multiple resources (online, print, conversation and so on) and so i use devon to create a database for a targeted industry or organization and consolidate everything within that repository…there’s more to it than that, but it functions (for me) as a very serious information management tool with tight browser integration (for pulling online info directly into a resource set)

on the other hand, i also do quite a bit of writing, mostly industry trade pubs…as you might all know if you’ve ever read a typical trade magazine, you actually don’t even have to know how to write! it’s awesome, you can even make up words and phrases (this product scrivener is ‘pre-revenue’ and they’re going to webify the yadda yadda)…BUT i’ve also been working on a dense training manual…

the manual consists of modules, a typical structure, with each module broken up into several written components…doing it in word was fine until it ran past 400 words, and by page 5 it was on to a search for a new tool…

when i found scrivener, i was thrilled - i could instantly pull in all of my module elements into newly created groups, view corkboard outlines (critical for me in terms of concept review, particularly because i ramble on)…the entire interface and utility is brilliant for what i’m up to, and oddly i never even really gave devon much thought as an alternative…perhaps because i’m using devon for professional research database building (to feed reports and projects)…it lacks a visual utility that scrivener offers that feels more ‘writerly’ (real word? or does that just sound familiar?)

so yeah, that’s my spin on this…devon is an unrivaled resource for information management on mac (or any platform) and scrivener is a killer tool for writing…if my research is unwieldy or requires a lot of structured data/info management, i’m inclined to use devonthink pro, and if i need to use what i’ve gathered in a written manual or book or lengthy column, then i move to scrivener (and can pull in what i need from devon)…

technically, one might structure groups and elements within devon such that they mimic the features of scrivener, but why bother? i just don’t see the point…it’s like using excel as a database when there are now so many other low cost options for database software, or using your fingernails as a pot scraper (that’s a stretch, sorry)

at any rate, i’m really looking forward to the final release of the first for-sale version…personally, i’d even pay a premium as a supporter fee for early access to new beta features or premium support or whatever else is worth moola…

Thanks for your kind words about Scrivener. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head as far as differences between DevonThink and Scrivener go, and I know there are a good few users around here that use both programmes in much the same way you do. DevonThink is a catch-all that is excellent for storing and cross-referencing disparate information and pulling up all of your stuff very quickly; Scrivener is really for the stage when you want to start getting a particular work into shape. To be honest, it was only when I was halfway through a very early iteration of Scrivener that I first came across DevonThink, and upon first glance I almost gave up on Scrivener. At that point (before even Scrivener Gold), the interfaces were particularly (and coincidentally) similar and I thought that the DT guys may have already done what I was trying to do, barring a few bits and bobs. But it didn’t take long to realise that DT really had a very different purpose. DevonThink is definitely a very cool app - I use it often myself.
Thanks for your thoughts and all the best,

Agreed – I use DTP quite a lot for collecting information (mostly from the Web, in conjunction with Devon Agent). And I played around with drafting essays in DTP. But Scrivener is somehow just right for the writing process.

And I LOVE how I can drag an icon from DTP into Scrivener’s Research folder (or wherever) to bring content into my Scrivener file. Oh man, that is so cool.

Thank the gods that you didn’t give up on Scr.!! Dt is wonderful and one of the major two programs I use–the other being Scr.!! But after a year of trying to make DT work as a writing program, I can say Dt definitely does NOT work for me as one!!! It was quite frustrating.

didn’t even realize that! the whole mac interface is brilliant…

as for DTP, it really is an outstanding database tool with a whole set of elegant features for information management…i could see it as useful for basic writing, but at some point applications do need to stand alone…

I’ve been a lurker here too for a couple of weeks. Just wanted to chime in on the DevonThink issue and also give my compliments to the developer.

I had just upgraded to DT Pro Office when I found Scrivener, so as you can imagine, I was not looking to abandon DT. After using Scrivener for a few weeks, I am really liking it for one particular project that I’m working on. More of that in a moment.

I actually find that DTP and Scrivener are complementary for my needs. I find DTP good for initial research, for keeping all the various notes, web archives, even scans of PDFs (when they were originally produced in a way that won’t let you index/search the words) and of articles that I have only in paper form, since DTP Office has scanning/OCR capability.

It seems to me that at some point, I would then want to stop using DTP for maintaining research material and start using Scrivener for early writing.

I am an academic, and produce several articles, chapters, even books each year. At this point I can’t see switching to Scrivener for this work. I feel most comfortable with a full-blown word processor that lets me start adding references, footnotes, even formatting right from the get-go. I use Mellel and Bookends for this purpose.

Scrivener is however proving a perfect fit for my latest project. This is a trade book. The organization of these books is typically in chapters with several sections, one-several pages long, that more or less stand on their own although their organization should flow throughout the chapter.

Scrivener really shines here for me. I can start each of these sections as a separate document, within a folder that is the chapter. I can reorganize as I see fit, create stubs where I know a topic needs to go even though I haven’t written it yet, re-arrange, etc. Then when a chapter starts to really take shape, I can “Edit Scrivenings” and transfer the whole thing to Mellel.

A quick question: when I have a document selected in the cordboard (blue highlight around it), is there a way to open it for editing using only the keyboard? Enter/Return creates a new document. Double clicking the note card begins editing the synopsis in the corkboard view. But I want to open the document. The only way seems to be to double click on the little document icon in the upper left corner. It’s a small target to hit, though, and I prefer a way to open directly from the keyboard anyway. It’s probably there, I’m just not finding it.

Your instincts are true. There are actually two methods to open a selected item via the keyboard. Cmd-Opt-O will open it in the current editor window, and Cmd-Shift-O will open it in the alternate editor, opening a split if necessary. These short-cuts also work in the Binder, and Outliner.

Additionally, you can enable a mode which causes Corkboard or Outliner clicks to act more like a traditional 3-pane editor. At the bottom of the display, there is a button which has two arrows pointing in opposing directions. When this is turned on, single clicks will open the selection in the alternate editor.


There are a number of users who use this combo of Dt, Scrivener and Mellel (and often Bookends as well). I’m writing my dissertation in Mellel (with Bookends) given my need for extensive and more complex footnoting. Though with any project that doesn’t need a complex citation method, I do use Scr. since it can do footnoting and I find it works well in that regard. And I too use DT as my ‘warehouse’ for research material. So you are not alone. I find it interesting how this combo has evolved for many users!

Amber: thanks for pointing out what was there in front of me, but I missed. This is much better!

Alex: good luck on the dissertation. This too will pass :wink:

I’m also discovering a nice integration with TextMate (I got it on the recent incredibly good MacHeist deal).

Ditto that entire sentence! Very nice if you work in MultiMarkdown.

Yes, I’m almost done. Thanks!! :slight_smile:

That’s me, too. Does anyone in our gang have an opinion about how to keep everything in synch? I sometimes find myself looking for a weblink in DT that I actually put in a Scriv refs window; or for a bibliographic bit in Bookends that instead is in DT. Not a big problem, just wondering how people manage. I have a strong hunch someone out there is better organized than I am!


For a while when first starting to use Scrivener, I brought things directly into it for research. But I started to find it difficult to find things, so I now do as Maria does, at least in so far as using DT as my major program for information capture and storage. I don’t do as much of my initial development in DT as she indicates she does, however, though I do think it could be a logical extension of having everything housed there. At least for now, I want DT to be strictly my warehouse for everything collected from everywhere–except for movie, some sound, and most pdf files, which I house in iTunes for movie/audio files and a central Finder folder for pdfs so I can use them anywhere, such as for references in Scr., etc. So I have my pdfs indexed in DT, though there are a few I’ve imported.

From DT I move things where I need them. It does require an extra step, but it’s worth it to avoid problems like, ’ now where did I put that’? There are a few things that might not make it into DT, but only if those are project specific and not something I might use elsewhere. There isn’t much of that kind of material.

I too have found Scr. sufficient for virtually all development and writing stages. I doubt I’ll use Mellel all that much once my thesis is finished. For anything requiring complex footnoting, I might use Mellel at that point. Hard to say if that will happen all that often.

So, I don’t know how organized I am. Without Dt, I doubt I’d be organized at all! But knowing that everything is in one place where I can find it quickly makes it all work. Just a second or two of extra effort, and keeping things centrally located, is what works for me.

Hope this helps!!


Any hints on how you managed this Maria-sensei? I’m slowly moving to clean up my own mess but have quite a ways to go. DT is just fine for capture and organization of source material, and Scriv is great for drafting. But in between I find I yearn for something that would handle my own notes, threads and miscellaneous ideas better. I sorely miss Scriv- style metadata in DT. But – at least as I use it- Scriv lacks DT’s storage, search and link finesse.

I get the feeling that you and Alex have figured out something I haven’t. Similarly, AmberV seems to be quite tactically sophisticated in her use of Scrivener - I remember her writing something intriguing about template documents with pre-made links.

Both Scriv and DT are pretty flexible and I suspect there are all kinds of tricks and processes that could make it easier to stay on top of the mess.

Any help would be appreciated,



Hi Eiron,

I have sent you a pm.


This discussion is beginning to sound more appropriate for Usage Scenarios/Zen. Anyway, I’m with the rest of the gang here: DevonNote for collecting research, then import to SCrivener for outlining and writing. (I used to use OmniOutliner for outlining, and it’s great, but I’ve learned how to make Scrivener do the kind of outlining I need.)
Synching isn’t really an issue since I try to clip all my research to Devon, so I can always find anything there.

In truth, since I don’t normally require much in the way of crossindexing or other advanced info management features, I could probably just do everything in SCrivener and the Finder, but DN works so well for me that I’ll probably keep using it.

My research and writing process is a bit of everything you all have said, but I adapt the tools to different tasks.

Courses and essays: DevonNote to collect notes, files, and URLs. I outline and draft in either Omni Outliner or Word.

Books, whether fiction or nonfiction: DT Pro, with folders arranged in chapter order. My entry labels use calendar dates to keep items in historical sequence: 1887/05/16 for May 16, 1887. To gather a set under a topic heading, I create a folder and place replicants there. I like Replicate, because editing one copy updates the other. For drafting the books, I’m a new convert to Scrivener. Final versions are in Word, since publishers demand it.

Screenplays: I started in Final Draft, tried Montage, and now am using Scrivener’s screenplay template. The final version I export back to FD, since it’s the industry standard.

Tools like DT and Scrivener make me very glad to have invested over two decades in the Mac platform. I hope one day to abandon MS Office entirely and rely on Mac-native software alone, integrated through a 3rd-generation iPhone!

Yeah, for me it’s a barely contained mess as well. Why DT works for me is because I can dump something in to it and then find it without having to necessarily order it myself. I may forget I have something in there, but if I’m doing a search down the road for something that pertains to it, it will still appear, like magic, from the inner recesses of my database. I have found it quite delightful to do a search and see some of the stuff that comes up! Items I had long forgotten about that proved quite useful.

I guess in this way, I don’t use metadata so much. To be honest, outside of specific projects where I might use it in Scr., I don’t use metadata much at all. I find it cumbersome and time consuming and too anal in the long run. I start to chaff at having to label things and give them keywords. I always end up dumpting items into a folder and moving on to the next thing. That’s why Dt works for me, I think. DTs search capabilities are strong enough for me to be confident I’ll find something if/when I need it. And I have to admit I do use the infamous ‘AI’ features some love and some hate (or simply ignore). I have found many fascinating and useful associations using this.

I also use DTs wikilinks, which are admittedly not perfect, but work well enough for me and my purposes. The only problem there is having to name files I want linked correctly.

I agree with Maria about not being able to open multiple dbs at once. That’s a pain. So what I do instead is have separate ‘group’ windows, which I can organize independently of the main db. Yes, I do sometimes get extraneous documents on searches, but it still works very well. I have a couple of separate dbs for material I know for sure I won’t use in my work, like business stuff (registration codes, etc.) or the db I have for studying anatomy.

It does take a bit of experimentation to find a system that works and it is not perfect and always evolving. But it does work and allows me to work, and that’s all that matters I suppose!