I started using Scrivener in April 2014. Out went Microsoft Word, in came the Greatest Writing Tool Ever. Just thinking about all the time I previously spent engaged in NEVER ENDING SCROLLING in Word makes me feel queasy.
The most popular post on this blog is undoubtedly “How I use Scrivener for Academic Writing“. I wrote it in 2015, and so far its been viewed over 20,000 times. In that post, I wax lyrical about my love for Scrivener. I explain how I’ve used Scrivener to write journal articles. And then, tucked away at the bottom, I make a throw-away line about resolving issues with citations (which I later did). I say I that I need to get to the bottom of the citation problem because I’m determined to write my PhD thesis in Scrivener. Fast forward two years and I am staring at my part-written thesis. In Scrivener.
This post looks at how I’m using Scrivener to write my thesis. It jumps straight in, so if you need to know more about Scrivener basics please read this post first. And if you want to know more about my PhD research, take a look at this.
And woe betide you miss this major health warning: As I’ve said with all my Scrivener blogs, this is not the definitive guide to how to work with Scrivener. It is merely how I use Scrivener. I’m still very much a beginner. Heck, I only found out the other day that when Van Morrison is singing Brown Eyed Girl, he’s saying “la la la la la la la la la la dee dah’ and not ‘ la la la la la la la lucky duck’…. I’ve got a long way to go in life, generally.
My thesis at a glance
This is what my thesis looks like, at a glance.
On the left hand side you can see the folders making up the thesis. I have named each folder in line with traditional thesis sections and chapters. So there’s a folder for my literature review, a folder for my methodology chapter etc.
On the right hand side, I’ve selected the ‘outline’ view (VIEW>Outline). The outline shows me each folder, my total word count for each folder, my target word count. There is also a column called ‘progress’ but this doesn’t come into play unless you expand the information in the title (I’ll show you this in a moment).
Straight away you can see that I’ve spent most of my time on my literature review. I’ve given that chapter an arbitrary target word count of 20,000 words. I’ve written nearly half of that so far. I often go to this overview of my thesis when I have an “I Haven’t Done Anything!!! I’m So Far Behind!!” sort of day.
A closer look at Chapter 2
If I click on the folder marked ‘Chapter 2: Literature Review’, this is the view I get.
Instantly you can see that I have a number of sections and even a sub-folder within my literature review chapter. I have written about my objectives for the chapter and how I searched the literature. I have then started to produce my literature review.
As you might have noticed, this part is still very messy. At the moment, it is more like a collection of notes. I create new sections, and I move existing sections around constantly. For me, this is the beauty of Scrivener. I can create a new section (Right Click>ADD>NEW TEXT), type a whole load of text, and then grab that section and move it anywhere I want. For example, if I wanted to move the section called ‘1970’ all I need to do is click on it and pull it down to where I want it to sit. No more cutting and pasting swathes of text, changing your mind and then having to re-paste it back in. With Scrivener, I’ve moved entire chapters around (and moved them back again) in seconds.
Delving into a section
If I click on the section called ‘1970’, this is what I will see. I can go straight into that section and start editing on the right hand side.
If I want to be reminded of something I’ve written further down, I can use the split screen option. More about that here.
Citations? I’ve written about that here.
My mind likes to jump about. Barely a day goes by when I’m not re-writing, re-assessing, and re-factoring ideas and information in my head. This happens mostly when I’m walking about. Or running. I’ve ‘written’ entire articles when on a run.
So I move things about in Scrivener a lot. I ‘dump’ ideas in there. I write and re-write. Sections that now reside in my methodology chapter, started out in my literature review.
How do I keep on top of this change? Using the snapshot tool.
Have a look at the picture below. On the left hand side you’ll see I’ve selected ‘1980’. So the column in the middle of the screen shows the text for that section. On 9 August 2016, I spent a lot of time writing about the 1980s. I know the precise date because – as you can see on the right hand side – I took a snapshot of the section that day. I must have made quite a few changes on 9 August 2016 because I took a snapshot at 10:50am and then another one an hour later.
Can you see the ‘roll back’ button on the right hand side, under the + and – signs? Some people use snapshots as a back up – just in case you want to roll back to a previous edit. I haven’t needed to do that yet. I just like to see what that section looked like a year ago! It tells me that I’ve moved forward. And, if I go into crazy editor mode and decide to cull entire paragraphs, I’m not ‘losing’ any ideas.
I’m a major fan of hyperbole (see what I did there?). But it’s not an overstatement to say that if I hadn’t started my thesis in Scrivener, I may have given up. I had a period of leave last year, during which I was convinced I would never go back to the PhD. How could I? All that work was ‘lost’. Time passed, accompanied by an ever increasing erosion of confidence. Above all, I was overwhelmed by the thought of starting again.
Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
When I returned to work, I gingerly opened up my thesis on Scrivener. I think I had one eye open and a screwed up face. But… (and hang on in there, this is going to sound a little off the wall) there it was: my doctoral mind. Visually represented in Scrivener. All my ideas in little pockets. Some fully formed with lovely flowing sentences – with citations!. Others represented by folders or just a section saying something like ‘this is where you’ll write the bit about the ethics – for heaven’s sake don’t forget ethics’. I could see the entire thing in front of me. I knew I had done it before, and I could do it again. And I could do it in chunks. Bit by bit.
Today, I’m approaching the halfway point of my PhD candidacy. If you are just about to start, or right in the middle of the process like me, I wish you all the best. And I hope this post has been useful.