Writing in columns that correspond in content

Is the only way to work with tables? Here’s what I’m trying to achieve:

I’m working on an auto-ethnographic dissertation and I would like it to take on a unique form: I’d like to write memoir-type narratives in column one, as my ‘data’. In column two, I’d like to write my analysis and build theory more explicitly.

Hence, I need column two’s content to correspond, formatting-wise, to column 1.

I’m worried about working with such lengthy text using scriveners tables. My worry stems from a separate problem:

I was using a table to organize a list of scenes and corresponding data, and found that the formatting went all wonky! This was for my own notes, and wouldn’t be included in compile, so no big deal… kinda… it’s annoying and now I don’t know if I can trust the table feature!’

Is there another way to format this as I work in scrivener and/or to complile this way?

I’m using Scrivener 3 on Mac btw. Thanks for any help!

I think this has been asked before in the context of parallel translation, and the answer was not possible in Scrivener itself as it is a too complex a layout task. To do that, I would use a page-layout app such as Affinity Publisher (often available with a big discount making it quite affordable and for me not too much learning curve since I’ve used InDesign and Quark Express in the past), or Scribus (free but to me far less intuitive).

@Scrive will probably come along and suggest you could do this using a LaTeX workflow, though learning how to do it that way might be pretty arduous if you’re not already at home with LaTeX.

My solution for the writing stage would be:

  1. create the columns as separate “parts”;
  2. work with fine granularity, so that each document is no more than a few paragraphs long;
  3. to help with making sure each document is in the right part in the binder structure, give it an appropriate (e.g. “memoire” or “theory”) label with a colour assigned and set “Show Label in Binder”;
  4. every time you create a new “memoire” document, create a new “theory” document—document templates with labels already assigned make this easier;
  5. use the document titles to associate each “theory” document with its “memoire” document;
  6. open the two parts in side-by-side editors;
  7. do the writing.

This is essentially what I do with my collaborator on Chinese–English translation, except we often interleave each language text as that is required as the output, but use collections based on the labels to be able to put each language together as a continuous text.

On this set up for you, when I needed to compile, I’d compile each “part” into a separate document and then use Affinity Designer to place them in separate columns, adjusting the text boxes as necessary.

On a final note, I seem to remember that Word (and maybe LibreOffice etc.) can do “Newspaper Columns” but to get from Scrivener into that might be laborious … I can only think you’d have to do a lot of cutting and pasting and adding of blank lines, though those more expert in Word might have a better idea.



Not as you work, for all of the reasons given above. Scrivener’s text editor is just not designed for that kind of page layout. But you can indeed compile into columns, it’s just not enabled in any of the default settings:

  1. Open compile, and double-click on the Format you are using in the left sidebar to edit it.
  2. Go into the Text Layout section of the format designer, and enable the checkbox to use columns, setting things up the way you want.

Now you should be able to compile to a word processing file that is set up correctly, with columns that properly flow text between them and so forth.

I would strongly advise against trying to use tables to achieve this look. That will not be what anyone is looking for on the publishing end, and is going to be very difficult to manage cell heights manually—never mind how the table tool itself is rather simple and easy to make a mess with (on account of system level bugs we can’t fix ourselves).

I know Scrivener can compile to columns, but not to “newspaper” columns—or whatever they might be called—where when the text in the left column reaches the bottom it continues at the top of the left column on the next page, not at the top of the right column. I think that is what the OP wants, with the “memoire” in the left column and the theoretical commentary in the right, or v.v. Like this:

(which I cobbled together in Affinity Publisher in about 5 minutes!)

But I’m happy to be told I’m wrong! :smiley:


Wouldn’t that be margin notes of some kind?

If the relation main text—notes exists (meaning: the “notes” contain significantly less text than the “main body”) working with footnotes might work. One of the LaTeX templates Scrivener comes with has these at the outer sides and not at the bottom.

But generally I’d second Mark’s suggestion to go for Affinity Publisher for the actual layout. If Scrivener had an AP export format that would be a dream.

Which still leaves the question what structure to use in Scrivener. How about folders with only two sub-documents, the “left” and the “right”?

(Then it might even work with crummy word processors if in Compile the word processor markers for “jump to next column” after the “left” text and “new section” after the folder could get inserted in Compile.)

Maybe totally wrong, but wouldn’t Mellel do this. I have not used it for quite a while, and never in the way described, but I got the impression that Mellel allowed for ‘difficult’ formatting,

But Mellel’s import abilities were always really really terrible.

Nice to see we’re in agreement on so many things. Mind you, Scrivener has a very viable AP export … it’s called RTF! :smiley:

As I read the OP, I got the impression that the commentary would be more than margin notes.

As for only two subdocuments, the OP is talking about a “dissertation”, which is going to be sustantial, so marrying up the theory and comments with the memoire text is going to be much more difficult if each is in a single document … and the whole purpose of Scrivenings view is to enable more granularity in the structure while being able to work on each part as a continuous text.

But such decisions are for the OP to make.



To be fair, I think Mellel is very much improved from that point of view, but its idiosyncratic UI means I am not interested in abandoning NWP in its favour.

In terms of this thread, I’ve just checked, and the latest version of Mellel doesn’t do “newspaper” columns (NWP doesn’t either); it only gives you the option to start in the left column and move on to the right, or start in the right column and move on to the left, presumably necessary for RTL languages, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.



Mark, you’ve completely understood me. Yay! (So yes, column 2 would be much more than just margin notes.) And I so appreciate the level of detail you’ve provided in breaking down how to use scrivener for this. Amber and the rest of you too. I’m unfortunately not familiar with all of the other processing/formatting software mentioned (apart from word) so the thread is going a bit beyond what I’m ready for, but I guess I need to think ahead so I don’t make life hard later when it’s time to export! Affinity sounds like it’ll be my first to explore. I’ll be happy to hear more if anyone else has other ideas! Thanks all!

I think you should focus on your content and skip your layout idea.

Writing a thesis is enough of a challenge without adding unnecessarily complex processing and printing ideas. I have been a supervisor for several PhD students over the years. Those who wanted to do something genuinely new in terms of method (like you), which none of the supervisors had any experience of, ultimately ended their work by giving up.

The time you have available is very limited, so you don’t have time to explore new ways of doing things. Save that for a future career as a researcher.