Scrivener Tips – Transitioning to the Document Model

People who come to Scrivener from a word processor often feel a level of confusion when first using the software. Word processors follow the page model for content creation. That is, they simulate a sheet of printed paper on screen. Scrivener, on the other hand uses a document model for content creation. The editor doesn’t care about what type of output the content is meant for, what it encourages is that content is created with structure. This structure breaks up content into folder, documents, and documents with sub Documents. This can be seen on the left of the screen shot below. The document which contains this paragraph is nested within a folder beginning with “Transitioning.”

Introducing Structure

Scrivener tends to work best when authors outline their work in advance. They set up their content with a structure to be filled in. Chapters are typically folders and then the different sections of content, down to as many sub-sections as are needed, are nested as documents or documents with sub-documents. What this looks like is in the screen-shot below. This structure can be quickly designed using Scrivener’s outline view, which I will cover in a later blog post.

sections and sub-sections

As was stated above, people who transition from word processors, particularly those users who never utilized paragraph styles to create document structure, find Scrivener’s design to be rather alien. Thankfully, there is work around which will help ease the transition.

The screen shot below is a typical behavior for word processor users. It displays the “Baby Steps” line as a manually formatted heading which breaks off one section from another. For those who are used to paragraph styles, Scrivener also includes some support for these as well, but most people I’ve encountered would rather manually format their text even though it’s more work.

manual heading

At this stage there is one document, manually broken up into sections, but how do we translate this into Scrivener’s multiple document model? Thankfully, that’s simple. Select the manually formatted heading, right-click and in the menu which display click on “Split with Selection as Title.”

split menu

When clicked everything below the heading will be split from the first document and the selected text will become the document’s title in the Binder. As seen in the screenshot below, the manually formatted header will remain in place following the split, make sure to delete this!


Repeat this for each manual heading and you’ll be well on your way to creating a Scrivener project with a good document structure. If you intend document to be sub-sections of a previous document they can be selected and dragged over the document you want want them placed under. This will set the selected documents to a level below the parent document, as seen in the screen shot above. This process can also be handled in Scrivener’s outline mode which, again, I will cover in a later post.