Five Things Scrivener Can Do for You (Besides Word Processing)

Scrivener (or Word?)

Scrivener is an application designed and developed to help users write and organize large projects.  I first started using it about a year ago when embarking on my own large project, and now I use it for almost all of my word processing needs.  It  helps me get words on the page, and I find it a useful alternative to Microsoft Word (though sadly it’s not a complete replacement – more on that at the end of this post).  I’ve thought about five things that Scrivener does for me that it perhaps can do for you also.

Easy to Use and Learn

Scrivener has an avid user base, and along with a lot of tutorials and static forms of support, there’s also an active forum that users post questions and comments on. Support questions are often answered by the developer of Scrivener himself, and his software company also has attended to suggestions and comments by users to make the application even better.  So, it’s easy to find help, and also easy to learn, with all the nifty video tutorials available online.  There’s also an in-application tutorial that you can open up when you first start using Scrivener (or any time you want a refresher).  It’s helpful when getting your bearings when first using it.

Keeping Organized

Here’s a screenshot from one of my Scrivener projects. There’s a list of files in the left sidebar, a space for comments and footnotes in the right sidebar, and the text editing pane in the middle.

I really hate trying to keep files for a project organized in a folder in the Finder on my Mac.  No matter how organized I try to be, documents end up in unexpected places, often with weird file names, and I can’t find them when I need them (sometimes I forgot that they exist in the first place!).  Scrivener helps me keep track of my documents for a project, no matter what obscure filenames I give them.  The main window for Scrivener has a sidebar on the left with all of the documents and folders related to the project that you’re working on.  If you create a new document or folder, it appears in the sidebar, and you can move things around, and easily create more folders and subfolders depending on how particular you are.  Sure, my Scrivener projects’ sidebars could be better organized than they are, but using Scrivener guarantees that all of my documents I use for a particular project are somewhere in there.

View and Collect Multiple File Types

Scrivener also helps in organizing a large project through its ability to let you drag and drop and import lots of different file types into your Scrivener project.  This can aid in reducing the annoying number of applications and windows open at once while working on something.  Scrivener’s interface allows you to sort through different files and folders in its main window as I mentioned above, and you can drag and drop all kinds of documents (including images, PDFs, and Word files) into the left-hand sidebar and organize them into folders. You can look at a PDF from within scrivener by selecting it and take notes on it without having to open a separate PDF viewer.  You can also select which part of your project you want to work on, and write and edit in the middle pane of the Scrivener window, as well as work on more than one text document at once.  I really like this for my own writing, because if I think of something that I want to add to a different section, or think of or see the title of a book/ article I should add to a reading list, I just click over to my other section or reading list, edit it, then click the ‘back’ button to return to what I was working on before without interrupting my writing too much.

Full Screen Mode

Scrivener’s full screen mode looking just the way that I like it.

Scrivener has an awesome full screen mode that I use when I really just need to get some writing done.  It is simple – it’s just a blank space write in.  There are a lot of easily accessible settings to make it look just the way you need it (bigger and smaller magnification of the text, fading of the background, page width – the list goes on).  I use the full screen mode often, to help me shut out all other in-computer distractions when I’m trying to write.  For me, this alone makes Scrivener worth using.

Features and Flexibility

Scrivener has a lot of features (admittedly, most of which I don’t use), for different types of writing projects and approaches, so it’s very flexible in how you use it.  One of the features I do use is the “Project Targets” tool, which lets you set a word count goal which automatically resets each day (there are other options for it also). I admit, it gives me a sense of satisfaction to see the little target word bar fill up the more I write.  I also like Scrivener’s backup feature – it periodically saves backups of your work. This is useful for obvious reasons, but a slightly less obvious trick I learned is that if your computer is connected to the internet, you can use Scrivener with Dropbox and have your backups saved on your network drive.  That way, you’re saving your work on your computer’s hard drive and on a server. In case of some disaster, there are always backups of my projects saved in the ether of the internet.  There are lots of other features and tricks that you can take advantage of with Scrivener – the aforementioned are just a couple that I use. The flexibility of the program and its tools is one of its great strengths.

A Different Space for Writing

Okay, there’s actually a sixth thing that Scrivener can do for you, but I didn’t count it because it’s more subjective – I believe that sometimes, you just need a change of tools to help get things done.  I’ve used Microsoft Word for many years, and now I’ve found that I have such strong associations with the familiar Word document window that it feels oppressive.  I can’t quite explain how it feels oppressive, but it does.  Switching away from Word was just what I needed to help motivate me to write.  It’s not a magical solution, but it does provide a different, more relaxed writing environment for me, and that helps me get my writing done.


Though I do most of my writing and note-taking with Scrivener, I do still use Microsoft Word from time to time.  One of the things that Scrivener doesn’t do very well is import/export footnotes and comments to and from marked-up Word documents. I also find Scrivener cumbersome when I’m trying to be particular about the formatting a document for printing out (like an assignment sheet to hand out to students).  If I have to send a text document to someone, I always export to Word before doing so, since Word is the dominant application for word processing.  Despite these few issues I’ve had with Scrivener, I still encourage people to check it out the 30-day free trial.  Happy writing!

About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.


  1. Lisa Muszynski says:

    @ Scott Kent: Thanks for your post; I use Refworks in my own research, but as I’ve contemplated using Scrivener, I’ve wondered how to integrate this bibliographic tool – wondering just how well my many references and footnotes would transfer. I’ve balked at getting on board with Scrivener just for this reason, but your suggestion does help move me forward toward embracing Scrivener (the idea to toggle pieces of text around to their right places from other bits of texts is just so powerful!). Thanks to Kim Mann for bringing this up and discussing it!

  2. Frédéric says:

    There’s a great and simple way to integrate citations with Citavi (not available for Mac afaik). Just export the citation you want to use from Citavi to the clipboard and import with “paste” into Scrivener. When exporting the final document (for example your thesis) you can then compile the bibliography for the finished document in rtf or word (Citavi will scan the rtf document for the {} citations and add a bibliography as well as footnots if you wish). I believe the same works with EndNote?!
    Best of luck!

    • Kim Mann says:

      Thanks, that’s a great suggestion! It’s good to hear that lots of people have ways of integrating Scrivener with bibliographic tools. I’m looking forward to trying it out on my own work.

  3. Hi,
    I’m also very fond of Scrivener and plan to write my thesis with it. Hhow do you use Scrivener for doing the bibliography? I’d love an integration with Papers2 but afaik this is not yet possible.

    thx for the post.

    take care,

    • Kim Mann says:

      Hi, FD, thanks for the question! Unfortunately I haven’t figured out a smooth way to do a bibliography with Scrivener yet, but I’d be interested to do so. Part of the problem is that I use Zotero for my reference manager, and it links up with Word quite nicely but not so well with Scrivener. So I think it really depends on if you use a bibliographic tool, and if so, which one, since some seem to work well with others. (See this link in the Scrivener forum for suggestions.) -Kim

    • Scott Kent says:

      I use EndNote to produce a bibliography in Word (Scrivener can link to EndNote, but not well), and then import the bibliography into Scrivener. Once in Scrivener I take each citation and make it into an individual page with another page attached. I have all of these citations in a folder labeled Citations (thought of that myself). The second page with each citation is where I do the work for the annotated bibliography piece for each of them. There is also a page outside of the Citations folder that holds my intro and such. The Research folder keeps examples for writing, the Word document, and best of all…all of the PDF file copies of the material I am citing. With everything in one place the bibliography has been much easier and after its done I can use the Compile function to create a Word document for formatting that contains only the pieces I need at the time…no more printing page ranges for editing or review.
      Well, that’s how I use Scrivener for bibliographies, YMMV.
      Good Luck

    • Kim Mann says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to give that a try, since I could use Zotero to make a bibliography in a similar way and import it into Scrivener. Sounds like a good way to organize sources in there.