word-style annotations

Hi - I feel a bit churlish making any suggestions given I haven’t actually paid for a copy of your program yet (two weeks before the demo runs out) but after having it heartily recommended by a writer friend I’m beginning to find it annoyingly, irritatingly indispensible. Rave quotes from successful novelists doesn’t help either.

Anyhoo, my suggestion is to do with annotations: forgive me if there’s a different way of doing them, since I’ve only been using it a couple of weeks.

As good as being able to colour annotations differently and fade them is, I still find it weirdly obtrusive on the main text when I’m in fullscreen mode, which is by far my favourite mode for working (black screen, white text centred with wide black margins on either side, inspector panel to the right). One thing I’d personally like is for annotations to look kind of like the way they do in Word, in the sense that you get a block of text outside of the manuscript, to one side, with a dotted/coloured line pointing into the actual manuscript, to a group of word or paragraphs to which the annotation might refer. In that way, notes referring to a book I’m working on are next to the main text, rather than embedded directly within it, which I find not only interrupts the flow of the text for me, but I also find it easier to take the annotations in, mentally speaking, if they’re physically separate from the text, but still linked into it at the same time.

The other reason for thinking something like this might be a good idea is that I’d prefer to have a lot more annotations, so many the actual text might become obscured by the sheer number of annotations with the current setup. Being able to place them to one side of a column of text in a manuscript would make this more feasible, particularly if (another minor bug) I can’t resize the annotations themselves, to fit more in.

Anyhoo, I hope that makes at least some kind of sense. Seriously good software; I’ll be buying it in the next week or two.

Hi Gary,

Suggestions from users are always welcomed whether they’ve bought the software or are just using the trial. :slight_smile:

A lot of thought and discussion went into the current annotation system (although they are not perfect, I admit). In the initial stages of developing Scrivener, I did try to implement a margin-notes sort of system (similar to the on in Jer’s Novel Writer, which in turn is similar to the comments in Word). However, they were always a little clunky for a number of reasons - and in fact, I find the comments in Word clunky, too. A number of users felt that this system would be restraining because it limited how much text you could place in any one annotation. If you were prone to long annotations, one note might run down the margin for several paragraphs. If you made a note in the margin for one of those other paragraphs, it would be forced beneath the other annotation, so that it wasn’t anywhere near the text with which it was associated. There were certain technical difficulties, too, but for the most part I did have a working system before I rejected it.

Most users felt that an in-line annotation system, such as the one now used, would be better. Not all, though - like yourself, some still wish for a marginalia system.

The ideal system in my eyes - and a number of users have requested this, too - would be to have the current in-line system, but with the ability to completely collapse (hide) the annotations, either one at a time or all at once. This is what I would ultimately like to achieve, but there are some severe technical difficulties in trying to achieve this. It is probably going to be a 2.0 thing. Really, I hope that I can get to WWDC one year and speak to some Apple engineers about the best way of doing this, because everything I’ve tried so far ends up buggy or ruining the undo stack.

Anyway, I hope that explains why I won’t be going for the marginalia system, but at the same time that I do hope to improve annotations in the future.

All the best,

Probably not needed yet, but another vote here for keeping the annotations within the main text field. Strictly a subjective matter, I suppose; at the opposite pole from Gary, I find it disruptive to have material outside the margins. Probably goes back eons to when I was a magazine editor, trying to keep my edits/comments interlinear.

No logic to it then either, of course; it was simply what I was most comfortable with.


I liked Jer’s marginal notes and would surely use them in Scriv, particularly if they could seamlessly exchange with Word’s comments. However, the current system works pretty well. In fact, I’ve been editing some of my coauthor’s drafts by importing them into Scriv, using strikethrough and highlighting to signal cuts and additions, and using annotations for comments. Then I paste it all in a rich text doc or even an email and send it back. We both have Word, so I could use that but this is only a bit clunkier than using “real” comments, and I don’t have to deal with Word’s other frustrations. Now, I just need to persuade him to buy Scrivener…

Perhaps there is a “middle ground” for the issue of margin notes versus annotations in the body of the text? In order to provide convenience/utility, but without having the margin notes become burdensome (for the user or the software writer), how about considering some of these options:

a) Restrain margin notes length to some severly limited word count, like only 5-10 words.

b) Restrict the margin notes range to some pre-defined terms that meet the most common needs.

In other words, keep margin notes short and friendly, like:

Needs Work
Start Here Next Time
Shorten This Section
Clean This Up
Needs More Research

…and more “logistically challenging” things like:

Move Scene 22 Here
See Ch 7 Notes

…or whatever makes sense for each person’s style.

In effect, they could act more like small “sticky notes” (like the real ones on the smallest sized paper), that can act like the analog world equivalent of hanging out the side of a real stack of paper, to quickly guide to a place where there is some issue. However, being small “flags” only, as opposed to a larger size, they can’t tempt the user to also subsitute them for longer text annotations.

Call these “guide posts” or “flags” ( as opposed to tabs, tags, margin notes or annotations), but the main point is that they still stand out and allow someone to visually scan the margins of even the longest passages and quickly grasp their “what needs to be done still” list at the very top level. The acutal edits/annotations can still be in the body of the text.

The “guide posts” don’t necessarily have to be bookmarks that are tracked in a formal list as “to do” items, or even enabled as hypertext (although either of those would be nice to have too). [I am new to Scrivener, so I don’t know what “internal navigation aids” may accomplish the above already.]

This way, both types of personalisties can have something that meets their style, without things getting out of hand.

Thanks for your suggestion, but I’m afraid I have no plans of implementing margin notes of any kind at this juncture. :slight_smile: (I don’t want anyone to be misled into thinking it might ever happen.)

Isn’t this basically what… highlights are for? Then you don’t even need to make another marker to remember what you were talking about when you slapped “needs work” next to a long paragraph when there is only six words in the middle of the paragraph that really need work. Just highlight the words you want to fix with the colour you have mentally assigned?

What about as a compromise (actually, this seems like a very useful feature regardless) providing a pane in the inspector for showing a list of annotations for all selected documents, grouped by document? If I had a list of all the current annotations, then not having them “appear” in the margin would not bother me, because I could jump to them from the list. Surely no one would say “no” to a feature like this?

Not if you’re going to program it for me. :wink:

Clomping into the temple with shoes on, I still feel that some kind of margin notes would elevate the Scrivener experience from fantastically excellent to pure nirvana.

I started out writing fiction in earnest thanks to JNW and the reason I fell for it was margin notes.

I’ve now shamelessly abandoned JNW because of the, let’s say, intermittent user support, remaining bad bugs and slow development cycle, and since about a year I’ve spent several-to-many hours daily in the Scrivener environment.

And I love it, make no mistake about that. Just about every time I think “wouldn’t it be neat if Scrivener could do that”, it turns out that Keith has already thought about ‘that’ and created a smarter implementation than I’d ever imagined.

Except, I sorely miss my Margin Notes.

They are such an elegant solution to those impulses I get when reading through my text — “that’s a clumsy word there — need a synonym.” Just bang Cmd+M, type “syn!”, and go on. Or “what if she shows him the knife here instead?”. Bang Cmd+M, “knife here?”. You know what I mean.

I just hate the in-line annotations, so I don’t use them. They break up the look and the flow of the text (I’m sensitive in that respect — I can get thrown off by a double space) and make plain ugly splotches on the page, especially in FS mode.

I’ve tried using the Document Notes inspector, but after a while the list gets so long that it’s self-defeating since there’s no way of anchoring a note to a specific place in the text.

I can see how margin notes might be difficult to implement in the standard view, but in FS view, it would surely be feasible to have some kind of MN? OK, strike out the “surely”, because I haven’t done any programming since I dabbled in structured Basic on my Sinclair Spectrum back in the '80s.

In standard view, perhaps the idea posted above, of having them gathered in the Inspector window, might be possible? I’d only need the notes belonging to the current document listed, not all the notes for the project, since I mainly write chapter based stuff.

In fact, a dot in the margin that I can click on, leading to a note in the Notes Inspector would be fine — I wouldn’t even need the text in a margin box; the Inspector would be fine.

As for creating the note — Cmd+M would open a floating window over the current cursor position, type the text, hit Enter — a dot in the margin and a new note in the Inspector…

Sorry for the filibustering. Some kind of instant and unobtrusive margin note option would make all the difference for me, the way I write. It would allow me to catch those little creative impulses that so easily get lost.

Kind regards and, again, thank you for Scrivener,


Alright, Keith. You’ve got a deal. Send over the source and I’ll hack something up :smiley:. I actually half earnestly spent a few minutes last night contemplating how I would architect my own software, and if I had the energy to do it all for such a seemingly silly thing, yet that had – somehow – so much importance to me.

Spitfire31 – Yeah, I think there could potentially be a lot of interface solutions that meet somewhere in the middle in terms of implementability and feasibility. But I would settle, if I at least had a way to see all my annotations in one place so I could tackle them one by one. One step better would be to let me annotate text (or rather label it) perhaps with a highlighter but that brings with it the ability to add a note to the highlighted portion, and then search through those. A nice panel that shows the notes for the current highlighted portion would naturally be a good addition to this.

Anyway… lots of solutions exist. We just have to convince Keith to implement them, or to let me do it :wink:

Don’t lynch me if I am wrong, but I believe you are preaching to the converted…

I read it somewhere (no idea where now), but I am pretty certain Word-style margin comments will be available alongside Annotations in 2.0.


Preaching to the converted is the only way to make sure you’re listened to. :wink:



No, there are no Word-style margin notes in 2.0, exactly, although there are floating comment notes available alongside regular annotations, which just means that you create a comment on a piece of text in a separate panel (clicking on the text brings up the panel).

The whole margin notes thing comes up from time to time and I find myself explaining the same thing over and over again, but I’ll do it again. :slight_smile: Back when I first started work on Scrivener I spent a few months (!) working on a margin notes solution, and to be honest it was never very good. From a technical perspective, for a start, it is a problem. You need a separate view inserted into the same scroll view as the text view. Both views have to maintain a size consistent with the other - if the margin view gets bigger than the text view, the text view has to expand, and vice versa. The standard OS X text view just isn’t built for this sort of heavy customisation (although I am aware the guys at Nisus have done it - but they have a team, and their lead text guy, Martin, is a text engine guru on the level of Apple engineers). More problematic still, the notes then have to keep pace with the text to which they are attached, taking account of view resizing, text editing above the text, and so forth.

All of which is my way of saying that what you are asking for is not trivial. It is months’ worth of work. Dedicated word processors such as Pages and Nisus hit a basic feature set and can spend months on stuff like this; Scrivener, being more general and not a dedicated word processor, has many more features that need work doing on them at the moment (for 2.0).

Now, I’m a better programmer than I was when I tried my hand at margin notes last time around, and I know a lot more about the text system. But back in the early days of Scrivener, when it was being beta-tested pre-1.0, types of margin notes and annotations were discussed heavily - there may even be something about this in Amber’s FAQ. But there is one thing about margin notes that I hate: they are only good for a few words, or a couple of sentences at most. Beyond that, they trail down the margin in a long oblong, with the bottom nowhere near the text to which it references. Add another note to the text directly below, and in the worst case scenario the margin note will be forced down by the one above so that you cannot even see the note and the text to which it refers on screen at the same time. So to me, margin notes look cool, but they are a direct real-world-to-computer transfer, where a technique from the real world has been put on the computer without using the computer’s different abilities to improve what they can do, so they have the same limitations on the computer as in the real world.

So, margin notes per se will not be coming in Scrivener.

On the other hand, despite my flippant answer to --dk-- (which was only in response to “how can anyone say no” - someone who is spending many many hours coding 2.0 every day at the moment probably can say no to yet-another-feature :wink: ), something he said did give me an idea for something that would be similar to margin notes but have less of the disadvantages, which may make everyone happy. However, I shall say no more about it until I’ve tested its feasibility for 2.0 some more.

All the best,


Thanks for taking the time to giving such an erudite reply! And thanks for considering something “similar to margin notes [with] less of the disadvantages, which may make everyone happy”.

Let me just defend the MN concept as I see it.

I’ve never considered margin notes as containers for large amounts of text – rather, as small reminders: ‘try a synonym’, ‘plant this character trait earlier!’, ‘research needed!’, etc. I’d be perfectly happy with a MN concept (for lack of a better current term) that allows a maximum of, say, 128 characters, not unlike the file system’s max of 255 characters. A filename isn’t meant to hold a novel, neither is a margin note, and I think that such an imposed brevity would solve the perceived problem of MN:s taking up a page or more. OTOH, perhaps it wouldn’t be to everybody’s satisfaction.

Short and to the point, simple to create, anchored to a specific place in the text and out of the way of the main text — that’s what I’d like a “margin note” to be, and if there’s a more clever way to do it than the JNW model, so much the better and I’d be all for it.

I’m waiting with bated breath, preparing to be happy…



Ah, sorry Keith.

It is a long time since I have used Word, so I didn’t realise what their Margin notes did, and likewise, I only had a half memory that something similar was coming to Scrivener.

I like comments that hide out of the way and are invisible unless I choose to click on them anyway… so what you are suggesting for Scrivener is great.


Please don’t keep adding notational features to Scrivener
Look at how many ways one can do that now:

–Highlight (thanks, Amber)
–Document Notes
–Project Notes

I mean, come ON. When you export to Pages or Word, add Comments galore. At some point, you have to stop the endless notating on notating and get the draft compiled, exported, and moved on to a word-processor for others to read. Let’s see some tough love around here. Harrumph. :open_mouth:

One more, Druid: Cmd-L to create a dated link to a note document which is dynamically created and stored in the Binder. :slight_smile:

Anyone else hear a loud popping sound? I think it was druid’s head.