Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Family History Writing on the Go! Review of Scrivener for iOS

Well, fellow genealogists, if you have anxiously been waiting as I have for the release of the Scrivener for iOS App (for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch) the wait is finally over!  The Scrivener for iOs App was released today (20 July 2016) and is available for purchase in the Apple App Store. Unfortunately, Android users, you are out of luck for now.  Click here to learn more.

Scrivener for iPad App, photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Let me tell you…it was definitely worth the wait! I was so excited to get this app that I set an alarm and downloaded it in the early hours of the morning! I immediately (well, after coffee, of course) started testing it out and below are my thoughts so far.  If you are on the fence about dropping the $19.99 for this app, I hope this review will help you decide.

What is Scrivener?

If you are not already familiar with Scrivener, it is a powerful combination word processing and project management tool by Literature and Latte. You can purchase Scrivener for Windows ($40 USD) or Scrivener for Mac ($45 USD). [I am a Scrivener affiliate, so if you happen to click the links and purchase the program, I will receive a small commission].

I have been using Scrivener since the early days, and first talked about it in a webinar I presented on Writing Your Family History for LegacyFamilyTree Webinars (2011). I have presented Scrivener workshops at conferences and in two online boot camps for HackGenealogy.  [You can purchase the digital downloads here]. 

I also wrote a Scrivener for Genealogists QuickSheet (available for Mac and Windows in laminated print versions and as a PDF digital download). Click here for more information or to purchase.

Getting Started

When you first open the app, there is a brief walk through.  Then you will see the main screen, which is where you will see your projects. You can “tap” to create and name a new project.

Projects Screen in Scrivener App. Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Initial Housekeeping and Syncing 

If you intend to work with Scrivener both on your iOS devices AND your PC (Windows) or Mac, you will want to do some initial setup.  First of all, make sure you update to the latest version of Scrivener for the platform(s) you use.  For Windows, this is Scrivener 1.9.5. Select "Check for Updates" from the "Help" menu within Scrivener itself and follow the on-screen instructions. For Mac,the latest version is 2.8. Under Scrivener in the File Menu, select “Check for Updates" and follow the instructions.

Scrivener for iOS supports Dropbox syncing and this makes it easy to share projects between your iOS device and Scrivener for Mac or PC. You will need to link your Dropbox account (if you don’t have one you will need to sign up at  By default, Scrivener will create and sync with the Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener folder. You can change this and sync with any folder you wish (but it is best to choose an empty folder or one with only Scrivener projects).


The top-level project view shows the binder on the left with a folder for the manuscript itself, the Research folder and the Trash (and other folders depending on your project template/setup). This view will be very familiar to anyone who uses the full Scrivener programs. 

In the project view, you can expand the contents of as many of these folders as needed to see everything at once. To do this in the iOS version, you simply swipe left on any section and an ‘Expand’ option appears. (this takes a little time to get used to since most other apps use that action for ‘delete’). You can also collapse sections. 

Fearless Females eBook written in Scrivener. Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

You can do this with sub-folders too, revealing as much or as little as you like in the binder. The indents are not as prominent since there is limited space on an iPad. 

Text view on Scrivener iOS app. Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Swiping left on an individual document pulls up a sub-menu, that shows “More” and “Move”. You can then choose “More” and “Move to Trash” (Scrivener’s equivalent of “Delete”).  Tapping “Move” will let you move the item to another folder (including Trash).  You can retrieve the document if you need to; to really delete it you will need to go into the “Trash” folder itself and choose "Delete". The plus sign to add new documents is there, as is the search (magnifying glass). Pinch to make the text larger or smaller in the main editor. 


Scrivener’s awesome Corkboard view is only available when you are using Scrivener for iOS on an iPad (not iPhone). You can see it indicated by the icon with the four small squares. Simply tap on the icon to see access the Corkboard view. You can also go to the top bar and click between the Corkboard icon and page icon.

Corkboard view in Scrivener iOS app (iPad ONLY). Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

And good news for those looking for the Inspector—it’s in the iOS version too.  Click on the “i” icon across the top to toggle it on (it will show up on the left instead of the right-hand side as in the full version). Click it again to toggle off. (On iPhone you have to look for the "i" at the bottom when you click on a document--you can set labels and add notes here too).

In the full version of Scrivener, there is the very helpful Scrivenings view that allows you to scroll through the complete manuscript. There is a similar view in the iOS version—click on the icon with the three lines on it on the bottom bar to open “Draft Preview”, but note that this is read-only: you currently can’t edit text in this mode (because of memory limitations and other constraints on an iOS device). However, if you do find something you would like to edit, you can double-tap on the text in this view and it will open the relevant document to allow the edits.


One of my favorite features of Scrivener is being able to add color-coded and status labels to help me easily visualize different parts of a writing project and track my progress. I was pleased to see this ‘Label’ function, is supported by the iOS version. 
Adding colored or status labels is accomplished with doing a long-hold on a document and choosing “Labels” (and the desired colors) or Status as desired. This also allows you to add notes, which show up in the corkboard view.

Saving and Syncing

The “autosave” feature of Scrivener has always been a favorite of mine. Also, the ability to sync (via Dropbox) to Scrivener on my Mac or PC has really provided flexibility for me as a writer, so I am glad that the sync features work on iOS too. On iOS, Scrivener auto-syncs every time you return to the main screen or open a project. However, if you are obsessive about syncing, you can perform a manual sync at any time by tapping the gear icon bottom-left and then “Sync Now.”

If you are an experienced Scrivener user, you likely know that the program warns against having two copies of your project open at the same time on different devices. If you do try to open it on a second computer while it’s already open on another one, Scrivener will warn you not to proceed and tells you what the consequences will be if you do. I find it good practice to close completely out of any projects I have worked on in one device before I access it on a different one.  

Other Favorite Features

On the bottom of the binder at the left you will see some icons to help you with various tasks such as project settings, compile, adding folders or files, etc.  The iOS version also shows your word count (so important for writers!). 


I highly recommend going through the built-in iOS tutorial (it is under “Help” in the Projects screen) to familiarize yourself with all of the key features and nuances.

Scrivener iOS tutorial. Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Stay Tuned

As I continue to use Scrivener for iOS for my writing (and I know I will be using it a lot), I will write additional posts here on specific features.  Watch for some video tutorials too!  

For now I will just say how much I love seeing that little Scrivener icon on my iPad (on my iPhone too, although to be honest I don’t do much heavy writing or editing on my iPhone). As noted above, and as you will read in the Scrivener for iOS documentation, the iPhone version is slightly different and may not have all of the functionalities you are looking for if you are used to other versions of Scrivener.

But this is not a deal breaker for me. Previously, I had been using a few third-party apps that acted “like Scrivener” but they really just didn’t cut it. It also makes me happy that I can take my family history and creative nonfiction writing projects with me wherever I go without having to always carry my laptop.  I am so glad that team at Literature and Latte took their time developing this app—it is every bit worth the wait and the price! 

Copyright, 2016, Lisa A. Alzo, All Rights Reserved

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