Useless text selection in PDF files

So, I was just falling in love with Scrivener when I tried to make notes from a PDF file that I’d downloaded as part of my research. I split the main editor window and opened the PDF on the left and a blank page on the right. Started making my notes and then I wanted to include a quotation from the PDF. Tried to select the text, but Scrivener only lets me draw a box around text instead of selecting it with a cursor (as in Acrobat Pro). This is useless, because the article I’m trying to quote has been published in a two column format; the pasted text is completely mangled (by the time I’ve edited it back into coherence I could have simply retyped it all).

Obviously, I can open the PDF in Acrobat, but then I’m back to two floating windows (Acrobat and Scrivener), with the clutter of two sets of menus, etc., etc. i.e. all the problems I was trying to get rid of by moving to Scrivener’s tightly integrated environment. Argghh! :cry:

Please could this be fixed in the next update?

Thanks, Jim

I get the exact same result out of Reader that I do with Scrivener when copying text from columns, in the best of cases, and in other cases the result I get is even worse coming out of Reader. The box model is actually meant to help select text out of tricky layouts such as columns. I did double-check Acrobat Pro on the Mac to make sure it wasn’t a Reader limitation, but I get similar results between all three.

Text has always been “mangled” for me coming out of PDFs, if by mangled you mean it has hard breaks instead of soft breaks.

It could also be differences in the PDFs we’re individually using to test with, as well.

I know the problem, but Adobe Acrobat Pro (for Windows at least) does not have this problem, because I can insert the cursor between two letters and drag across a sentence or two, even if they’re in different columns. Obviously, if the original PDF is not much good (e.g. OCR scanned from a poor original) the results are poor, but generally I’ve found it does a very good job. The PDF I’m using is an article from an academic journal, so it has been generated from the original digital text, not scanned from a printed version.

(Of course, if I wasn’t paying the much-reduced educational price for Acrobat, it would be way too expensive, so I realise why people use more affordable software.) Jim

My version of Acrobat is really old for the Mac, so maybe that is something they have improved more recently. At any rate, PDF readers are very complicated to build, there is no way we could do so and still be in the business of making writing software. Thus we make use of toolkits in both the Mac and PC versions of Scrivener. We recently updated the PDF toolkit to what you see now, and trust me, it’s a whole lot better than it used to be. :slight_smile: At least you can copy text. At any rate, this isn’t something we can just “fix”, although like I say, I don’t think our select and copy model is producing a result that is terribly out of line with most dedicated software—although the box model is, I admit, a little unusual as primary mode (in Acrobat you have to hold down a keyboard modifier to select via box.

Sorry to hear it isn’t working well for you though. :neutral_face:

I appreciate the update. I’ll keep working and see if I get used to it, but I fear I’m going to end up working in Word again. Shame, there are so many things I really like about Scrivener, but the number of small but niggling problems are probably going to be too much for me.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that Word was an exceptional PDF reader, but sure, if that’s what makes sense.

Just a thought, jje: Many people use both Scrivener and Word (or some other word processor). My understanding is that Scrivener is not really intended to be your one-and-only writing software, but to do things that most word processors don’t handle well, such as gathering and organizing information, shaping research into structured writing etc. Scrivener can create a useful basis on which to finalize the writing process in Word. It’s a matter of which software works best at which points in one’s work-flow; and of course for some the work-flow is only disrupted by having to go back and forth between programs.

I was always planning to do the final tidying up and formatting in Word, but would really like to be able to do all my note taking in Scrivener, so that I can organise my notes as I go.

The problem I’m facing is that many of my sources (l write non-fiction) are PDF files (most academic journals are available in this format). I like having the PDF “filed” in Scrivener and I love the way I can “stack” it with my notes in the binder so that I don’t have two documents with the same name. Creating a little Index card with a brief summary of the contents is great and being able to colour-code, tag and generally organise all my notes: fabulous! It’s just the process of making notes from the PDF that’s bugging me a little bit.

Still, even if I have to go back to having Acrobat Pro in one window, Word in the other, making my notes and then dragging both files into the Scrivener binder at the end, that’s not the end of the world.

But if the integrated environment of Scrivener gets even better in future versions, I will be even happier. Jim

OK, that I completely understand. I work with those types of articles too, although not usually in 2-column format. If I’m reading your original post right, that’s the root of the problem, isn’t it, trying to select across two columns? At any rate, I don’t have any problems copying and pasting text from single-column PDFs. I wonder if you could post one of the files that are causing the problem as an attachment, so I could see the issue.


There’s a middle ground option that you might find useful… storing/updating the PDFs within the project, but opening them via an external editor when you need to be able to do something with them that Scrivener’s internal PDF tool doesn’t support.

“Open in External Editor”, available via top menu, right click on object and button on bottom right corner of editor window. Note that saving changes made to a PDF stored in the project may require that the PDF not be being selected/viewed by Scrivener itself at that time (if is, select something else in the binder to free the PDF up so as to allow the save to occur).

See 14.3 through 14.3.2 in the Scrivener Manual (available in Scrivener via Help > Scrivener Manual, also available as PDF download from the Scrivener web site’s Support page).

14.3 Viewing Media in the Editor
“The editor is capable of viewing most of the file types that you will need to interface with for research and creative use. The footer bar will often change to provide tools for working with different media types. Note that Scrivener is, by and large, not intended to operate as an editor for all types of files. It would take years to design these features, and in most cases your existing applications will do a better job of editing PDFs, movies, and images. Consequently, a convenience button will be provided on the far-right side of the footer bar for most media views. You may also right-click on any media file in the binder and opt to Open > In External Editor, which will open the file using your system default for that type of file, making it simple to load the document in an external editor of your choice. Changes made to the file will be saved within the Scrivener project when you return.”

Also see 14.3.2 Viewing PDFs.

Hope that helps.

I use Dragon Naturally Speaking a lot with Scrivener. I would definitely use it if I was copying a lot of material from PDFs. It takes getting used to, you need good RAM, and it can be frustrating to get the hang of it, but once you do your productivity will increase quickly. And it works with Scrivener no problem.