When Big Media Aren’t the Biggest

I’ve largely been using the very excellent Scrivener for my PhD thesis writing over the last few years. It’s a tool that makes a lot of sense for many types of workflows, including mine up until this point.

Typing the Universe, from Flickr/jsome1


A Scrivener licence lets you use the program on up to two computers, but not across different operating systems. I work mostly on a Mac laptop, alongside an office Mac on occasion. In recent months, I’ve also been using the office Windows machine.

Scrivener works very well if your workflow goes like this:

  1. draft on one or even two machines (with the same OS)
  2. send drafts off to someone else for checking
  3. get drafts back and incorporate edits.

However, I’m finding a need increasingly to do little edits, fixes and ideas on the run from phones and tablets, which Scrivener can’t handle, and I’m also getting annoyed with having to export into Word to send for review, with all the complications of images and headers not lining up properly on different versions that brings. What also happens is that I get comments back in Word and have to work them into the Scrivener docs. My laptop has a screen that can’t usefully handle side-by-side windows (at least with my eyesight), so that isn’t working.

So, given I’m rewritting anyway, I thought this was a good opportunity to import everything into Google Docs, which I already use for just about everything.

I’ve done this in a few ways:

  1. copy chunks from old Scrivener drafts and put them into new chapter-based GDocs.
  2. export as Word from Scrivener and opened these in GDocs.
  3. write new stuff in GDocs and bring in old bits and pieces as they’re needed.

So far, I’m finding I much prefer the ability for me to work on the same doc at the same time my supervisors can see it, and to have their comments right alongside the ‘live’ drafts.

There are a few drawbacks of GDocs, including that it doesn’t handle pictures very well (and can’t natively attach captions), and it refuses to play nice with tables of contents and page numbers. I’d be happy to do away with page numbers in the thesis (in favour of links in the TOC) but I have to assume my examiners will want to see them. Still, these are fairly minor things in the scheme of being able to work in more places and more efficiently incorporating comments.