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Scrivener for Windows review

Verdict

A brilliant, flexible package for serious writers, which helps manage the creative process from start to finish; it’s great value too

Review Date: 9 Dec 2011

Reviewed By: Tom Arah

Price when reviewed: £23 (£27 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
6 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
4 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

If you’re working on a book, a thesis or a play, you’re probably using Microsoft Word to bash out the words and, if you’re really organised, a note-taking app such as OneNote to manage your ideas and research. Now that Scrivener has finally made the jump out of beta onto the PC, however, there is a better way. And it’s set to transform the way you write.

That may seem a bold statement to make about any piece of software, let alone one that treads on the toes of one of the most used pieces of software on the planet. Yet Scrivener manages it, and it does so by doing things differently.

The key thing to appreciate is that Scrivener isn’t a word processor in the normal sense. Instead, it’s designed to let writers tackle larger projects, gathering multiple documents, notes and research materials all in one place and allowing you to rearrange them at will.

At the end of the process, the finished document is “compiled” from selected elements for output to a variety of formats, from Word document to ebook or direct to print.

Scrivener for Windows

It’s easy to get started. Just hit Ctrl-N and a new note or document is added to your project instantly, with all documents automatically saved as you go. To help you organise your thoughts, Scrivener also encourages users to add descriptive metadata using the Inspector panel. Here you can quickly apply labels such as “chapter” or “concept”, as well as status settings such as “to do” or “done”.

You can add your own references, notes, keywords and a synopsis – to highlight which characters are involved in a particular scene, or which themes are developed in a particular section, for instance. And although the emphasis in Scrivener is firmly on the creation of texts, you can also use it to organise your research, with the ability to bring in graphics, video, audio, PDFs or even full live web pages. The twin document view lets you view your text and research material side by side on the same screen.

Scrivener’s “Corkboard” view is where it all comes together, though. This presents your multiple documents, notes and other bits and bobs as index cards, letting you see and edit titles and synopses. Keywords, colours and status settings can also be applied as stamps. You can simply drag to rearrange cards on the Corkboard, and double-click to drill through to work on the text.

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User comments

This should be a natural for any writer who's been busy writing topics and chunks. It's neither scrap-book nor outliner, just a beautifully honed writing tool. Completely unlike Word, and all the better for it!

By bustacat on 12 Dec 2011

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

I've been using the Mac version for some time now and, having written a PhD thesis in Word, I can only say how much I wish I'd known about or had Scrivener back then. (I seemed to spend as much time trying to format the bloody thing as I did writing it!!)

By Mr_Flynn on 12 Dec 2011

How does the licencing work?

Is it 23 quid per machine install, or 23 quid per individual? I've just lost 700 qords to Word 2010 and I want to move, but I need 4-5 installs at the least!

By Steve_Cassidy on 12 Dec 2011

@ Steve_Cassidy

I took a quick look at their website and on a forum it suggests you can use one mac licence on up to 5 machines.

It's worth looking at the testimonial page. Lots of well known people recommending it.

By kaneclem on 12 Dec 2011

@ Steve_Cassidy

I took a quick look at their website and on a forum it suggests you can use one mac licence on up to 5 machines.

It's worth looking at the testimonial page. Lots of well known people recommending it.

By kaneclem on 12 Dec 2011

WYSIWYM

One thing people are used to with Word is WYSIWYG. I bet you most people use the print layout view where it looks like an actual page you are writing on.

I wrote my dissertation using LyX, a GUI application to write LaTeX documents. That was WYSIWYM where you don't think about layout and formatting until the end. It was hard for me to adapt to. It seems Scrivener may have something similar.

By TheBigM72 on 13 Dec 2011

Don't give up on Word just yet

@Steve It's definitely not a complete replacement for Word and would be pretty useless in a 700 word context. 70,000 and it's invaluable.

@TheBigM72 WYSIWYG is the big dividing line and Scrivener's biggest weakness though as Mr_Flynn points out it's good to have a WYSIWYM tool that concentrates pretty exclusively on content and structure.

By TomArah on 13 Dec 2011

@TomArah

It is not radical enough.

The idea of separating out writing from layout tools is good. Even if you are both writing and designing your own documents it is better to treat this as a workflow rather than tackling both tasks at once. So why is Scrivener giving writers a formatting toolbar?

Writers should not be worrying their pointy little heads with fonts and point-sizes. They should be using semantic markup: "this is a dream sequence" or "this is computer code", with the actual typography left to the designer much later in the process.

In this respect, Scrivener is a step backward from Word. At least in Word, you *can* do semantic markup using named styles. Problem is it is so intricate and time-consuming that writers either (a) do not do it; or (b) use fiddling with it as displacement activity to avoid getting down to actual writing. Scrivener takes a backward step by allowing the author to fiddle about with typography but not to use named styles, so the designer is back to guessing what the use of a different font, say, was intended to communicate, if anything.

A miss, I am afraid, but it does give me some definite ideas about how a writing tool ought to work!

By JohnAHind on 13 Dec 2011

Semantic markup

@John I agree that the style-free formatting is a major disappointment and goes directly against the program's focus on content and meaning.
Funnily enough about 20 years ago I wrote an add-on for Word (PC Plus gold award winner 10/10 :) that provided a document map view combined with semantic tags for quickly marking up things like quotes, examples, names, dates etc - tags/styles that could then be used for formatting but also to allow the document to effectively be treated as a database so that you could for example pull out all sections in which a particular place or theme was mentioned or all of a particular character's lines. I would love to see Scrivener do something similar. And add in a Page Layout view.
In the meantime I still think that Scrivener is great for organizing and structuring long projects though I would leave all serious formatting to the compiled output and Word or a DTP app.

By TomArah on 13 Dec 2011

I agree ... we could do better!

By using HTML for the document fragments rather than RTF, and a versioning content database such as Subversion. "Compiling" could then be done in real-time by using CSS for a WYSIWYG view. Instead of having either a font drop-down, or even a style drop-down you have a drop-down of user-definable semantic tags which become class attributes in the HTML files.
There could even be programmer's editor type auto-completion and auto-tagging of character names and the like.

By JohnAHind on 14 Dec 2011

Wait long enough...

That's the thing with Windows, eventually you get some decent software. Takes years and you're still stick with the OS but what the heck.

By rubaiyat on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

where have all the loved ones gone?

This was all done in Word Perfect using among other tools "Reveal Codes" before it was murdered by Corel; and by Type Manager before it was dropped by Adobe.

By edonohoe on 15 Dec 2011

The right tool for some jobs

Have been using the beta for a while and have the full version now.
It's perfect for some jobs.
1) The limited typography means you have to get on with the job of writing (your editor doesn't really care what font you choose as they are going to adapt it to house style anyway) - so good for procrastinators. When you are ready to lay out then you can "Compose" to Word, and do your final layouts there. And references to backup material (such as using a tool like EndNote) convert across fine in the transition from Scriv to Word
2) when you open Scrivener, you get the layout and multiple documents you closed last time (a sort-of Virtual Desktop) and each project is a separate Scrivener project (and you can open multiple projects). This is the big feature missing from Word - I want to open all my research and background material at once instead of trying to remember what's relevant and what isn't
3) Scriv suggests you save previous versions/ drafts. This is an enormous boon. Instead of messing around with version file names, you simply put the older version into a stack along with other older versions of the same chapter/ article. You can go back and find that great prose that you replaced last night!

It won't replace Word. It won't replace Writer's Dreamkit (at the extrememe end of creative writing). It won't replace EndNote (a support tool for academic writing). But what it does, it does better than anything else.

By hminney on 15 Dec 2011

Re: where have all the loved ones gone

Despite them saying it x times :-), I am wholly with edonohoe and still use Word Perfect 8 - (under Win XP and Win7) as it does everything I've ever wanted - and much more! Scrivener looks interesting though...

By chrisnd on 15 Dec 2011

@steve cassidy

I have to ask......what on earth is a qord?

By downview on 15 Dec 2011

@downview

There is this:



http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=qor
d

but I'm not sure its that!

By brizza4 on 16 Dec 2011

@downview

Note that the above link may be considered rude and/or offensive.

I did put that comment in the original post, but it has disappeared!

By brizza4 on 16 Dec 2011

@downview

I'm pretty sure that was just a typo - "q" is right next to "w" on a qwerty keyboard.

By dtcuffe on 17 Dec 2011

made my Christmas

I have struggled for ages with a multifile book in Word and become completely demoralised, so following your review I tried, then bought Scrivener . Thankyou PC Pro! I now wake every day excited by the editing task ahead. Thank you Scrivener, great tool for those who want to actually write.

By zmail on 16 Jan 2012

I use the Mac version and it would have been invaluable when I did my dissertation. Instead more of my time was spent messing with styles and the general sluggish and poor performance of Word with large documents.

More powerful style options are available when you come to compile in All Options > Formatting. This each section can then be given its own style. It takes a little time to get what you want but it is the best time to go it. When writing the content and structure should be concentrated on first and then it is a simple task of adding styles at the end.

By kyussmondo on 6 Feb 2013

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