Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Scrivner or MS Word? - Updated

I am 9 months into my PhD and I have to say I am progressing better than expected on some fronts. But, and there is always a but, I am not without issues! One of my worst failings is the organisation of my research literature and associated writing and notes. I am on  my 7th essay of around 6000 words and in the process have accumulated a mass of reprints and books not to mention Zotero entries.  Do I just accept that I am disorganised or do I try to do something about it before it becomes an irreversible problem?

I was reading a blog update email from The Thesis Whisperer (TTW), one of my favourite sources of inspiration and advice. The post was titled "How to write faster" and one of the paragraphs was about Scrivener, to quote from the website, Scrivener is:
Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.
 Like TTW I have used Microsoft Word (MS Word) for ever and despite still struggling to find my way around version 2010 on occasions, I am fairly comfortable with it. So the thought of having to start all over again fills me with dread. These were TTW's thoughts when she changed over in January 2011:-
This week I started using ‘Scrivener’ for writing my research papers. It’s a word processing program which has been on the Mac for some years, but only now is being developed for the PC.

It took less than 5 minutes to start loving this program. In a single morning I had a decent draft of a paper, which can sometimes take me weeks. I wasn’t at all surprised to read in the bio of the developer that writing this software was part of his “struggle to put together a PhD thesis” because I think it fits research writing like a glove. 
Well those words are encouraging. However these are the comments from TTW's latest post, September 2013:-
Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know this is the key reason I am a huge Scrivener fan. Scrivener is a different kind of word processor that enables you to write ‘chunks’ and move them around easily (you can read more about Scrivener here and download a free trial here).

Although I prefer to use Scrivener, it is not always possible, or desirable, to use it end to end in a given writing project. I often find myself collaborating with other MS Word users (ie: 99% of the writing world) and there are certain things Word does well (in particular tables). Luckily translating my text from Scrivener to Word and back again is very easy.

Since the productivity boost from Scrivener is in the drafting process, I stay there as long as I can before switching to MS Word. I overcome some of the problems of MS Word by creating subheadings and assigning styles to them. Then I make a table of contents so these subheadings become clickable links at the start of my document. It’s not perfect, but it enables me to ‘teleport’ around the text more easily during the final editing process.
Time and experience has obviously influenced TTW's initial enthusiasm for Scrivener, it is interesting to note that she has now found a working model that combines the virtues of both Scrivener and MS Word. I have downloaded the demo version of Scrivener and I will give it a go. Watch this space for my feedback.

UPDATE - 11th October 2013 - I downloaded the trial version of Scriviner with the intention of giving it a good try. Unfortunately after opening the programme and having a quick look around I closed it and have not opened it again. I decided rightly or wrongly that life is too short to start finding my way around a new piece of sofware on top of all my other pressing demands. I have reverted back to using Microsoft OneNote and expanding my knowledge of Zotero's ever expanding capabilities. Sorry Scriviner!