Software Review: Scrivener 1.9 for Windows

By Rick Crume Premium

Scrivener 1.9 for Windows 

Price: $40 Windows, $45 Mac

Manufacturer: Literature & Latte Ltd. <>

System requirements: Windows XP or newer, Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or newer

Demo/trial version: <>

Biggest draws: Easily organize and rearrange a lot of source documents, view them while you write, switch between broad and detailed views of your project

Drawbacks: Requires time to learn; can’t import data directly from genealogy software

Ease of use

Scrivener makes writing a long family history or other project easier by breaking it into smaller parts. While it’s not specifically for genealogists, it’s a useful tool for writing your family stories. The Windows version, which I tested, lags slightly behind the Mac version in features. To get up and running fast, take the Quick Tour in the user manual and watch the 10-minute introductory video <>. An interactive tutorial under Scrivener’s Help menu took several hours to complete, but familiarized me with the program’s features.


The “binder” on the left side of the Scrivener window has two main folders: Research and Draft. The Research folder holds all your sources, such as text, PDF and image files. As Scrivener isn’t genealogy software, it can’t import a GEDCOM file. To write a biography of a relative, I started by copying all my source documents—hundreds of them, including vital and census records, newspaper articles, court records, book pages, oral interviews, e-mail messages and more—to subfolders in Scrivener’s Research folder. I organized them into chapters covering different periods in the subject’s life and within each chapter, into folders for each key event.

The Draft folder holds all the text fragments that will be strung together to create your essay or book when you’re ready to export or print it. You can view a source document from the Research folder in one pane while you write about it in another one.

User interface

Click on a folder in the binder to display its contents in the “inspector” on the right side of the Scrivener window. It’s easy to move among three different views. Corkboard view displays each source document or text fragment as an index card with a title and a synopsis. You can move cards around the corkboard and stack related cards. I’m writing the biography in mostly chronological order, so I’ve titled most cards beginning with the date in year-month-day format, like 1895-08-30. Then I can select Sort from the Documents menu to sort the cards by date. You also can assign each card a status, such as To Do, First Draft or Revised Draft.

Outline view displays folders in a collapsible outline and you can drag and drop documents between them. Scrivenings view shows all selected text fragments as one continuous document, so you can preview your manuscript before exporting or printing it. It’s easy to switch from a broad view of your project to a focus on individual segments.

Sharing your manuscript

When you’re ready to export and share your manuscript, you can save it as a PDF document, an RTF file for use with word processors or an HTML webpage. Text that you defined as footnotes can be turned into real footnotes in an RTF file. Scrivener is designed to create the first draft. You’ll often want to edit it in a word processor or page layout program for final formatting.

The verdict

You can use genealogy software to generate a narrative family history, if you’re willing to settle for a dry string of facts and minimal editing tools to embellish them. Word processing software helps you craft a more engaging story, but you’ll miss tools to manage a lot of sources and organize your research. Tackle that big writing project with Scrivener software instead, and it’ll seem less daunting. If your ultimate goal as a genealogist is to turn all those records you’ve found into a family history your relatives might actually read, Scrivener could be just the tool you need.