Scrivener Workflow

Unlike 99% (or even more?) of my colleagues and students in linguistics and Jewish studies, who use Microsoft Word or some other word processor for every imaginable sort of writing with a computer, I don't use these bloatware programs for the same purpose. When I tell this to them, they are shocked first, then ask me immediately what software I use if not Word, as if it were the only writing tool on this planet. I use EditPad Pro, my favorite text editor for note taking, where physical layout is irrelevant, and Scrivener, which I call "integrated writing environment", for writing academic articles. I also use these two powerful (commercial) tools with MultiMarkdown.

Since I stumbled upon and started using Scrivener several years ago, I've been preaching its benefits. But the number of fellow researchers who started using it as a result of my preaching is only one so far, who is very computer-savvy. Now I'm in the middle of showing my wife how to make smooth transition from Word to Scrivener for writing her PhD dissertation before she starts writing it with, God forbid, Word.

If you had experienced the benefits of Scrivener, Word or any other word processor would seem so stupid and inefficient. But even if you've been convinced of these benefits, the migration from the stone age to the 21st century isn't so easy because of the steep learning curve of Scrivener, especially if you also want to use MultiMarkdown, which is natively supported by and incorporated in Scrivener.

Since I started using it several years ago, I've been thinking of sharing my workflow, especially in combination with MultiMarkdown, publicly so that more people will stop torturing themselves with paleolithic writing tools. I'm finally doing this. This workflow can also be a good reminder for myself. It's based on the Windows version of the software, but it must also apply to the Mac version.


  • Learn MultiMarkdown syntax through MultiMarkdown Guide.
  • Reach Chapter 21 "Using MultiMarkdown" in Scrivener's built-in User Manual, which you can open by pressing F1.

Interface Customization

  • Hide "Format Bar" by going to "Format" on the toolbar and unchecking "Format Bar" in order not to be tempted to change physical formatting locally as in a word processor.
  • Open "Inspector" by clicking the "i" icon on the right top corner.

Project Structure

  • Split the project, which is equivalent to a single document in a word processor, into documents, each of which corresponds to a chapter of a section.
  • You don't need to plan all the chapters and sections in advance. You can add and rearrange them any time later.
  • Put those documents that will be a visible part of your end product under "Draft" and those that are only references under "Research". In the Inspector window of each of these latter documents uncheck "Include in Compile".

Actual Writing

  • Concentrate on the semantic structure of each document instead of being distracted by its physical formatting by marking up the semantic structure of each paragraph by choosing the appropriate syntax element of MultiMarkdown instead of changing its physical formatting locally.
  • You can split the screen either vertically or horizontally to open, for example, a "Draft" document and a "Research" document simultaneously.

Compilation [the most complicated part]

  • You can use the same Scrivener project in order to convert it into multiple output formats.
  • Let's suppose you want to convert your project into ODT, Word, and/or PDF formats.
  • Press the "Compile" icon (the one with a rectangular arrow).
  • Choose "Compile For: MultiMarkdown to OpenDocument Flat XML (.fodt).
  • Press "Save".
  • Open the saved FODT document with LibreOffice Writer.
  • [Optional] Open a blank ODT document from your own favorite OTT template, if any, and copy and paste the content of the above FODT document there.
  • Convert it to ODT format by saving it as an ODT document.
  • [Optional] Modify the physical formatting of non-default paragraphs not by manually changing each of them locally but by changing the associated "Styles" by pressing F11, choosing the style you want to change, clicking "Modify", and modifying the details. This modification will globally change the physical formatting of all the paragraphs associated with this specific style.
  • You can convert this new ODT document into Word or PDF format with LibreOffice Writer.