Scrivener for Thesis Writing: Backing Up, Snapshots & Compiling

Scrivener for Thesis Writing

Scrivener for Thesis Writing

You’ve probably heard it a million times, but you need backups. There is nothing more tragic than a lost thesis due to software failure /hardware failure/loss/theft (ok, there are more tragic things and Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is one of them, but within the thesis-writing-world I’m referring to)
So here is quick guide to providing lots of copies of your thesis. Some of these can be automated and some you should just do on a regular basis (like the moment you’ve had a super productive writing day).  I strongly recommend that you do all three methods
Method 1: Automatic Back-Ups to Dropbox or External Hard Drive
I work directly from my hard drive but back up to Dropbox. There are many reasons for this but mostly it is to protect my main document from being inadvertently corrupted.
To back up to Dropbox you need to:
  1. Ensure that Dropbox is installed on your computer/laptop and you know where the Dropbox folder is
  2. Go to the Scrivener->Preferences->Back-Up Menu option
  3. Choose your options. For instance, I back up every time on project close. This ensure I have a copy elsewhere of my project from everyday.
  4. Finished!
Automatic Backup Button

Automatic Backup Button

If you prefer to use an external hard-drive, follow the same steps but nominate the hard-drive as your back-up location.
Method 2: Automatic Snapshots
This step assumes that you are in the good habit of regularly hitting cmd-s (save) whilst you are working.  Once you set it up, Scrivener will take a ‘snapshot’ (version record) of each section that you change in a day.
  1. Go to the Scrivener->Preferences->General Option
  2. Tick “Take Snapshots of changed text documents on manual save”
  3. Finished!
Snapshots is essentially version control

Snapshots is essentially version control

Method 3: Compile a word copy
This is manual method to save your work. Compiling into another format is good habit- I don’t worry too much about changing the compile presets- I just choose “Non-Fiction with Subheads (hierarchical)” and ensure that I have Microsoft word selected as the format type. This means if something terrible ever happens to my Scrivener project, at least I’ll have a word version.
To save your copy some-where else (e.g. not the computer you are working on), you could
  • email it yourself
  • upload it to Google Docs
  • save it to Dropbox
  • save it to a USB stick
  • add it to your uni server
Just remember to be consistent so that in the event of a thesis disaster you know where the most-to-date version is.
NB: There are some security issues with using Dropbox and Google Docs for your intellectual property. Just google cloud services and intellectual property for making a more informed choice or follow your universities guidelines.

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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