Scrivener ( is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

Last I checked…
Scrivener 2.0 for Mac OS is $45 (Edu $38.25)
Scrivener for Windows if $40 (Edu $35)

It Comes with a free 30-day trail. Unless they have changed this, it is a 30 use days trial, not calendar days. What this means is that if you open Scrivener 3 times a week, you get 10 weeks of using it for free. This is nice and you can certainly decide if the application is worth the money to you in this amount of time.

Scrivener has lots of really useful features that I will get into below, but first, I think it would be good to show you the Getting Started screencast made by the developer. This is probably the best way to show you the power of Scrivener as a long-form writing tool.

Unfortunately though, the developer has not allowed the ability to embed the video here, so you will have to open this up in another tab or window. So before you go there to watch this 10 minute tutorial, here are a few notes I want you to have in your head as you watch:

  • The developer will start a new document using the “Blank Template” – We will want to use the “Non-Fiction Writing” template.
  • At 3 min in, he will cover dragging document to restructure – We will use “Folders” for chapters and “Documents” for chapter sections.
  • At 4 min in, he will cover “Cork-board View” – Super useful in the early planning phase of structuring your content.
  • At 5 min 30 sec in, he will cover “Outline View” – We will need this view to helps us with some goal setting.
  • At 8 min in, he will cover the “Compile” feature – This feature will allow us to focus on writing instead of formatting. More on that soon.
So now go watch the video linked below. I’ll wait here.

Introduction to Scrivener Video from

Welcome back. Hopefully you now see why Scrivener is hands down the best software to use to write your thesis. It allows you a lot of flexibility to break your content down into manageable chunks and reorganize as needed easily without doing a lot of copy and paste action. It also allows you to easily begin working from wherever you are in the process, importing previously written documents, making notes on sections not at the forefront of your current focus, and allowing you to focus on the writing knowing that it can compile your document to fix formatting as you go.

Setting-up Scrivener: Front Matter

To start setting up Scrivener for your thesis document, you will want to start with the “NON-FICTION WITH SUB-HEADS” template rather than the “BLANK” template used in the video. This comes with a couple of nice features built in so that you do not have to figure out how to set these up. First, it comes with this document in it that explains a lot about using the template. Read it.

The most notable feature of this template is the default “ENDNOTES” page. You can rename this Bibliography. Then as you write, you can easily attach a footnote to the in text citations – (Tippery, 2012) – that then includes your full MLA or APA citation. Upon Compiling a draft, all your relevant citations will now appear on this page. At the end of your writing process, you will have to manually put these in Alphabetic Order because they will appear in order of usage, but this is a relatively small task for the final version.

Next you will want to create a new folder. Call it “Front Matter.” Move the default Title and Contents documents to this folder, delete the Forward document, and create new documents for all of these parts of your Front Matter. Getting these things in place really helps make the writing real and gives you a place to start compiling this information as it occurs to you.

  • Cover Page
  • Title Page
  • Copyrights
  • Abstract
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements (optional)
  • Vita
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures

So your front matter will will look like this in Outline View.

A couple of Front Matter Pro-Tips:

Pro-Tip 1 – I made a Cover Page that I included whenever I compiled a draft to send to someone for editing or review. It included my contact info incase my printed document was misplaced, the date that it was complied so I could tell one draft from another, and the word count (rounded to the nearest 100). This word count was for two reasons: One, it let my draft reader know how much reading was ahead. Two, it helped me keep my motivation as I saw that number go up.


Pro-Tip 2 – No single thing made my thesis FEEL more real than the first time I saw the Title Page come out of the printer all formatted correctly. Do this very early to kick yourself into high gear.


Setting-up Scrivener: Chapters of your Manuscript

Next, using your existing thesis outline, create new folders for each of your planned chapters under the Manuscript Heading. You can do this extremely quickly using OPTION-COMMAND-N on a mac or whatever the equivalent is on a windows machine.

Now, we are going to once again take advantage of the very formulaic nature of a thesis. With the exception of the Introduction Chapter, which is its own sort of beast, we want to create two new documents in every chapter folder.

The first is the Chapter Introduction. (I called mine Chapter Overviews because I liked that better than Introductions.) EVERY chapter should have an introduction of some kind. As stated before, people who read theses will scan these to decide if they want to read the chapter. This introduction is also very formulaic. I wrote this formula on the synopsis card so I would not forget.

¶ 01: Create a link back to previous chapters.

“In the previous chapter I provided an overview of some of the larger societal factors affecting Design Education today…”

¶ 02: State the aim, purpose, and/or function of the chapter.

“In the following pages I will frame the state of Design Education currently…”

¶ 03: Outline how you intend to achieve this.

“In order to frame current state of Design Education, I will focus on two aspects. The first is what I will call the ‘Promise’ of design education, or why we teach designers. The Second aspect will focus on the current debate surrounding the future goals of a formal design education…”

So the first document in every chapter folder is your Chapter Intro.

The Second document you will create in every Chapter Folder is the Conclusion. Every Chapter should have a Conclusion. This should cover what has been achieved or established in the chapter that previously had not been.

Point of Clarification: A conclusion and a summary are not the same thing! A summary states what you found out. It is a potted version of the chapter. This is not what you want. A conclusion, on the other hand, states the SIGNIFICANCE or IMPLICATIONS of what you found out. A conclusion responds to the purpose of the chapter, as stated in paragraph 2 of your chapter introduction.

“In the previous pages, I have brought to light some of the complex issues currently in flux with regard to the state of design education and defining the Promise of a formal design education. If we as a discipline are to strive towards resolving these issues as we move into the future, it is evident that…”

So now your Scrivener Manuscript will look something like this, though your chapter titles will be more related to your thesis – not mine.


A Chapter Planning Pro-Tip:

By the time you get to the writing process, you will know an awful lot about your topic. You will also have a lot of this documented in various nuggets in Evernote. Now you need to start building a road map to help you plan more discretely your thesis writing journey.

Once I had this basic structure set up, one of the most helpful things I did was write a draft of every single introduction to every chapter. Then I wrote at least bullet points for what I thought would be in the conclusions. This helped me map my trajectory through the chapter content that would come between these documents. It helped me identify the start and end points for each leg of the journey. Some of the Introductions I obviously had to go back to, in order to touch up a point here and there, but overall this activity was far more helpful than the additional time it took to edit them again later.

Setting-up Scrivener: Writing Goals

The next thing to do is to set up your goals. Remember those word goals we started thinking about in the section on managing your writing? Get those back out and revisit them now. This should be easy because they are sitting some where in your Evernote “zz.Admin” notebook. Break those larger section goals down into their chapter components.

For example:

Background: 20% or 6,000 words. I had figured out that I was going to have two chapters in this section; one on Culture and one on Design Education. Split 20% in two and each chapter should be about 10% of the total chapter, or 3,000 words. Use your developing outline to split the percentages and word goals into goals for each chapter.

Next, With Scrivener in Outline View and your Manuscript selected in the Binder, click the little square, just below the split screen icon, with the little double arrows. It will open a drop-down menu that lets you select the meta-data columns you want to see. You want at least the following columns in your outline view.

  • Title: this is the one that tells you the titles of your folders and documents. I also have the Synopsis turned on in the image below.
  • Status: this one lets you mark each folder or document with where it is the writing process. Is it started? Is it a crappy first draft? Has it been through the editing process and OK’d by all my committee members? Awesome. It is done.
  • Total Words: this one tells you how many words are in the document or folder.
  • Target: This one, along with another that called Target Type (which I forgot to turn back on for this screen shot) lets you set your target per document or folder. Target sets a number and Target Type specifies that number as words or characters. I just set Chapter based targets.
  • Total Target: This one displays your target and target type as one column, but you cannot edit it. Once I had set all my targets, I only displayed this column and turned off the Target and Target Type columns so I would not be tempted to “readjust” my goals.
  • Total Progress: this one shows a color coded progress bar for each section. as you get closer to your writing goals, the bar fills up and moves from red to orange to yellow and finally green when you achieve the goal.


So get these Columns visible, enter all your word count goals, then turn off the Target and Target Type columns to stick to your goals. Now this view will help you keep track of your progress at the chapter level. There is one final thing we want to set up to let Scrivener help you monitor and achieve your writing goals. This will also help us in the next section to plan our writing timelines.

Setting-up Your Total Manuscript Target

If you click on the Bullseye Target icon in the top of the Scrivener window, it will bring up the Project Targets Window. Click on the Edit button and it will let you set a total document word goal. I set this to 30,000 words. Next, hit that Options button. This will open a tray that has several options, but the ones we are interested in are the Deadline and the days of the week for writing. I set a deadline here for April 1, 2014 (I do not know what it really should be) and told Scrivener that I have time to write 3 days/week (MWF). I also ticked a check box marked  “Automatically Calculate from Draft Deadline”. When I close this tray, the Session Target progress bar has now automatically figured how many words per writing session I need to write to reach this goal by my specified deadline.


This is really powerful. It bases the number off your goal and how much you have completed. So with this example of trying to finish in a little over a year (from when I first prepared these screenshots) , with a little over 4400 words written, I only have to muster up the courage to put down 152 words three times a week to stay on track. As you type, that second progress bar will work its way from empty to full, moving through the spectrum from Red to Green.

On days when the writing was flowing, I’d usually blow past the daily goal before I realized. Dont stop writing if you are in the zone and have nothing else you have to do. This just lowers the daily goal the next time you open Scrivener. On the days when you are really just struggling though, this gives you a mark to shoot for. You can tell yourself, its cool… muscle through a measly 152 words… make progress… call it a day.

This daily word count writing goal number is important for our next step to get ready to write. Write this number down somewhere safe (Evernote). Now Scrivener is all set up to work for you as you start the real writing and I know you really want to jump into it now, but there is still just a little more high level planning we need to do to make sure you write what you need to when you need to in order to finish on time.

We need to attach your writing goals to a time line that also takes into account some outside factors that you do not have total control of. You need to set Deadlines in your Calendar. ->