Scrivener For Thesis Writing: Setting Writing Targets

Scrivener for Thesis Writing

Scrivener for Thesis Writing

This is one of my favourite features of Scrivener. Actually known as ‘project targets’, Scrivener allows you to set word count targets for the overall project [thesis] and sub-sections within. With this feature you can set a word target for each section of your Thesis and see how you are tracking.
Hint: scroll to the bottom on this post to see how Targets can be used in other awesome ways. 
If you set a deadline and nominate writing days (e.g. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday but not  Thursday, Friday)- then Scrivener automatically calculates for you how many words you need to write per day to meet this target.
How freaken awesome is that?!
Writing Targets are amazing and a great to motivate your writing

Writing Targets are amazing and a great way to motivate yourself for writing

So there are a couple of ways that you can use Project Targets.
The ways I know are (with examples)
  1. Overall Target for your Entire Document: a thesis target of 100,000 words
  2. Targets for Individual Sections: A Chapter might have sub-sections which are case studies and you want each Case Study to be limited to 2000 words but the Introduction and Conclusion of the Chapter to be 500 words
  3. Composite Targets for an entire Chapter: The entire Chapter word target is 10,000 words
  4. Session Target for that particular Writing Session: For example, a daily writing target of 1,500 words

Using  targets can both support you in terms of motivation, accountability and to create a better thesis.

Here are each of the ways to set Targets in Detail:

Overall Target for your Entire Document & Session Targets

  1. Go to Project->Show Project Targets and a little box should pop up.
  2. Click on the number. Tip: it doesn’t appear that this box is interactive- but once you click a blue box will appear and allow you to adjust the total.
  3. Add in your total word target for the entire thesis.
  4. Click Apply
  5. Done!
    Set a Thesis Writing Target via Project Targets. This gives your entire document an overall target

    Set a Thesis Writing Target via Project Targets. This gives your entire document an overall target

    This is exactly the same process for the session target.

    If you click through to options- you’ll see how to set a writing deadline and nominate the days that you write.

Targets for Individual Sections:

  1. To set targets for individual sections you must first check that you have switched OFF the group view mode. You do this by clicking the Group View icon.  Any items still in Group View won’t show the little target icon at the bottom.
  2. Click on the Target Icon and a pop-up box will appear. Add the target for that section.
Remember to turn off group mode

Remember to turn off group mode

Composite Targets for an entire Chapter:

You can create targets for an entire Chapter (folder) the same way as for individual sections. You can do a couple of things with Chapters

  1. Set a Chapter Target and not set sub-section targets
  2. Set sub-section targets and just let the Chapter reflect the aggregate of the sub-sections (no specific Chapter Target)
  3. Set both Chapter and Sub-section targets.

Scrivener is really great in that it allows you to be completely inconsistent if you want/need to.

For example, lets say that I’m writing a Chapter and I want to my Chapters to be 10,000 words long. However, in one particular Chapter I’ve got 6 case studies that each need to be 2,000 words. I know that might move or delete some case studies later, but at this stage they must be in that Chapter. Scrivener allows me to set the Chapter Target to 10,000 words AND the sub-section targets to 2,000 words (totalling 12,000 words) and then just shows me in the Outliner View my “Target” vs. my “Total Target”.

Total Target is an aggregate of the targets of the sub-sections

Total Target is an aggregate of the targets of the sub-sections

Quick Ways to do Targets via Outliner View

If you don’t want to set Targets by going through each document or folder, you can easily do this via Outliner View.

  1. Click on the highest level folder that you have (in my case “Manuscript”)
  2. Click on Outliner View mode
  3. Right-click on the top bar and ensure that ‘target’ is selected
  4. Click inside the target box for the section you’d like to set a target for, and then type in your target.
  5. Done!
This is a quick and easy way to set writing targets

This is a quick and easy way to set writing targets

The Juicy Stuff:

Ok, so you’ve set your target for your document.  Preferably you’ve set a daily writing target as well and you have some idea of how much you’ve got to write each day to stay on track. You’ve figured out that you can see progress bars in Outliner view and feeling very satisfied with this awesome feature. You might even be tweeting your daily writing targets at #amwriting or #AcWriMo.

But wait. There’s more!

You can export this information to share with your Supervisors!  Just go

File-> Export -> Outliner contents as CSV (that means you can open it in common software such as Microsoft Excel!)

You can also use the exported Outliner view to integrate with your Google Calendar!

But that’s for another post.

Good Luck.


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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4 Responses to Scrivener For Thesis Writing: Setting Writing Targets

  1. This is a really helpful post (and a great feature of Scrivener). I have the Windows version and it’s missing some of the features mentioned here. Cheers

  2. Thanks for your comment Stavros. I don’t use the Windows version, so I’m writing this based on the Mac version. What features are specifically different ? I wonder if there is a work-around for Windows?

  3. Dave Fagg says:

    Thanks for that Sarina. This is helpful – particularly being able to set targets within Outliner view rather than using the bulls eye. One problem that I’ve found is that when I type into a sub-section of a chapter, the words I write don’t add to the Chapter word count.

    Have you found this?

    PS – I am using Mac

    • Hi Dave,
      Sorry for late reply — just discovered your comment! If this is not too late – there is difference between word count and total word count. This is because you can add a target word count at the Chapter Level which is totally different to your cumulative actual word count of all the sub-documents that make up that chapter. I suggest in outliner having a play between Word Count and Total Word Count. Good Luck!

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