Mac software for managing 10+ cross-referenced books?

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Joy Livingwell
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Tue Sep 29, 2015 6:43 am Post

Years ago I drafted several heavily-formatted and cross-referenced technical books in FrameMaker 6 on a Mac running OS 9. Then Adobe discontinued the Mac version of FrameMaker.

Now I'm about to resurrect and publish the old books and write some new ones (drafting them in Scrivener, of course; Scrivener rocks!!). While I have an old Mac that will run FrameMaker, Classic doesn't support my modern productivity tools such as Typinator and Dragon Dictate. Which means my FrameMaker workflow is... problematic. And a lot slower than what I'm used to. :(

So I'm looking for Macintosh word processing/page layout software to replace FrameMaker -- software that is suitable for a power user and has these features:

  • Runs locally, not in the cloud. I do a ton of work offline.
  • Good work flow, a la Scrivener or FrameMaker. (Both allow grouping multiple documents to work on as a unit.)
  • Reasonably WYSIWYG. Scrivener is not-quite-WYSIWYG in ways that enhance workflow. Whereas typing markup tags for basic formatting would destroy my workflow. (I am willing to deal with tags if I must to get specialty features such as indexing. Not otherwise, though.)
  • Stable and reliable; does not lose content or corrupt files.
  • Character and paragraph styles that auto-update when the style definition gets changed. (I prefer cascading styles; I can work around not. CSS styles under the hood would work; typing tags or HTML would not.)
  • Can import/export styles, so I can use one document as a master styles template for multiple documents.
  • Cross-references that are links with auto-generated page numbers that can auto-update when pagination changes. (FrameMaker does this with tags.)
  • Can cross-reference between documents as well as within them, and auto-update cross-reference page numbers. (For instance, when Volume A includes cross-references to volume B, and I add content to Volume B that changes the pagination, I can get the program to auto-update the page numbers shown in Volume A.)
  • Decent table handling, including multi-page tables.
  • Decent handling of captioned pictures.
  • Sophisticated Search and Replace. Search can find text strings, paragraph styles and formats, character styles and formats, tags, tag content, etc.. (Ideally, it also does grep.)
  • Auto-numbered footnotes.
  • Can handle long, complex documents (200,000+ word books, multi-volume sets).
  • Automatically generates and updates tables of contents. (FrameMaker does this based on paragraph styles.)
  • Automatically generates and updates indexes. (FrameMaker does this using tags.)
  • Automatically generates and updates user-defined lists based on tags (so I can tag all occurrences of X, then generate a list with page numbers).
  • Cross-reference, index, and table of contents page numbers are hyperlinks to make navigating within and between documents easy.
  • Hyperlinks work when documents get exported to PDF (table of contents, cross-references, index entries).
  • Exports/imports well to RTF and Microsoft Word. (I don’t use Word, but some colleagues and publishers use or require it.)

Optional features (FrameMaker or Scrivener have most of these, and I really like them):

  • Tracks changes, does document compare, or both
  • Sequential paragraph numbering works for non-contiguous paragraphs. (For instance, I can set up a numbered paragraph styles for report titles, and they will auto-number sequentially.)
  • Conditional text: within a document, I can specify text that will only show in version A, but not in version B, then specify a version before I print.
  • Footnote numbers are hyperlinks (to facilitate jumping between text and note).
  • Can do endnotes.
  • Has a Windows version so I can exchange documents with colleagues.
  • PDF exporting can auto-generate a document structure based on paragraph styles.
  • Can export to HTML with CSS
  • Will run on Mac OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard, as well as the two newest versions of Mac OS.

I also want:

  • Software made by a reliable company that has been in business for at least 3 years.
  • Bugs get fixed promptly.
  • Decent to great user support. (Scrivener is tops!)
  • Updates at reasonable intervals. I strongly prefer frequent, small updates that fix bug to occasional big updates, which generally fix a few bugs, and introduce some more that then take months/years to get fixed.

I do NOT want software that uses Mac OS X's lame built-in “styles.” I need real paragraph and character styles that update when I change the style definition.

I do NOT want to use Microsoft Word. (Terrible work flow; buggy styles.)

I strongly prefer to NOT run FrameMaker (or anything else) in a virtual Windows machine. (Running Mac-only lets me stick with one interface I understand, and use my suite of Mac productivity tools, and avoid most virus and maintenance issues.)

I am happy to compose in Scrivener, which I love, then export to another program for final layout and printing. However, since I will need to maintain and update those formatted documents, the workflow in the layout software needs to be good enough that once I import content, I can maintain it there.

What do you professional technical writers and power users recommend?

Thanks in advance for your advice!
Joy
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ChrisRosser
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Wed Oct 07, 2015 11:15 pm Post

I'm going to throw you a curve ball here, but why not look at AsciiDoc, or more specifically the Ruby port http://asciidoctor.org/. It's a plain text format, like Markdown but essentially is much more expressive because it's feature compatable with DocBook. It pretty much does everything on your list of requirements (as well as your optional features, including conditional text) and because it's based on plain text it's very robust and portable and works well with Git or sync services like Dropbox.

I'm a professional technical writer and I've been using it at work to write and develop a large suite of technical documents (software documentation, manuals, release notes) and it's been fantastic. It works very well with OS X and Linux (what I use in work). I compile it to HTML and from there to other formats (mostly PDF but also ePub and occassionally Word). Styling is all done with CSS and I compile to PDF using PrinceXML and other formats using Pandoc. Every aspect of my workflow is completely automated using a combination of Ruby and Bash scripts.

OS X has a severe lack of commercial technical writing tools - no MadCap Flare, no Framemaker (as you know) or RoboHelp - and the Wysiwyg editors we have (Scrivener, Word, Pages) simply do not have the features many technical writers need i.e. variables, conditional text, indexes, includes (transclusion) etc. However, OS X is blessed with abundent open source tools and you can chain them together to suit the way you want to work.


*Edit*: You can install the AsciiDoctor toolkit with Homebrew and it should work with Snow Leopard.
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nontroppo
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Fri Oct 09, 2015 11:20 pm Post

Wow, not sure if it satisfies all the requirements of the OP, but asciidoctor is awesome, and the workflow should be straightforward from Scrivener (I already use MMD, and pandoc as an option so asciidoc is really just a step up). There are lots of tools and live-preview options, very neat. The main issue the OP raises that I didn't see mentioned on the web site is how to handle multi-volume sets?

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Mon Oct 12, 2015 10:39 pm Post

It certainly is awesome :D

I agree that getting cross-references (with correct page numbers) to work between volumes would be difficult. However, you could potentially use the parts feature (see the asciidoctor user manual) to include all the documents under a single master file. If you did that, cross-references would work. Not ideal but certainly not worth throwing the whole toolchain out for want of a single feature.

The OP's only other option I guess is to switch to Windows and use the latest Framemaker or perhaps try Dita.
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Joy Livingwell
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Wed Dec 09, 2015 7:44 pm Post

Thanks, Chris, I had no idea AsciiDoctor existed. That is really cool!

Does AsciiDoctor have a WYSIWYG-ish front end? Not having to mess directly with tags is high, high, high on my workflow must-haves list.

Agreed on the lack of good commercial technical writing tools for the Mac. :( That FrameMaker isn't available for Mac seems especially dumb now that epub and ebooks have taken off -- seems like a natural fit.

At several other people's recommendation, I tried Nisus Writer Pro. Unfortunately it choked on my 1.1 million words of manuscript. Can AsciiDoctor handle projects that large? Each of my 10 volumes is 60,000 - 170,000 words, and yes, I'd need to use the parts feature to get cross-referencing.

In the meantime, I am running an experiment: given Scrivener's excellent workflow, robustness, and ability to handle large projects, I imported my work into Scrivener. It cost me FrameMaker's real character and paragraph styles, and indexing -- by far my biggest beef with Scrivener. OTOH my dictation software and typing shortcuts work now. And with the exception styles, I LOVE working in Scrivener.

An aside on the subject of styles: I know that Keith wants to avoid doing a lot of extra work coding real styles, and I respect that. He also thinks not having to deal with styles while writing is easier and less distracting. Maybe for him; I find the opposite.

Everything Keith accomplished with Scrivener's amazing Compile functionality I implemented in Scrivener and WriteNow around 1993 by setting up standard templates for character and paragraph styles. Multiple templates for each app, for screen and print, so I could import different versions of my standard styles into any document to instantly change its formatting. It was fast, it was easy, and I had way more options than Compile gives me.

Even though I can't use real styles in Scrivener or OS X, I still use paragraph and character presets based on them. It's just easier.

When I used writing apps that had real styles and style sheets, I could just write, and not think about formatting. Not having real styles distracts me from writing and slows me down -- especially given Scrivener's slow and clunky interface for applying styles. Not be able to globally update styles, or do decent styles search, adds extra fix-it time to my writing.

However, the rest of Scrivener's interface and functionality is so over-the-top amazing and wonderful that so far, it's looking like transferring to Scrivener was a good move. Time will tell... Kudos to Keith for creating one of the best writing tools EVER!!!
I was going to procrastinate, but decided to put it off a while longer...

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xiamenese
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Wed Dec 09, 2015 11:03 pm Post

Don't hold your breath, as development of Scrivener v. 3 seems to be on the back burner for the moment since KB has had to take over as lead coder for the iOS version in order to get it out there. That said, proper stylesheets — as opposed to simple style-painting which is what the presets are — will apparently be one of the features of v. 3.

And while you're pondering that, just ponder the complexity of your requirements from the styles point of view: 1.1 million words split into 10 volumes, each presumably divided up into sections, subsections, etc. or chapters, scenes etc. which will all be files as far as the finder is concerned, of which only some small part, maybe even down to paragraph level if that's how you work, will be open at any one time. And you decide to change some aspect of one of your styles; that change that you make in the bit that is open will have to propagate all the way down through the whole of the rest of your 10 volumes where that style is used, even though all the finder-level files involved are not open for editing.

Since use of proper stylesheets is presumed to be part of v. 3, Keith must finally have worked out a way to solve that humungous requirement, so I'm not surprised that it's taken him this long to get there. I've no idea how he's working it, but it's definitely hats off to him!

:)

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Wed Dec 09, 2015 11:24 pm Post

Holy cow, REAL STYLES for SCRIVENER?!?

:D !!!

This is GREAT news! Thanks for telling me.

Hmm, I HOPE that means Scrivener will also get some gnarly formatting search tools such that we can e.g. search our Humongous Project of Doom for a particular formatting combo and apply Style XYZ to it. Which, since I was very careful to use standard presets throughout, will mean that I can add styles to 1.1 million words in... probably about 20 minutes. Bwahaha!

Keith is the MAN!!
I was going to procrastinate, but decided to put it off a while longer...

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Thu Dec 10, 2015 4:26 am Post

Um, Joy?

In essence you're requesting Scrivener to turn into FrameMaker.

Please don't do that.

Even if the work of resurrecting your old books is tedious, it's nothing compared to actually converting your old books to new books. Just run FrameMaker in a VM or whatever, produce the books, and make money.

Yes, Scrivener will eventually have true styles, and yes it will eventually have more keen features that are useful for technical writing but that's not its fundamental, and currently beautifully expressed, character.

Think dark night,soft light, a pen and paper, and quiet—that's what Scrivener's after—and that quality is rare enough that it should be protected.

Do go ahead and keep asking, on occasion, though.

Dave

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xiamenese
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Thu Dec 10, 2015 12:31 pm Post

Joy Livingwell wrote:Holy cow, REAL STYLES for SCRIVENER?!?

:D !!!

This is GREAT news! Thanks for telling me.

Hmm, I HOPE that means Scrivener will also get some gnarly formatting search tools such that we can e.g. search our Humongous Project of Doom for a particular formatting combo and apply Style XYZ to it. Which, since I was very careful to use standard presets throughout, will mean that I can add styles to 1.1 million words in... probably about 20 minutes. Bwahaha!

Keith is the MAN!!

I wouldn't hang your hat on 20 minutes ... there'd be a huge amount of processing going on in the background; don't forget that it might not just be the .rtf files that need updating, but some of the support files as well. Whatever, I reckon Keith'll have to get you on the beta testing team; what you're proposing here would certainly tax the system. :D

As for Dafu's suggestion of using WINE to run FrameMaker … for some time I used the Windows 1.8.x version of Scrivener on my MBA using Crossover 14 — I'm not geeky enough to attempt using WINE itself — and it ran well. I used it because I co-operate with a Windows using friend on Chinese–English translation, and when I got her onto Scrivener, we found that there was a coding problem sharing Chinese across platforms. That eventually went away, and for a year we weren't needing to work together, so I stopped using it, and when I upgraded to El Cap I didn't re-install Crossover.

CodeWeavers have just released Crossover 15 and I thought I'd give it a try. Problem ... it cannot access any of our projects, giving a "path not found" alert even though I have gone step by step up through the folder hierarchies to the .scrivx file in question. I guess it's to do with the somewhat aggressive sandboxing under El Cap, and I'm not sure how to get around that. I guess the same problem will have to be overcome with a vanilla installation of WINE. I wonder if Siren has encountered it, since she also uses WINE/Crossover on her Mac. Food for thought for you, perhaps.

:)

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Thu Dec 10, 2015 9:39 pm Post

Further on using Crossover 15 …

I removed the installation I had, and the "bottle" with version 1.8.x of Scrivener. I then reinstalled Crossover 15 and set up Scrivener 1.9 and the "path not found" problem has disappeared, so presumably it was because 1.8.x was installed pre-El Cap, maybe even pre-Yosemite.

So presumably, FrameMaker would also work under Crossover/WINE.

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Joy Livingwell
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Fri Dec 11, 2015 9:29 pm Post

dafu wrote:Um, Joy?

In essence you're requesting Scrivener to turn into FrameMaker.

Please don't do that.


Dave, I am NOT requesting that Scrivener turn into FrameMaker.

I AM requesting that Scrivener get a basic functionality ALL my other favorite writing software has had since about 1991. A basic functionality that for those of us who prefer using stylesheets, helps us concentrate on writing and just write -- which happens to be the very thing Scrivener was designed to do!

For Keith, obviously, using stylesheets distracted from writing, so he didn't include them when he created Scrivener.

For people like me, NOT using stylesheets distracts from writing, and we have been wishing all along that Keith would add them so we could just concentrate on writing.

If Scrivener's stylesheet functionality comes with Search tools that make it easy to convert non-stylesheet Scrivener projects to use stylesheets, that will be great. If not, I will cope.

I hope that clarifies what I meant.

Joy
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Fri Dec 11, 2015 10:03 pm Post

xiamenese wrote:
Joy Livingwell wrote:Hmm, I HOPE that means Scrivener will also get some gnarly formatting search tools such that we can e.g. search our Humongous Project of Doom for a particular formatting combo and apply Style XYZ to it. Which, since I was very careful to use standard presets throughout, will mean that I can add styles to 1.1 million words in... probably about 20 minutes. Bwahaha!

Keith is the MAN!!

I wouldn't hang your hat on 20 minutes ... there'd be a huge amount of processing going on in the background; don't forget that it might not just be the .rtf files that need updating, but some of the support files as well. Whatever, I reckon Keith'll have to get you on the beta testing team; what you're proposing here would certainly tax the system. :D


I love beta testing!

I don't know about the under-the-hood aspects of the search-for-formatting functionality. It's gotta be complex, as you mentioned. However, Scrivener obviously does some of it already during Compile.

The UI aspect of the search-and-replace functionality I mentioned could probably be fairly simple, however -- something along the lines of:

  1. In the Binder, select which documents you want to search-and-replace styles in.
  2. View as Scrivenings.
  3. Select a paragraph or some text with the desired style you want to search for.
  4. Select the Find and Replace Formatting command (or whatever it gets named).
  5. In the Find and Replace Formatting popup, tick checkboxes as appropriate for what to find: ruler, line spacing, font, font size, font weight, italic, underline, strikethrough, color. Scrivener will now use the appropriate elements of the text you selected to decide what to find.
  6. Tick Replace By Pasting Named Style.
  7. Select the named paragraph or character style you want to paste.
  8. To test, select Replace. If the result isn't what you wanted, click Undo and adjust.
  9. Once you have the selection criteria you want, click Replace All.

xiamenese wrote:As for Dafu's suggestion of using WINE to run FrameMaker … for some time I used the Windows 1.8.x version of Scrivener on my MBA using Crossover 14 — I'm not geeky enough to attempt using WINE itself — and it ran well


AFAIK anything that emulates Classic to run FrameMaker puts me into the Classic environment while I use FrameMaker. Which means I can't use my Typinator shortcuts or Dragon Dictate inside FrameMaker. Is that your experience?

If there was a way to use FrameMaker without those limitations of Classic, I would do it. As it is, in the years since I switched to OS X, I have become dependent my OS X productivity tools. They make such a big difference that even with all FrameMaker's advantages, it's just not worth using. Which is why I'm migrating out of it.

And of course Scrivener's workflow blows the doors off every single writing program I have ever used! So that's a HUGE incentive to migrate! :D

Joy
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Fri Dec 11, 2015 10:34 pm Post

I don't have anything to add to the discussion.

But I really appreciate the requests from Joy, and the following discussion. I began using FrameMaker just two years before Adobe killed it on the Mac. I was really disappointed because it finally gave me what I was looking for. I eventually used InDesign but gave to my son and his family to use.

As Joy mentioned, I have lived with styles since MS Word 5.0 (when it was a decent program, ala 1990). WriteNow, Nisus, PageMaker, and onto OS X with Nisus Writer Pro, Mellel, and yes Word 2011 (altho it is miserable for style sheets now). I began using iCalamus in the past 9 months and meets (and exceeds Pages, because Pages has an unpredictable future with Apple). Styles are so much part of my work life, I can't imagine working apart from them. I grade seminary papers and the one thing I have to do is teach the students how to work with styles.

I do use Scrivener for two major projects: 1) entire curriculum for a seminary and 2) blogging. It works great for those projects. But my work is not limited to these projects.

Thanks again.

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Sat Dec 12, 2015 11:48 am Post

Joy Livingwell wrote:<snip>

AFAIK anything that emulates Classic to run FrameMaker puts me into the Classic environment while I use FrameMaker. Which means I can't use my Typinator shortcuts or Dragon Dictate inside FrameMaker. Is that your experience?

If there was a way to use FrameMaker without those limitations of Classic, I would do it. As it is, in the years since I switched to OS X, I have become dependent my OS X productivity tools. They make such a big difference that even with all FrameMaker's advantages, it's just not worth using. Which is why I'm migrating out of it.

And of course Scrivener's workflow blows the doors off every single writing program I have ever used! So that's a HUGE incentive to migrate! :D

Joy

Can't agree more about Scrivener.

As to CrossOver/Wine, it doesn't emulate Classic, it lets you run Windows software without having to give up part of your HD to a Windows partition and acquire and install Windows. Since doing a clean install of 10.11.2, I haven't yet installed TextExpander, so I don't know if that will work within CrossOver.

For stylesheets, whenever I started a new document — I too loved Word 5.1a @exegete — the first thing I did was set up a stylesheet … and it set my teeth on edge that my students in China claimed in their CVs to be competent users of Word, when they had no idea about styles, tabs or anything else and produced documents that looked like dog's dinners, even their CVs.

When I started with Scrivener, at the end of 2006 while v. 1 was still in Beta, I hoped that Keith would introduce stylesheets, though I soon saw the complexity from the programming point of view. Now, 9 years later, it won't matter to me whether v. 3 has styles or not, I'm going to run the compiled document through NWP anyway, so it is easy to sort out styles then. Within Scrivener, heading levels are all marked in terms of font, size and weight through binder hierarchy and appropriate title formatting in Compile, and currently, the only type of paragraph style that needs to be separated out for different formatting is marked by a preset giving it a different colour which makes it instantly selectable in NWP.

The only thing I would hope will come in v. 3 is that presets or styles should be project specific rather than universal.

But I'm not writing technical manuals, and don't even have book-length manuscripts, let alone 10 cross-referenced volumes. But even if I did, I think I'd still work the same way, though I'd buy InDesign to do the page-makeup, rather than trying to do it in NWP.

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Joy Livingwell
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Sat Dec 12, 2015 11:37 pm Post

Thanks for the additional information, Mr. X -- that's very helpful.

xiamenese wrote:When I started with Scrivener, at the end of 2006 while v. 1 was still in Beta, I hoped that Keith would introduce stylesheets, though I soon saw the complexity from the programming point of view. Now, 9 years later, it won't matter to me whether v. 3 has styles or not, I'm going to run the compiled document through NWP anyway, so it is easy to sort out styles then. Within Scrivener, heading levels are all marked in terms of font, size and weight through binder hierarchy and appropriate title formatting in Compile, and currently, the only type of paragraph style that needs to be separated out for different formatting is marked by a preset giving it a different colour which makes it instantly selectable in NWP.


Since you're far more experienced with Nisus Writer Pro than I, and you understand that particular workflow better, I'd like to ask you a couple of questions:

  1. When you select all examples of a format in order to apply a named style, can NWP search for and select paragraph margins & tabs?
  2. Do you use Scrivener's auto-generated heading levels and formats? E.g. the names of nested folders determine the heading name?

I have to admit that after all these years using Scrivener, I am still learning its features and working out better ways to use it! :D

Cheers!
Joy
I was going to procrastinate, but decided to put it off a while longer...