Scrivener for Thesis Writing: Project and Document Notes

Scrivener for Thesis Writing threads

One of the tricky aspects of writing a thesis is that you have to bring together a huge amount of information in a way that no-one has done before. This may involve learning about writing as you write it, incorporating comments from Supervisors, keeping track of your own learning and reflections as you are writing as well as weaving together your empirical research with a body of a literature. It’s a lot to do!

In the social sciences and qualitative research, keeping a research journal or memo is pretty standard practice.  There are many different ways of doing this (word documents, notebooks, blogs) and for many different purposes. See here and here and here.

In this blog post- I plan to show you how to maximise Scrivener’s Project Notes and Document Notes features to keep on top of your thesis flow.

Firstly, both Project Notes and Documents are available via the Inspector Window. Think of them as the little notepad that you might keep next to your computer whilst working – a place to jot down thoughts, references, ideas you might have about your main body of text. But they can also do much more!  Lets open up Inspector and have a look where they are:

Scrivener for Thesis Writing Project Notes and Inspector Pan

Project & Document Notes appear on the bottom right hand side of the Inspector Pane.

Notice the little up/down arrows? This allows you to toggle between Project Notes and Document Notes.  These two features work in slightly different ways –

Project Notes are the universal notes available from within any part of your Scrivener Project (i.e. thesis). You can access them via this toggle button regardless of what section you are working on.

Document Notes  are linked to that specific piece of text that you are working on. If you decide to delete the text “chunk” – then the associated Document notes will be deleted also.

Lets turn to how to use these features most efficiently in Scrivener

Project Notes: 

As these are universal, you should only keep notes here that are relevant to ENTIRE thesis. You can access Project Notes 2 ways

Option 1: Chose Project Tab – > Project Notes – a pop up window will appear

Option 2: Chose Project Notes from within the Inspector. Notes will be typed into the box on bottom RH side

Scrivener For thesis Writing Project Notes

You can organise Project Notes as one long running document OR you can add multiple smaller documents. Project Notes are great for reflection, leaving memos to yourself about what you are working on or plan to work on next, questions that arise during your thesis writing etc. Just remember that they are universal notes.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 2.00.10 pm

Document Notes: Document notes are attached to the individual section of text that you are working on.  I use Document Notes in a few main ways

  • to write down notes to myself as to how to write that particular section (for example, what the Discussion Chapter should include). Usually this is my notes from various “How to Write Your Thesis Books”
  • to remind myself of bits I might want to include later or to store bits I want to temporarily remove but I’m not 100% sure if they might come back into that section of text
  • to keep my Supervisors broad comments in

Here is an example of my notes section from the Introduction of my thesis. I think the current intro is pretty boring and I’ve made a note to come back and amend it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 2.06.25 pm


Can I export my Notes? Yes – you can include them in the compile process- either with or without the associated text

So- I hope that helps. If you have a question- please ask via comments.


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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9 Responses to Scrivener for Thesis Writing: Project and Document Notes

  1. Anne Cleave says:

    Thank you Sarina, for your extremely helpful posts. I am a (very) mature student just about to embark on my dissertation for my MA in English. I downloaded Scrivener yesterday (15th Jan. 2016) and looked at the first tutorial. The speaker ‘raced’ through his text (which was fine, I can go back and watch it again) so I thought I would search to see if there were any other experienced users and I found your website. I followed the links to look at keeping a research journal and immediately began my own – I have four pages already written and that’s just today. I may also use Scrivener for this kind of exercise but I like the idea of a hand-written journal that I can carry around with me too. I printed your pages as PDFs as I find it easier to follow with a hard copy rather than trying to read on screen at the same time as following the instructions. I have also clicked on the ‘Follow’ link to be right there when you post the next set of guide lines.

    • Hi Anne,
      I am still writing my thesis (in Scrivener) and have learnt so much over the past few years that I decided to start this blog to support other students just like yourself! There is so much Scrivener can do to support not just writing but the research process in general. I’ve got a bunch of draft blogs and I’m trying to get them in order and scheduled for publishing. Starting a research journal is a great idea. I’ve personally swapped formats depending on the stage of my research and my physical location (blogs, handwritten note books, audio recordings on my smartphone, Scrivener, Evernote). Having the many different formats has been useful and also difficult at the same time. Great to get stuff down in the moment but harder to look at coherently later when I needed to access all my reflections!

      Good Luck!

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  4. Rasha says:

    Hey Sarina,

    First of all, thank you for your great effort and easy explanation, your blog is so informative and easy to follow 🙂 I’m writing my thesis and I decided to switch to Scrivener, so I’m a new user and I’m still not familiar with all features and tricks.
    At the moment, I’m really struggling with how to insert captions for my figures and tables without compiling to rtf or Word first (I’m planning to use InDesign at the end for the final formatting). Do you have any tips regarding this matter? I’m using the Windows platform, from my search it seems that can be easily done with Mac version, but I couldn’t find anything for the Windows version 😦

    Many thanks in advance and best regards,


    • Hi Rasha,
      This is an area that is relatively new to me too! I’m using the mac version, and I haven’t used the Windows version for quite a while. I suggest that you join and ask this question on Scrivener Users on FB or the Google Scrivener Group – someone who is more fluent in Scrivener for Windows will be able to assist you.

      In the mac version, I used Placeholder tags like but I’m not sure if this is applicable in the Windows version.


  5. Greetings! I see that I can make multiple Project Notes – can I also make multiple Document Notes?

    • Hi Janet,
      Project Notes and Document Notes are very different. You can make multiple Project Notes- because they apply to whole project.

      Document Notes are ‘attached’ to each single document. So for example, if I had a Chapter, divided into 10 sub-documents- each sub-document would have its own ‘Document Note’ in the Inspector. But you can’t have multiple different ‘Document Notes’ for the one sub-Document. You can however use bullet points and adjust the font in Document Notes. What type of information are you wanting to keep in Document Notes? You might be better to set up some custom Meta Data depending on your need.

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