Scrivener for Thesis Writing: Setting Up a Thesis Structure importing from Word

Scrivener for Thesis Writing

Scrivener for Thesis Writing

This post will cover importing and working from a Microsoft Word document that you’ve already started.
Before proceeding I highly recommend that you’ve downloaded Scrivener and spent a few hours undertaking the Interactive Tutorial and/or watched some Literature and Latte YouTubes (at least watch the Introduction one). This will give a good idea of what Scrivener is capable of.
Remember, these documents will most likely change. Your thesis will evolve, some bits will be scrapped, some chapters will become so big and unwieldy that you’ll divide them up – this is ok.
Firstly, you’ll need to set up a document in Scrivener into which you’ll import your word document.  You’ll also have to make some adjustments to your word document to make it play nicely with Scrivener.
NB: If your document is less than 10 pages long- you could do a straight copy/paste into Scrivener.  This tutorial is aimed at those with >10 pages in Microsoft Word.
Step 1: Set Up your empty (ready and waiting) thesis document in Scrivener
Scrivener comes with inbuilt templates.  We are going to use the template Non-Fiction -> Non-Fiction with Sub-Heads.
I recommend namely this project
Alternatively, if you are using a shared computer include your name
This is what it will look like:
Scrivener for thesis writing using academic template

Standard Scrivener Template Introduction page

Step 2: Open your Microsoft word document:
Tip:  The beauty of Scrivener is that it allows you to easily move between working on individual sections to working on your whole thesis. You need to do this step so that your ‘sections’ in Microsoft Word are recognised by Scrivener.
 I’m assuming here that you have used ‘styles’ in your Microsoft word document and that it is divided into sections via “Heading 1” or “Heading 2” etc.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to help you much in Scrivener.
You are going to have to add a # to each of your sections so that Scrivener will import correctly and divide up your Chapters.
Tip: You can skip this step and import the whole document into Scrivener without Chapter divisions. Your headings will still be there but you won’t be “Scrivener ready” . Skip to Step 3 if you prefer to divide up your document later (manually).
Using the ‘Find’ Function- finding all instances of a certain heading and ADD a # at the beginning of the Section title
Save and close your document once you’ve add a # to each of the sections.
Using the Find-Format function

Using the Find-Format function

Step 3: Import the document into Scrivener
File -> Import- > Import and Split (check that the “Sections are separated by” box contains a hashtag
Access via the File Menu

Access via the File Menu

Scrivener will probably place your imported Thesis under Endnotes. Just leave it there for the moment.
Step 4: Creating Folders based on your Thesis Structure
As you’ve already got a thesis-I’m assuming this means that you have a structure and have thought through this previously. If not- or if you don’t like the current structure of your thesis- take some time now to re-think how you would like to organise it.
Some universities/disciplines are very prescriptive and have a structure that you must follow. Others will have more flexibility.  Regardless of whether you are following a predetermined structure or figuring it out as you go along, there are some essentials as to what the thesis structure should look like / do.
I suggest that you read these posts
I recommend using a single folder to contain a Thesis Chapter.  To create a Folder- you can either (a) Duplicate an existing folder or (b) create a folder from scratch
(a) Duplicate an existing Folder by selecting the folder, right click and choosing ‘duplicate’
How to create duplicate folders for your thesis

Right-Click to access Duplicate Folder

(b) To create a folder from Scratch – you just click the ‘Add Folder’ icon on the bottom left of the Binder
Folder Creation in Scrivener

Create a folder using the +Folder button

Step 5: Adding your files into your Folders
As you’ve now created your Chapters [Folders]- you can now add the files you imported into each Chapter. You can choose multiple files by holding down the shift-key- you should then be able to move them as a batch via drag and drop. You can also do it via the right-click menu
Moving your word files into your new created Scrivener Folders

Moving your word files into your new created Scrivener Folders

Step 6: Some final housekeeping
Organising the Front Matter.
‘Front Matter’ is the standard first page that will accompany your draft thesis (kind of like a cover page). This template has a page called ‘Title Page’. This title page uses placeholders that will automatically generate text when you compile (that is, export or print) your work.  We are going to turn the ‘Title Page’ into  a ‘Front Matter’ page- essentially because it should be out of the way for thesis writing (rather than sitting up the top next to ‘Manuscript’)
  1. Go to Project -> Meta Data Settings and insert your thesis title and your name. Write down a real name for your thesis (not “draft thesis” but “An examination of X issue using whatever theory” type title)
  2. Rename the ‘Title Page’ document ‘Front Matter’ (either double-click or right-click rename)
  3. Tweak the text on the Front Matter Page. You could add more Placeholder Tags (for instance, to automatically generate the current date with <$Modifieddate>), delete ‘agents name’ and replace with your Supervisor’s Name.  Tip: You can find all the Placeholder Tags in Scrivener by going to Help – > Placeholder Tags
  4. Delete the documents titled ‘Contents’ and ‘Foreword’
  5. Move the ‘Front Matter’ document down to just above the Trash. You can do this by drag and drop.
Move the front matter folder to the bottom

Move the front matter folder to the bottom

Popping all this information onto a ‘Front Matter’ page matters because when you are taking your work out of Scrivener, you can use to include it or leave it via a simple button. I’ll cover this in another post but for now, just know that it is there and will be useful.
Any questions, please use the comments box to ask. If you have a friend or family writing their thesis or dissertation and not using Scrivener, please share this post with them!

About Sarina Kilham

I'm a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Trained as a social scientist and with a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture, I'm interested in farmer's experiences of growing feedstock for biodiesel production. My research has focused on biodiesel production in Brazil and Timor-Leste. Also on Twitter @sarinakilham and blogging at
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