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Meeting Scrivener – Part 3: Mixing and Matching Using Scrivener for Digital Research by Dana Ray

2136923757_3fef83563b_oWriter. Dancer. Tea Drinker. Idea Wrangler. See more of Dana’s work and writing at www.danamray.com

Composition rarely involves just text on a page. And increasingly, in a digital world post Roland Barthes, we learn to read more than words on a page. Our texts are not simply words but a compendium of different media and sources. And this makes the long academic project incredibly difficult to organize and tackle. It is not a matter of merely arranging our sources to analyze but sorting them and noting them as we construct our thoughts on the page. The writing process is the act of analysis. How can we write in a way that gives us full access to the texts and ideas that motivate us while focusing on getting the words on the page? Can Scrivener be the tool that enables a new kind of writing process?

What Scrivener can do:

Scrivener creates a writing process that exists alongside constant reference to digital sources. It does not expect you to write constantly flipping back and forth between source documents and your writing process. Various media and text files can be integrated with the writing process. You can add images and YouTube videos and web pages into the Research Folder and easily view them in the split panel frame feature. And really, this is a game changer for the composition process.

Screenshot (208)Interdisciplinary academics draws on multi-media sources as well as text sources. And this is introduces a whole new realm of possible writing processes. Scrivener can participate in that with the split panel frame that allows the writer to consistently view various references while composing. You don’t have to wait until a later stage to begin integrating references and comprehensively analyzing sources.

I imported a term paper on partner dancing in literature as a test run for the feature. Over the past week, I have begun revising the text and considering possible ways to break the original paper into multiple texts for publication. My primary task: I needed to collect and arrange digital dance sources and analyze them during the composition process. It was great to have access to YouTube videos of Regency period dance reproductions right alongside videos of contemporary West Coast Swing “Jack and Jill” competitions. I can play a video and easily type thoughts as I viewed the video. This creates a close integration between my written text and the image I view. I can explore the possibilities of real time response as I write.

Here’s the rub:

I wanted to integrate the videos into the text itself and easily format the Scrivener file into a digital form. This would allow video to live right beside the analysis rather than imagining my paper being read only on static print paper. Instead, I imagined research being engaged digitally. And this is where Scrivener ceased to help me.

Scrivener CAN export to flexible forms like html (yay!) and basic .txt files. For those of you in digital humanities or the like, this will give you all you need to move to create a fully digital text with integrated images and media files.

Screenshot (209)

The problem for me is based in my composition philosophy. For those of us without computer know-how, we need formats that allow composition to happen with close integration with media files.  And Scrivener’s digital exporting options cannot include images and media files included in the writing text itself.

What I wish Scrivener could do and someone should definitely create:

Integrating images and videos into the text itself in a way that is easily exportable to digital formats. What I mean is this: more scholarly writing needs to include images and videos within the text itself. We need platforms that allow our research to easily format with images and videos rather than simply providing links or screen shots to be inserted later. There is a growing integration of sources and formats that is reflected in both writing process and writing outcomes. The way we construct things is not the same as it used to be and we need platforms that allow composition to exist alongside formatting tools.

Now, I am aware that this is a highly unfair ask of Scrivener. They never claimed to be the solution to a new age of research formatting and text/media integration. Scrivener has only ever claimed to focus on text production, getting those elusive words on the page. Everything about the tool is aimed at that outcome and that outcome alone. Blaming a platform for not being what it never wanted to be is highly illogical of me as a reviewer.

So let’s give some kudos to Scrivener for what it does: creating a split frame feature that permits dynamic reading/analysis and composition process. Full integration into digital platforms with our multi-media sources is just around the corner.


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