Academic Writing with Scrivener and Friends (::Mac::)

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Hi there and welcome to a “medium” tutorial about academic writing with Scrivener in combination with some other helpful tools. Let me introduce the programs used in this tutorial first.

Programs for academic writing

  • Scrivener – by far the best content & structure focused word processor in the planet.
  • Bookends – a very mature and helpful citation manager sold for a very attractive amount of money.
  • Mellel – my most recommended word processor if it comes to final layout. Unfortunately it still lacks the possibility to show comments made within an RTF file. Maybe they add it in some day (better soon!).
  • Nisus Writer Pro – also a very mature word processor, easy to use, good preset management, but in my opinion managing more than one TOC is more difficult in Nisus. Well, I use it quite often, but when it comes to academic/scientific work I use Mellel, although Nisus can do it all and has the ability to show RTF comments which is really nice if you use them in Scrivener.
  • LibreOffice – f you don’t want to spent money for a word processor this is your choice. It does all what the others do, but has no option to work with Bookends directly. You have to prerun your written text through Bookends itself.
  • LaTeXiT (with MacTeX) – a great tool to produce LaTeX equations without having to fight the whole LaTeX syntax. If you know how to write a LaTeX equation and want to use it within the top named processors just use it. It gives you the ability to produce LaTeX quality equations without setting up a whole LaTeX document. Dragging & Dropping equations into word processors is so great!
  • Dash – available in the MacAppStore. Normally it is a code snipped manager (for free), but you can also use it as a LaTeX equation code manager. I guess you got the idea right now!
  • Skim – PDF Viewer. Very good, very fast. I like it, try it.
  • Evernote – Need a box where you can put all the junk in you stumble upon in the WWW? This tool is great for clipping all you think that might become useful some day. Scrivener also has great research capabilities, but Evernote I use for a first collection, the research content in Scrivener is then a first differentiation (drag & drop) from the Evernote content. Very useful is the Evernote WebClipper Toolfor browsers.Please notice that Scrivener has a student licence available in the shop, so if you are an approved student this might be interesting for you.
    Mellel & Bookends can be bought in a bundle for $99 ($79 for students). This is really interesting, because together with Scrivener students get all they need EVER for writing purposes for about 100 Bucks. This is really worth thinking about it.

Why? Some reasons why you should use the programs above

  • Students want to do their papers “all in once at once”. And a lot of word processors seduce you to do that right in the beginning. That’s a great mistake, because you loose time, focus and concentration. Stay focused on the important things. Use Scrivener for that.
  • The most important thing about writing (papers, book, novel, whatever…) is your content and its structure. Again, take a look at Scrivener.
  • Taking care of the layout is the LAST step. And if the time has come, use presets! No hard-formatting! By the way all word processors won’t create you a TOC if you use hard-formatted headlines. It has to be a headline preset to get the TOC algorithm working. So create a template with your presets and use these on your (Scrivener-created-)text. If you want to change the appearance, change the according preset. Finished. For this step use Mellel or Nisus Writer Pro.
  • Manage your sources. Citing is a fundamental ability in academic writing. If you don’t know much about it, be sure to read how it is done and stick to the rules your university/college made for you. Bookends can help you a lot in this case. But it won’t teach you how to do it right. That’s your duty!
  • Stay organized! Information that got lost over the weeks of preparation is useless information so put your research information in a safe place. Use Scrivener and/or Evernote as your information pool.
  • If you have a lot of Code to manage use a code snipped manager. Dash is great for that!

What do I have to expect?

  • Work. Heavy work. Writing is real work, so don’t think your paper is done within a night and some cups of coffee.
  • Maybe you have to learn the programs. So start early with teaching yourself how to do the things you need. Don’t know how to create a TOC in Mellel? Well, you shouldn’t think about it 10 hours before deadline. You get the idea…
  • There are days where the words don’t want to come… That’s normal. Use the time to create a template in your word processors. Next day everything is different.
  • Begin with your work as soon as you can. A good paper is the result of months of hard work. Don’t even dream of it getting it done in some days.
  • Ups and downs. Joy and frustration. If you don’t know what menopause means, here is the chance to find it out.
  • And if you didn’t get it: Start as early as you can!

What is a good workflow?

Glad you asked. Most students don’t even have one. But you need one. Without one everything is getting chaotic. Here’s my idea how it should work in most cases, but maybe a different workflow fits your needs better. The problem is you have to find it. Understand my workflow as a collection of waypoints. Feel free to add some or cut some out. Doesn’t matter. If YOU can work that way it’s perfect.

  1. Do your outline. Scrivener is perfect for that.
  2. Review your outline.
  3. Write your text. Use the options and possibilities Scrivener gives you. Corkboard, Outliner, Tags, Synopsis. Use all this stuff if it helps you or stick to the way it is best for you.
  4. Write your text. You don’t have to write it from beginning to the end. In Scrivener you write where you want and where your thoughts are in the moment. This is the greatest advantage you will ever have. Write the intro, write the end, jump to chapter 2 then chapter 6… it doesn’t matter. You are free to write the way you want it. Use the research possibilities you have (Evernote, Scrivener), but don’t forget to cite in a correct way.
  5. Care about citations. Add them in via Bookends.
  6. First draft done. Review it. Let friends or a lector read it.
  7. Change what you have to change. Second draft finished.
  8. Add in the figures you need.
  9. Add equations and all the other stuff in.
  10. Final revision. Read it, look for errors. Let others read it.
  11. Do the needed corrections if there are any.
  12. Final Draft is ready. Compile it as a RTF file.
  13. If you want to use LibreOffice this is the right time to let it recompile through Bookends, or your citations won’t stay simple ID placeholders.
  14. If not done start creating the template and style presets in your word processor. Be prepared: This could take some time.
  15. Import your RTF (or the content) to the template. Now it’s time to invoke the command to recompile the citations in the text (this can be done in Mellel/Nisus Writer Pro with the click of your mouse) Note: In Mellel you have to relink the citations, otherwise Mellel won’t know what text is a citation or not. Go to Edit->Bibliography->Convert Text to Citations and convert all text within the {} brackets/delimiters to citations. Now you can run the process the reformats all you citations in the right way and creates a bibliography.
  16. Nearly done. Apply the presets you created to the text. Yore paper should become a face quickly.
  17. Put in reference if you need them.
  18. Creat TOCs and the index.
  19. Review everything. Content, footnotes, citations, TOC, index, bibliography, check for writing error etc.
  20. Do a pdf output. Control the layout.
  21. Do adjustments to the presets if needed.
  22. Output and/or print. Bind it.
  23. Done. Hopefully deadline was not yesterday.


Well, I hope you understand that all you read above in minutes is a process of weeks and months. Writing is not that easy as many people think, but you can make it a bit easier for you if you have the right tools, a good personal workflow and enough time.
I hope this tutorial was helpful for you and since I’m a good guy appreciating that you read until the end I give you a little present in return for spending your time here. You can download 2 templates, one for Mellel and one for Nisus Writer Pro that should cover the specifications of a academic paper and can be easily altered to your needs. I apologize for any mistakes in this text. I’m not a native english speaker, but I’ll do my best to improve every day. If you have an advice for me or found an error let me know. Thanks and happy writing.


Template for Mellel

Template for Nisus Writer Pro

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