Goodbye, Cruel Word: The Superiority of Scrivener

[Full disclosure: I took this title from Steven Poole‘s blog post of 2007; in 2009 Nick Balaz used the same title.]

These are my notes for a talk in the Faculty of Arts Research Seminar (FARS) series at the University of Calgary on March 14th, 2012. The convenors of FARS are me (Michael Ullyot) and Noreen Humble.

Descriptive Blurb

Scrivener is software (for Mac and Windows) designed especially for long, complex writing projects. Unlike many word processors, it accommodates writing at every stage, from gathering sources to outlining arguments to composing drafts to rearranging segments in a final text. It encourages you to dismember large projects into their constituent parts, to take notes and write sections in isolation or in context. It can compile those sections into an outline or display them as cards on a corkboard for you to stack and rearrange. Put simply, it elevates your words and simplifies your workflow; it is to word processors what fontina is to Velveeta.

In this seminar, Bart Beaty and Michael Ullyot will introduce you to Scrivener. We will describe how we use it in our research, teaching, and administration. We are not just evangelists for Scrivener, so we will also discuss its limitations.

This is the first in a series of Faculty of Arts Research Seminar (FARS) talks called Tools for Thought: discussions of software applications and workflows to conduct research and manage data across the disciplines. To propose a tool for a future seminar, contact Michael Ullyot <ullyot{at}>, or leave a comment at the end of this post.

Notes and Screenshots

[These point-form notes cover only those features of the program that I use most frequently. Some language here borrows from the Feature list of Scrivener 2.2. Many of the images below are from my own project; a Google Images search for “Scrivener screenshot” yielded the rest.]

Scrivener’s suitability to large, complex projects:

Interface sections (Binder, Editor)

Basic unit: the Scrivening (text of any length)

Rearrangements; writing order

Metadata: planning and restructuring; word counts & targets for each

Scrivenings view: collects all components into a single editor, treating them as one document

Split-screen editor with two sections visible

Corkboard view: synopses; stack and shuffle to rearrange sections of draft

A very elaborate corkboard:

Use of metadata (drafts):


Research folders (1): for “images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files, …”



Inspector (1): for metadata (synopsis, labels, status, notes)

Inspector (2): for footnotes/comments



Fullscreen mode:

Revision mode (text colours)


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