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Using Scrivener in research, part 1

I’ve known about Scrivener for more than four years. In fact, this application is one of the reasons why I switched to Mac and bought a MacBook in the fall of 2008. Scrivener is an application that was developed to help writers with their projects. Initially created for fiction writers (and Mac users!), it has also since then been adopted by non-fiction writers, journalists and researchers alike… and is now available for Windows too. My first experiences with Scrivener were in developing ideas for short stories. But the more I played with the software, the more I became convinced that it would make a great research tool. I’ve tried to use it in research projects before, but I never used it from the beginning of a project… until recently. Some weeks ago, I started a new research project and I decided that this would be the occasion I was waiting for. I also decided that I would share my experience with you over the next months. My aim is to use the app both for the data collection and the writing phases, and to document what I think of it for both of these tasks. But before I start, let’s start by looking at Scrivener. Here’s how it is described on its official web page:

“Writing a novel, research paper, script or any long-form text involves more than hammering away at the keys until you’re done. Collecting research, ordering fragmented ideas, shuffling index cards in search of that elusive structure—most writing software is fired up only after much of the hard work is done. Enter Scrivener: a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write—it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

What is great about Scrivener is that it combines in the same file elements that are usually accessed through many applications. The application is structured around two major sections, which are both located in what is called the binder – another word to designate the writing project. The draft section is were the writing happens, and the research section is where .PDFs, photos, web pages, etc. can be added. Before I start sharing screenshots of the actual project I’m working on, I created an example project to illustrate some of Scrivener’s features. So here is a first screenshot, of the main window that you see when you enter in Scrivener:

Scrivener 1

Having all the material I use while I write – material that is usually open in other applications between which I have to switch all the time – is quite useful. Another feature that is really neat in Scrivener is the full screen composition mode, which facilitate focusing on the writing task at hand. Not only does Scrivener offer a ton of features, but it can also be highly customized – and this applies to the focused writing feature environment. Here is an example of this full screen composition mode, but keep in mind that most of the things you see (font, width of the virtual sheet, background color…) can be modified to your taste. On this screenshot, you also see a toolbar on the bottom, which appears when you place your mouse over there.

Scrivener 2

So here it is for my quick and very superficial introduction to Scrivener. There are many, many other features in Scrivener – an outliner, corkboards, stats… and this post was not intended to cover them all. If this tool interests you, I would recommend to visit the application’s home page. You will find there more details on Scrivener. There are a lot of videos over the web on how to use Scrivener – some good ones on the application’s page – including a 10-minutes introduction to Scrivener which gives a good overview of the application and also many other ones on various blogs. There’s even a “Scrivener for dummies” book – which I might buy, since in all those years I’ve had the app, I feel like I have only used 20% of its possibilities…

In my next post, I’ll describe how I used Scrivener for data collection, and how I’m enjoying my experience. Stay tuned!

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