Scrivener for journalists

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Joined: Tue Jul 11, 2006 3:17 am
Location: yet another Portlander

Tue Dec 19, 2006 10:16 am Post

We seldom take the time to describe an application when it just works; we usually focus on problems. I just used Scriv to research and write a 5500+ word magazine story -- without, I blush to admit, RTFM. (I will, I will, when it's out of beta, I promise!) But the point is: I didn't really have to read it, although I'm sure I would have been more efficient if I had, because the program is so well designed that things work just as a veteran Mac user should expect.

As usual, I clipped research articles from the web to the Research folder, made a structural outline (not using Corkboard -- that's my next goal), wrote various scenes and exposition, and put together a draft using Edit Scrivenings. For this long story, I had to use Scrivener's highlighting and annotation features for the first time, in order to communicate with my editor about changes. They worked great; even though he didn't use Scriv., the rtf export showed everything needed.

Then he hit me with a surprise: their new fact checking regime required me to supply an annotated version in which every fact statement was to be linked to a source. So I had to use Scriv's footnote function for the first time. We're talking a 100+ references from maybe 50 downloaded or web clipped sources, plus some transcribed two hour interviews. (I'm not complaining -- with all the recent plagiarism and fabrication scandals, journalism needs more rigorous fact checking procedures. But if I'd known this was coming, I'd have footnoted as I wrote. ) Took me several hours to go back through all that material, but Scrivener made it easy. The search function worked perfectly. When the right source article popped up, I was able to copy its title from the top of the document, click the Footnote button, paste it into the appropriate spot in the text, and move on to the next reference search. I hardly did any typing at all, just cutting and pasting, which saved a lot of time. When it was done, I exported the annotated file, and presto! instant numbered end notes for the fact checkers.

Throughout this project, I wish I'd kept track of the number of times I needed to do something, guessed the most logical way to do it, and sure enough, Scriv behaved just as I'd hoped and expected. After the seventh or eighth time, I'd just smile every time. (I guess it says a lot about software development that this is so rare!) The only time it didn't was when I was trying to relabel big groups of files all at once; I had to resort to the FAQ to figure out how.

This will probably seem ludicrously easy for you academics etc. who use Scriv's advanced features, and I'm sorry to've bored anyone. But for once, rather than complaining, I wanted to relate an experience in which everything worked intuitively and perfectly. It was such a contrast to my experience with Word, to which I'd just had to return (a thankfully rare experience these days) because another editor on a different story used the comments and change tracking feature extensively. Of course I hated dealing with Word's counterintuitive bloat, even though I'd used it for years. The writing and annotation process on this big story would have taken a lot longer with it or most other programs. I remember struggling with some aspects of Mellel in a similar situation a couple years back. Hasn't happened yet with Scriv.

I know Scriv was never intended to replace a true word processor, but my experience on this story suggests that if it had a track changes feature that worked independently and also allowed seamless back and forth exchange with Word's change tracking, Scriv could well replace Word, for many writers. Except for my browser, I didn't have to use another app to write this story -- just Scriv.

Anyway, I promise to RTFM RSN. After all, now that I've got footnoting , labeling, annotation and highlighting down, I need to start using keywords, the corkboard and synopses, inspector, etc. etc. for my book. I can only expect that they'll work in the same logical way. Thanks again to Keith for creating such an easy to use application.

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Joined: Wed Nov 22, 2006 3:53 am

Tue Dec 19, 2006 4:03 pm Post

Thanks for such a clear and informative description of how you used Scrivener in your work. I'm impressed that you could do all that without reading the manual! You've given me encouragement to get busy and make the transition away from Word.

I agree with you that some kind of tracking of changes and versions would be helpful. Avenir also tracks Tasks and Submissions, and I do like its Progress Meter, but otherwise Scrivener is more useful for a wider variety of writing projects.

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Joined: Wed Jul 12, 2006 4:30 pm
Platform: Mac
Location: Ashland, Oregon, USA

Tue Dec 19, 2006 5:37 pm Post

Thanks for posting this, brett. Scr.'s ability to footnote is one of the major reasons for my initial excitement with the program. Not the only reason, but a major one. But I've never had the chance to try it with a project requiring a lot of footnoting (since most of my time is taken with getting the dissertation finished and that is in Mellel). I would like to transition to Scr. for all my writing projects if possible with exporting at the end, and about half of what I write requires footnotes.

So this is very encouraging! :)

Inspiration is for amateurs...the rest of us just show up.
-Chuck Close