Last spring, I posted about the digital tools I use when writing both research-based documents both creative pieces. I’ve continued searching for the perfect app that will fit my organizational method. These are my criteria, organized as needs and wants:
- I work on several projects at a time. I need a way to store all of these projects simultaneously.
- I do a lot of research. I need a way to store the results of that research in an organizable way.
- I want an app that formats my references properly.
- I need to be able to do my writing directly in the app.
- I need an app that lets me store my work in sections that can be reorganized as I wish.
- I need to be able to nest sections visibly within folders or a file tree.
- I want a storyboard on which I can arrange my work visually.
- I need to be able to create outlines.
- I need a place to store my ideas and any notes I have for them for later perusal.
- I want to be able to create a timeline from various sections or research notes.
- I need to be able to access my work on multiple devices without having to email or otherwise transfer it. It’s important not to store it in multiple places. This means Windows and iOS.
- I need a way to get my work into standard formats.
- I need plenty of storage space.
- I need this solution to be inexpensive. Free is even better.
I know, it’s quite a list, but this is the app that would function perfectly with my workflow.
A few weeks ago, I discovered an app called Scrivener in the iTunes store. I was intrigued enough by the name to take a further look. It seemed to have quite a few of the features I was looking for, so I was ready to buy!
Oh. $20. Um.
I don’t like spending more than a couple of dollars on an app, but this really seemed like something I would use, so I looked more closely. In the end, I decided that if it would be as useful for me as I think it will, it’s worth the $20.
I’ve been playing with the app for a while now, so here’s how it stands up to my list:
PASS: I need a way to store all of my projects simultaneously. Scrivener allows any number of projects organized however you like.
PASS: I need a way to store research in an organizable way. Research has its own section of the app, which is organized similarly to the projects section. I can create folders to organize my materials and move any specific piece of information within or between those folders. Folders can be nested, supposedly infinitely.
FAIL: I want an app that formats my references properly. Unlike RefMe, this app does not organize reference information according to any style rules. I can add this to each topic myself, but simply as additional information in the text body.
PASS: I need to be able to do my writing directly in the app. I can do all of my writing within the app, which functions as a basic text editor – all I need for the vast majority of my projects.
PASS: I need an app that lets me store my work in reorganizable sections. I can break up my projects into sections that are as large or as small as I’d like. Like research, the sections can be easily rearranged.
PASS: I need to be able to nest sections visibly within folders or a file tree. The sidebar contains the project file tree. Sections can be organized into folders, which can be nested, or simply nested beneath other sections. This provides a visual representation of my project layout.
PASS: I want a storyboard on which I can arrange my work visually. Selecting a folder brings up a corkboard that contains cards for all of the items within the folder (including the entire project folder). You can assign images to each section or item within your work for a more visual way to organize. Organizing your work on the corkboard reorders it within the folder. You can organize your research in the same way.
PASS: I need to be able to create outlines. I thought about giving this a partial pass because there is no outline function. It’s possible to create an outline out of project segments and organize that as a workaround, but that didn’t seem to fulfill the requirement. I realized, though, that this is exactly how I outline. I have a list of things to include, which I organize on whatever interface I am creating my draft on, and then I start writing to fill in the gaps. It’s pretty perfect as is.
PASS: I need a place to store my ideas and any notes I have for them for later perusal. Once again, I was thinking of a specific function dedicated to this requirement, but once again I realize that the workaround is perfect as it is. I can create a project to hold all of my ideas and organize or add to them at any time.
PARTIAL: I want to be able to create a timeline from various sections or research notes. I can organize project sections to form a timeline, but I would really like an explicit timeline function.
FAIL: I need to be able to access my work on multiple devices without having to email or otherwise transfer it. Scrivener comes in both Windows and iOS formats (and Mac as well, though I don’t need it; each requires a separate license). However, it syncs data via Dropbox, so I will likely have to actively sync my work when I switch devices. This is inconvenient when I want to pick up and write but I forgot to sync. However, it does mean that my intellectual property isn’t being stored by a company I’m unfamiliar with, so I suppose there’s actually an upside to this failed requirement.
PASS: I need a way to get my work into standard formats. Scrivener will compile a project and export the results as a .docx or .pdf file, which is all I need.
PASS: I need plenty of storage space. Storage space is dependent on Dropbox, and even a free Dropbox account has plenty of room.
FAIL: I need this solution to be inexpensive. Free is even better. I suppose it depends on your definition of inexpensive. The iOS application is $20 and the Windows application is $40 (as is the Mac version), for a total of $60. This falls somewhere between the cost of many professional apps and the price I would have preferred to pay. However, given that it fits almost all of my criteria and is probably the best app I’ve seen for working with my organizational needs, I’m okay with the price.
Maybe it’s not my perfect app, but it’s pretty close – 8/10. I don’t know if I’ll use it for smaller projects (like blog posts), but I’m excited to start transferring my current large projects into it.