​Write a Thesis OR Dissertation faster with  Scrivener


Scrivener is a document-writing and knowledge management software that helps to write, manage and structure long and complicated documents. The tool was created for book writers, novelist and scriptwriters to help them tame chaos and information overload.  Unsurprisingly, Scrivener was quickly discovered and adopted by PhD students and academics who also have to deal with the deluge of information.
​I found out about Scrivener in the second year of my PhD. Although I had already been using an excellent Citavi for the literature review, I was interested in improving the ways I could organise my research. To cut a long story short, I finished using both Scrivener and Citavi to write my PhD thesis.
Why should you use Scrivener for thesis/dissertation writing?
Many students use MS Word for their academic writing.
The problem is that MS Word is a word processor which supports a linear writing process. You are expected to start with an introduction, then move to rationale, theoretical framework, literature review, methodology etc. Writing a thesis/dissertation does not work this way. Imagine you have just started to read your first document. You are likely to find a piece of information fitting into the literature review, perhaps the methodology but not necessarily into the introduction. If you think that these pieces of information might be useful, you need to save them and attach to an appropriate place in your project. In MS Word it is possible, however it is frustrating, slow and extremely messy.
The nice features of Scrivener 
Scrivener understands complexity of writing process and therefore gives you more choice, flexibility, speed and clarity. Scrivener helps you to break long text in short notes and manageable chunks which can be organised within the outline of the project.  You heard the saying: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’ In Scrivener it is very easy to focus on  chunks of your thesis/dissertation/assignment.
Scrivener also allows you to store your PDFs, books, graphs, pictures,and websites within the project.  In MS Word switching between different parts of text, multiple documents, folders, PDFs is cumbersome and slow, often requires using several applications. Scrivener makes it easy and fast. The difference is really dramatic!
Importantly, Scrivener allows you to split the screen, so you can read a document in the upper window and take notes in the lower. When I was improving my discussions chapter, I had the screen split vertically. In the left panel I had the literature review, in the right panel – discussions. In that way I could easily discuss my findings in the light of the previous research.
Scrivener also allows you to set writing goals with its Project and Texts Statistics. My literature review was about 20.000. I knew I had to write 700 words a day to finish it in a month. Scrivener expertly monitored my progress.
For visual organisers Scrivener provides a ‘corkboard view’ with index cards which can be moved around like sticky notes on a table.
Another useful feature is Snapshopts which allows you to track changes in your project. Snapshots eliminate the need for awkward naming of project drafts e.g. darft1, draft1corrected, draft1imporved etc.
I also love Scrivener’s Scratch Pad which is fantastically aligned with the way my mind works. When I read a paper, certain words, sentences evoke in my mind ideas in relation to my work. On one hand I don’t want to be distracted by these fleeting thoughts too much, on the other hand I don’t want them to escape either. With Scratch Pad  I save them quickly  for subsequent  use.
Scrivener also offers an excellent security, auto-save and back-up options and Dropbox support.
Writing Tools within Scrivener allows you to define a word, look up a word in Wikipedia, Google, Thesaurus. That is a great help for international students.
Scrivener allows you to compile your draft into a single document which can be exported to Microsoft Word or PDF.
Scrivener works on PC, Mac and iOS. This is really cool. You can work on your project not only chained to your laptop but also on your iPad on the go and later synchronise between devices.
Potential problems with Scrivener 
Scrivener lacks seamless integration with reference management tools. However, there are several workarounds which can be easily implemented to alleviate this problem. None of the solutions I have seen/used is ideal, however they all seem to work. Scrivener can be used with Zotero, EndNote, Citavi and Papers.
I integrated Scrivener with Zotero in a rather simplistic way. I attached to each note a number e.g. 1240 which was also a code for a particular document. Sometimes I just added  the name and the date e.g. (Beck, 2007). Finding documents in Zotero took me seconds.  I added citation and bibliography in the final stages of writing.
Scrivener might not be ideal for producing a finished and polished document. At least it was not for me. However, I had never mastered the features which would allow me format my project. I just preferred to export my first draft to MS Word, add there navigation pane with headings and subheadings. Why had I not learnt these features? I simply knew I would have to move the draft to MS Word anyway, since I was doing a quantitative study with lots of statistical tables. Also my supervisor wanted to see my draft chapters in MS Word.
As you can see I love Scrivener. Yet, it was not love at first sight as it was the case with Citavi.  At first the software seemed rather simplistic. It was hard for me to understand how it could help me with my thesis. It took me a few hours to learn all the basic features. Then I decided that the best way to test Scrivener would be a real work on a small project. I started with my methodology chapter. First I moved all my notes on the methodology from Citavi to Scrivener. Than I created an outline of the chapter. I finished the chapter in two weeks, although I had planned to spend on it a month. Now if I had to choose between Citavi and Scrivener I would probably go for Scrivener (however, it would depend on on the nature of project).
Scrivener costs £40 and it is well worth the money. You can download a free 30-day trial (actual use) here. If you work on your project every second day, you can use it for 60 days.  If you don’t like Scrivener you can export the project to Word/PDF etc.
Scrivener is great.  However, don’t take my word for it! Google PhD, Thesis and Scrivener for yourself and find how other PhD students and academics use Scrivener to accelerate and simplify their academic work.