A tool for academic writing

A colleague in the Twitter #phdchat discussion encouraged me to blog about a writing program I use for my doctoral thesis (‘dissertation’ in North America). Scrivener, from Literature and Latte, was exclusively for Mac computers but is now in Beta for Windows.

I’ve developed a couple of courses using Microsoft Word and WordPerfect, years ago, and I can’t forget my master’s thesis. I recall the non-linear nature and the confusion working in one document or numerous smaller ones. There are certainly powerful features in Word and other programs, and there is guidance available for working with long documents. In fact, I assume that I will use Word at a later stage in the thesis. However, for the development, I am using Scrivener for the research and writing. It is a program for writers.

I’m fairly new to Scrivener, so there are a lot of features to learn and use, including imbedding citations and exporting to Word. The screenshot shows some of my organisation. In the ‘Draft’ section, folders are created and text notes are made within the folders. All of this is compiled as a larger document. There is a ‘Research’ section where documents, graphics, and other items may be imported and stored. These are not captured in the larger document unless specifically used. My notes and other writing are shown in a pane to the right. I click to see it rather than having to open individual files or move through a larger document. For me, the major advantage is to work in chunks, quickly move from one to another, and drag pieces around. I also like the option of using split panes to see two sections at once.

For many publications I read, I create a text field under a folder for the type of resource. My notes may be short or long, but they are quick to make and are easily accessible or searchable. I create folders for other related activities, such as attending a conference, writing a blog post, making notes from tutorial sessions, or keeping a research log. If I want to add to a section other than what I am working on, I can quickly move to it, write, and return to where I was. A caution would be to keep on top of the organisation, as I can already see a need to do some cleanup.

Writing occurs within a ‘project,’ such as the one for my PhD research. I also have a project for business client notes, opened separately when I need it. Rather than me describing in great detail, I encourage reading of their web pages and watching the video tutorials, starting with the first on the page (10 minutes) and the second (35 minutes).

There are other programs that may be of interest to you, and competitors are even described on the website. It is important to know that there are tools that may make the writing easier, and I encourage you to explore them and share what works for you.

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA

Leave a comment


  1. bdra

     /  July 11, 2011

    I find “Document map” in Word useful for jumping between sections. I write using lots of section headings, some of which may get deleted at the end.
    Paul Rudman, BDRA

  2. Jeffrey Keefer

     /  July 18, 2011

    This is very helpful, Tony. Thanks for sharing your workflow; great for new ideas, as my process has not been working well.


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