Scrivener has several options for getting your work out of Scrivener and into other formats. However- there are key differences between compile and export.
Compile: does what it’s name suggests – it takes all the little pieces that you’ve written and complies them into the one document. You can tweak what’s included and insert Chapter breaks, section breaks, choose to have notes and comments or no notes and comments – but basically it is creating one big long document.
Export: Whilst Scrivener has a seamless interface and it looks like all your work is linked whilst you are working on it – actually each section is saved as separate file in the background. When you export – Scrivener is saving each individual file for you.
Here is the difference between Compile and Export on a short piece from my thesis:
You select from within the compile option which sections to include (in this case I’ve chose ‘orienting concepts’ and unticked the other options).
All the smaller sub-sections are essentially ‘merged’ and compiled as one document. This is the preview once I’ve compiled it
Export: Export maintains the individuality of your files. You also need to select the files you want to export BEFORE going into the export option. The export option primarily is asking you where you want to save the files.
This is what the exported ‘Orienting Concepts’ looks like:
I think it is good practice to regularly take your thesis or any other work out of Scrivener and save elsewhere – cloud storage or usb stick or external hard-drive and do so in a more commonly accessible format. Whether you compile or export depends on how you might work on your document if you couldn’t access Scrivener for a while.