Manage Society Articles with Scrivener

Society Corner badgeHow does your society maintain the many articles published in your quarterly journals and newsletters? Over the years those publications become quite an archive of genealogical goodness. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in many cases your archive is mostly paper copies. Even if you’ve saved the master copies created on desktop computers, chances are good that the software used to create them doesn’t exist anymore and you can no longer read those old files.

Why is this a problem? The articles and transcribed records published in those old issues could be a goldmine of revenue for your society if you can digitize and organize them. Once that is done, it is then possible to make them available for sale. Fortunately, many of today’s scanners are able to create digital files of “editable text”. Instead of just having a photocopy of each page, you can actually copy/paste the text from the scanned file. You don’t have to have a high-end scanner either. Many of your members have impressive scanner apps on their phones. They may not be the best choice for an archival quality copy of the original document but they will give you editable text with a minimal amount of effort. Look for a scanner – desktop or mobile – offering OCR (optical character recognition) support.

Scanning will make it possible to digitize your paper masters, but now you need a safe place to organize and keep them for future use. That’s where Scrivener comes in. Scrivener is not a word-processing program, but rather a writing platform. What’s the difference? It’s designed to organize manuscripts into scenes rather than documents. The writer can then arrange and rearrange those scenes as needed. For the family historian, it means you can write the stories as your research gives them to you and then arrange them into timelines, family groups or whatever. For the publications chair, it makes collecting, organizing and managing articles a lot easier. And it supports Markdown [see An Introduction to Markdown] which will insure those articles won’t get left behind as technology moves forward.

Scrivener ($45.00) is available for both Windows and Mac desktops. In the example below you are looking at a society newsletter project in Scrivener for Mac. The selected article appears in the editor panel while the sidebar provides access to individual articles organized into folders by issue. The Front Matter section holds repetitive content such as publishing guidelines and copyright notices. There are also areas for managing graphics, notes and even research (making it so useful to family historians).


Scrivener can import files created in Word, Pages and other formats, so it’s easy to pull member-submitted articles into your project. It also supports including photos and graphics. It offers features like automatic backups to protect your work and snapshots so you can quickly return to a previous version of an edited article.

The compile feature makes it possible to export the entire publication or just selected articles. Your publication can be exported to rich text (RTF) or Word (DOCX) format for printing or further formatting. You can compile to HTML, ePub and Kindle format using custom stylesheets. Scrivener includes a number of compile formats so you can choose how your compiled document will look. You can also create your own custom formats. These would be quite useful if your publish in a “journal” format, however an outside app like InDesign would still be needed for more complex magazine-style layouts.

If you are using Markdown within the Scrivener editor, you can compile and export an “archival” copy of each issue or project in plain text format. If you do not use Markdown, export your archival copy to HTML. It is also plain text only it has a lot more “formatting code” elements than Markdown.

Since Scrivener is unlike most word-processing apps, it will take some time to get comfortable using it. Fortunately it is so popular with writers – and now family historians – that there’s a lot of support out there. Lynn Palermo’s Scrivener for the Family Historian [PDF – $9.99 or Print via Amazon – $14.99] is a good place to start.

Next up . . . what to do with that collection of genealogical goodness once it’s all digitized and organized.

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