Translating with Scrivener

This is a long post about something I mentioned in passing on Twitter: using Scrivener for editorial translation projects. User Giovanni posted a screenshot of a French-to-Italian translation project on the screenshots thread, so I’m certainly not the only one who’s had the idea.

For our purposes, let’s define “editorial translation” to cover both literary projects (i.e. novels) and works of a literary nature (i.e. non-fiction works written in a literary style, not reference works).

Most translation projects are non-editorial ones such as software documentation and interfaces, technical manuals, spec sheets, contracts, etc., and they already have Computer-Aided Translation tools that have been built specifically for their needs. THE crucial feature of CAT tools is the ability to recognize and return previously translated bits, so that passages and terms are consistently translated all throughout. (Think of a 15-page manual that’s updated annually, with a few changes here and there, or a hardware store catalogue where the only difference between a hundred entries is the diameter of a tube.) The other crucial feature is a terminology management system, especially for terms where a company has its house jargon, and projects are given to different translators.
In addition, translators who work on such projects generally use Windows.

Editorial translators, on the other hand, work much more like “traditional” writers do, in that most of their focus is devoted to the words itself, and things like terminology management and matching translations are a relatively minor (but by no means inexistent) concern. These are the translators who don’t usually need CAT tools to manage their workflow, and for whom standard word processing apps are adequate.

I work on both sorts of projects, and find Scrivener particularly useful for the editorial ones. (The other ones? Not so much; I actually end up losing time.) Typically, I still end up doing a fair bit of research while working on an editorial project and have 8 tabs open on my browser as I go along; I jot down notes on sections that need to be revised; I refer to glossaries and reference documents sent by the client; and I constantly shift focus away from my main document because I have to refer to my source file repeatedly, either as a PDF, a separate document file, or the hard copy I printed out for annotating and reference. Scrivener solves these problems by putting everything in one place.
And while few non-editorial translators work on a Mac, there’s a much higher proportion of editorial and literary translators who are do.

The point of this post, really, was to give you a heads-up on another potential market for Scrivener. I’d love to see more of my colleagues use it, so that we can swap tips on making the most out of this wonderful app. If there are other translators here, I would most definitely love to hear from you too.

Hi pendrift,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I do know of a couple of users use Scrivener in this manner (along with Giovanni, there is another forum user, xiamese, who I believe sometimes uses Scrivener in this way). It’s really great to know that Scrivener is being used for this sort of thing, too, as translators are really the unsung heroes of literature (I am thankful to the likes of Geoffrey Wall and David Magarshack for giving me access to classics I could never have read otherwise, and to Jay Rubin et al to giving me access to Murakami, and so on).

We should maybe make a video about using Scrivener in this way. If you have any suggestions for what might go into such a video - or for what might make Scrivener more useful for editorial translations (without adding lots of translation-specific stuff, of course!), please let me know.

Thanks again and all the best,


I’m an editorial translator - I work with novels, memoirs, comics, and so on - so, as Pendrift says, it’s difficult for me to use CAT tools (though I’ve made some little testing with Wordfast,which is a really interesting software) because every new text is very different from others (yes, literary translation for me is more similar to writing than to technical translation); also, in technical translation the input you receive from clients is a file, perfect for your CAT software; in literary translation, the input is (in my experience) sometimes a normal, plain paper book; sometimes a stack of photocopies, and less frequently a PDF file - nothing very useful for CAT sw…

The main benefit of the simple use of Scrivener I posted in the thread about Scrivener layouts


is having just one adaptable window with the source PDF and the translated text side by side (the final step will be exporting text to Word 2008 to polish, refine, notes, ecc.); so, my question, Keith (re: Scrivener more translators-friendly) is :

  • it could be possible to have in the Scrivener management of imported PDF some of the features you have in Preview?

I’m especially interested in the Selection tool, as in the preceding image, because this is very useful in maintaning focus on the text you are working on, even after some hours of translation.

I don’t know if this can be done, from a technical POV, - but I know it could be very useful from my POV, in the translation with Scrivener (and if anyone has some smart workaround to manage this issue, please don’t hesitate to share it :slight_smile:

Thank you

Hi Giovanni,

I’m afraid there are no plans to extend the PDF editing side of Scrivener, simply because that would be a lot of work on a tangential feature, if that makes sense. Apple have done a lot of work on Preview - although it uses the PDFKit to render PDF files, it is a fully program into which much work has gone to add the other features, such as selection and so on. So adding these features to Scrivener would be like working on a program within a program, if that makes sense.

Thanks and all the best,


Thanks Keith, as always, for your quick response! BTW Scrivener is the Best writing app in town.

(Translations aside, I’ve just written with Scriv a short story for a collection, and I’m - well - procrastinating around about a, hmm, novel project, hmm… :blush:

Have you tried splitting the screen horizontally rather than vertically? I’m a translator too, and because my work isn’t suited to CAT tools, I’ve been using Scrivener for a couple of years now for doing draft translations. I work mainly with Japanese, and so when working on vertically written text, my setup is similar to yours, but when working on horizontal text, I have the screen split horizontally, with the source text at the top. I find that this way it’s easier to maintain focus on the part of the text on which I’m working (and I can also set the zoom level higher without having part of the text disappear off the screen).


A couple if ideas come to mind with regards to your needs, though they are completely uninformed with regards to translation work.

First, it’s fairly easy to select a page in Preview, copy it, and then go to the menu File->New From Clipboard to create a separate document containing only that page. You could then use the preview app’s “Annotate” tools to focus in on the passage you want to concentrate on for a given Scrivener document . Name the pdf and the scrivener doc similarly (i.e. Original-11 and Trans-11). You could even link to the pdf in the Document notes of the Trans-## file.

Second, if the pdf contains actual text, you could just copy and paste the text from Preview to Scrivener, creating a document for each passage (multi-page, or paragraph-at-a-time), or once again adding the source text to the Document Notes for the passage.

I think the key is if the Preview App’s annotations will be visible in scrivener. If they are, then splitting the pdf into individual pages (or groups of pages) and marking it up, then using Scrivener’s own highlighting and annotations to visually link the two document’s sections seems like the way to go.

Hope that’s helpful.