Scrivener is a different kind of text tool for writing. The underlying philosophy of Scrivener sets it apart from other apps.
The Philosophy of Scrivener
Scrivener is very different from other word processors or text editors. Word processors are designed to be multi-tool text machines for use in the office or at home, to create all types of documents from reports to letters, from flyers to white papers. Text editors are generally designed for writing short texts, or for writing code. Because of this, many creative writers feel constrained when working with these tools. As the introduction to the Scrivener manual says, "Scrivener is designed to be flexible, to adapt to the writers’s workflow, not the other way around."
One thing I've noticed when talking to Scrivener users, and in the interviews I've done so far for the Write Now with Scrivener podcast, is how many people mention the problem of scrolling in word processors. To get from one point in a project to another, when using a word processor or text editor, you have to scroll. You scroll up, you scroll down, and it's often hard to find what you're looking for.
Think about writing a mystery novel, where small details are important. You're writing Chapter 17 with a standard word processor, and you need to go back to, say, the third or fourth chapter to find how you described a character, a description that will be key in the resolution of your novel. You scroll all the way back, find what you wrote, then go to the end and continue your work. You may need to scroll to several locations, and, while you can use the app's find feature to help, you may have so many results when you search for a specific character or term that you're better off just scrolling.
With Scrivener, you arrange your work in the Binder by chapter, scene, section, or however you like, and each element in the Binder is just a click away. (Read Use Folders and Texts to Power Up the Scrivener Binder for more on using the Binder.) You can switch from chapter to chapter, section to scene easily, when you need to, and never have to scroll through 50,000 words of text again.
Word processors force you into a linear approach to writing, but not everyone writes that way. Sure, some writers may start at the beginning then write until they get to the end, like Jack Kerouac did on a roll of paper when he wrote On the Road, but most writers don't work that way. In fact, many writers of long-form works simply cannot write that way, because of the types of projects they work on. Instead, they want to be able to create scenes, sections, chapters, or other parts of their work independently, then collate them without endless scrolling, copying, and pasting.
Many writers start projects with notes, outlines, research files, or even use file cards or other analog tools to build their ideas. Scrivener allows writers to plan in similar ways, but all that planning becomes part of their projects that they can refer to at any time with a click. You can still, of course, use a notebook and a pen to plan your novel or dissertation, but when you add all that information into Scrivener, it remains flexible. Each item you add can be discrete, allowing you to move it around at will. Without scrolling.
Scrivener's planning tools help you get to the stage when you start writing, but also to change your narrative as you progress. You can outline in Scrivener, or import outlines from other apps, and tweak them as you write; and you can use the Corkboard to create a virtual sandbox where you can jot down scenes and sketches, then move them around as you build your plot. Whether you're a planner or a pantser, Scrivener lets you work the way you want.