Word vs. Scrivener — Ding Ding, Round One

Hello Folks,

A little while ago, I promised a Word vs. Scrivener comparison – and here it is. Okay, this is the kind of post that appeals to people who REALLY need to know. For the people who just kinda/sorta want to know, the answer’s here:

MS WORD does everything. Have it? It’s all you need.

SCRIVENER is cool and funky, there’s a PC beta, and you can write a book on it. But it doesn’t sing or dance, YET (keep an eye out, those developers seem pretty active…).

For the readers who need the nitty, let’s keep going…

The nitty gritty

I’ve been writing/editing for decades, and realised recently that for anything bigger than a blog post, I’d only ever used MS WORD so I decided to try something NEW.  I picked SCRIVENER (beta for PC) on the recommendation of a friend, and wondered if it would be as good as WORD?

The gear:

  • PC with Windows 7 and a pen / tablet*.

  • SCRIVENER – first developed for the Mac, there’s a SCRIVENER for Windows public beta v 7.1 (31 Jan to 21 March 2011) that can be downloaded here (46.4mb) for free.
  • WORD — Microsoft Office Standard 2007, Word. CD.
  • 18,000 biscuits, 6,000 cups of tea.

(* Big love for the pen/tablet thing. :D )

The method:

I didn’t try to compare every feature; there are too many (esp. with Word). Instead, I wrote a story with SCRIVENER and related it to my WORD experience — spotting a few extras and a few missing bits. It’s not a comprehensive or objective comparison, it’s just my findings while writing fiction.

The start

WORD turfs you onto a blank page and you have to search for templates or create your own — the top toolbar holds fonts/styles/sets.

There is a template called ‘manuscript’ but I opted to build my own — a simple document, Times New Roman (TNR) size 12, with all headings in TNR. I tweaked the ‘Heading 2′ to include ‘chapter numbers’ and indented the paragraphs 0.5cm. You can opt for double spacing but I add this at the end because during editing, I like it to look like a book. Once you have your document set up, save it as a template, and the features will pop up automatically next time.

SCRIVENER demands to know what you’ll write – novel, article, poem, short story, etc. On picking one, it opens up a blank document. The template’s all decided but you can change the indent/font/etc pretty much as per WORD, except there are a lot fewer editing options as SCRIVENER is a less comprehensive word processor, and a bit more of a document-organiser.


Both have good, step-by-step, searchable help tutorials.

The story

WORD — Once the template’s set up, you write. 90,000 words; no problem(!) It all comes out in one long stream, so I split it up using the template headers:

Heading 1: Title
Heading 2: The chapters (preformatted)
Heading 3: used to separate paragraphs & sections (these headings will be deleted at the end).
Heading 4: notes that will be deleted as I go along…

then go to the top menu and select View/Document map. This generates a table of contents (hyperlinks) on the left hand side, allowing easy document navigation.


SCRIVENER works in a much more modular fashion, with a simpler userface. To write, you create a folder (this becomes your chapter) and within this, a text file (scene). Each scene can be a separate file, so you type in relatively small chunks. You can adjust the font, para indents etc for each file. On each file creation, a hyperlink appears in the left sidebar, providing an automatic table of contents for easy navigation around the manuscript. So to write, you type into the little scene/text files and the document emerges, navigating via the hyperlinked TOC on one side. If you want to see the modules all joined together you can move into ‘Scrivenings’ mode — click on a folder and the toolbar generates a button that looks like a pile of paper which allows you to view the document in a continuous stream.


Notes and editing

Both applications allow you to navigate with the hyperlinked TOC on the left, split the screen horizontally (to access two different parts of the document at the same time) and open two documents within one application for editing between documents.

WORD allows a lot of different ways of annotating: Track changes (where all the edits can be shown as typeface red pen), highlighting, embedded comments, text in a Heading font, and ink pen. I use all of them, for different functions — notes while writing (heading 4, appear in hyperlinked TOC), queries for research (embedded comments), my comments on the dossier  for other people (highlighted text), agent feedback (ink), etc.


SCRIVENER has many ways of annotating the document, but this is probably the point at which the two applications vary most. The SCRIVENER text can be annotated, emboldened etc, or a text file can be assigned “note” status so that it does not appear in the printed manuscript, but you can access it within each chapter. Each chapter also has a text box in the right hand sidebar (similar to MS WORD’s embedded comments) which do not appear in the printed mss.

The cleverest part of Scrivener is the presentation of the manuscript when viewed in ‘Corkboard’ mode — click on the chapter folder and you get each scene posted on a corkboard, along with notes and, via the status function, a watermark that tells you its overall status — draft, done etc. It’s nifty.


The End

WORD. Once I have worked my way through the comments and annotations, deleting notes and comments as I go, the document can be double-spaced, proofread and submitted. The submission format is EASY PEASY. It’s a WORD document, you can sub it ‘as is’. The only issue is whether your recipient has a .docx compatible viewer — almost everyone does. Alternatively, convert to pdf which is usually seamless and if your initial freebie trial converter has expired, there are lots of free converters on the web (I print to PrimoPDF).

SCRIVENER. The document has to be converted prior to submission, unless your recipient has SCRIVENER and can use the .scriv files — unlikely. There are numerous export functions, including exporting in rtf, Word or pdf.

Saving, archiving and versions.

Both applications allow the saving of different versions; SCRIVENER will save a ’Snapshot’, or the file can be exported to various formats including pdf. Word can be saved as different file names or into different locations etc.


Both crashed once, but other than that ran smoothly.

SCRIVENER IMPORTS — I started by importing a document from MS WORD to SCRIVENER to work on and did find minor glitches in the formatting — e.g. non-breaking spaces or non-breaking hyphens translated into a squiggle, which is a pain when you have 300 pages of them. Before importing, you can use the MS WORD function to replace them all with normal spaces/hyphens which worked fine. The text all went into one ‘scene’ and had to be broken up — really, not worth the effort. But this is a glitch with importing a whole novel — not a problem if you start with SCRIVENER and write all the way through with it.

SCRIVENER EXPORTS — Likewise exporting, you can expect to have a few page breaks / headers to add if you plan to sub in MS WORD. There were a couple of minor issues, e.g. in a couple of fairly intransigent instances, my apostrophes ended up as Verdana (the rest TNR12) when converting to WORD and pdf and when reformatting failed, the only way around was to retype a sentence or two. But generally, the document quality was good, and the final document reached submission standard with reasonably little effort. Bearing mind SCRIVENER FOR WINDOWS is a beta application, I’ll be keeping my eye on it (the MAC version is more advanced anyway and probably does not have these wrinkles).


MS WORD is an all-singing, all-dancing mammoth of an application which will cover all your writing needs, and which most recipients will be able to open. Huge documents can be easily navigable once you have the template and document viewing options set up. Learning to twiddle the many functions can take time and be a tad tedious but once learned, it can be automated, leaving you with a very powerful writing machine at your fingertips.

SCRIVENER FOR WINDOWS (beta) is a light, funky writing application with a very easy user interface and excellent document management facilities. It is not designed to be an entire, comprehensive word processor but it contains everything you might reasonably need for a novel or short stories. The Corkboard and notes viewing functions are excellent and fun to use. When your document is ready to submit, it will need to be converted and checked, possibly using another word processing application, but multiple export functions are available which produce documents of generally good quality.

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