Scrivener for Thesis Writing:Getting Started on Writing (or death to the blank page)

As a thesis writer, I’ve discovered a lot about writing, myths about writing and even some pedagogy about writing. I’ve received much advice about writing and struggled with it. The best books I’ve read has been Kamler & Thomson 2014 Helping Doctoral Student Writre: Pedagogies for Supervisors and Writing from the Inside Out . These books normalised my writing experience for me. I also visit the Doctoral Writing Special Interest Group blog regularly (by following them on twitter) as well as other resources via the #acwri hashtag on Twitter.

Some people like to start with a structure that is clearly mapped out before they start writing their thesis, other people need to start writing and then organise stuff (sometimes referred to Plotter vs. Pantser).

I think that Thesis Writers probably fall somewhere in-between because you are never truly writing “by the seat of your pants” – as an academic you would have built many pieces of writing (small or large) and have a huge amount of information and knowledge, that you’ve somehow got to get onto paper.

Scrivener is the perfect tool to get down a lot of whats in your head to start building bits of your thesis. This process can be as messy or as structured as you choose.

Death to the Blank Page: Process

It’s time to start writing your Scrivener Thesis Project.  Here are 10 things you can do to start writing. Remember- Scrivener is super flexible, so you can change things later. 

  1. Create your Thesis Structure in the Binder.  If you are unsure, go for the standard Introduction, Methods, Literature Review, Results, Discussion, Conclusion. Add some sub-documents to each section.  Add some word targets if you know that you have to write to strict word count.
  2. Write out your Synopsis for as many sections as you can. This doesn’t mean writing the sections but rather a bit of a mental dump. For example, in a Methods Section- Introduction, I might write in the Synopsis  here I want to write about how this study was transdisciplinary and then talk about the two main disciplines that I drew upon. could also mention the work by X author {author, date}. Need to decide if I’m going to claim it was also drawing on X discipline or not.  That gives me a guide about what I will write in the main text when I come back to it.
  3.  Populate Document Notes for your sub-sections: Depending on what you are writing, this could be your own research notes, quotes from literature (remember to reference them), snippets from important points that your Supervisors made, quotes from your participants or results from lab work that you’d like to include in this section. Documents notes are like the different building blocks you’ll use when you come to write that particular section.


If you do just these 3 things – you  don’t have a blank page anymore. You’ve got a structure, a guide on what you’ll be writing and the resources that you’ll use to support your writing.

I hope this post was helpful. Happy Thesis Writing

Remember Scrivener has a free 30-day trial period. You can download Scrivener with an Education Discount via this link (Note: purchasing via this link gives me a commission about equal to the cost of a cappuccino)



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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