Scrivener 3 for macOS: Long-Form Writing, Research and Composition

One of my favourite apps — one of the most important apps I own — just had a significant update for macOS. Scrivener is such a rich, and well thought out writing tool that I have held back on covering it until I could provide adequate detail. Now that version 3 has been released, I will have a chance to review it properly. In the meantime, call this a prelude. If you are already a user now is good time to upgrade. If you are looking for an alternative to Word for writing a thesis — for any kind of long form writing —  now is the perfect time to check out Scrivener.

Existing users can upgrade for $25. New users will only pay $45, and there is an educational discount license for students and academics at $38. Trust me, this is a steal. Microsoft Office will set you back $120, if you have to purchase it yourself. Or, put the one-off purchase of Scrivener against a subscription the most directly comparable app, Ulysses. The value is immediately obvious. The comparison with Ulysses is not unwarranted, the two apps get compared a lot for their ability to organising text. However, Scrivener is a much more comprehensive app for writers requiring research tools, and working on much large projects. Scrivener can do things that Ulysses is not made for. Writing a dissertation, or a thesis with Ulysses is more than possible. It may even suit some disciplines. In my experience, Scrivener is one of the more ideal tools for the job.

Looking for an Alternative to Word for Writing a thesis?

With outlining, context mapping, indexing, and more Scrivener can save you from the anxiety inducing mess of multiple, bloated Microsoft Word files. Why anyone would want to write anything legitimately long-form; a thesis, a dissertation, or a book of any kind in Microsoft Word is beyond me. Although, my working theory is that most writers stuck in the word processing paradigm simply don’t know any better. 1 It might seem extreme, but I’m not kidding when I say that writing with Scrivener saved me from all but giving up on long form writing. If you have anything like the chaotic, organisational ticks that I carry around, Scrivener can provide unique respite. Not only is it an alternative to Word for writing a thesis, it is a better experience in every conceivable way.

Alternative to Word for writing a thesis

Aesthetics Matter

I know there was a time when Scrivener turned away prospective users with it’s interface. I was one of those users once. The skeuomorphism of the early versions went a little too far for my liking. A virtual cork board with cork texture. It didn’t work for me. Say what you like about that kind of superficial reaction, but aesthetics matter in interface design. If you don’t like looking at something, you don’t want to work in it. If you have followed the history of this app, you might know that Keith Blount taught himself to code specifically to make Scrivener. The alternatives available for long-form writing were that discouraging. I would argue, if he hadn’t done that we would still be in a similar place. That the original version wasn’t all that easy on the eye is not surprising, the functionality of the app is a remarkable achievement.

Version Two gave users more control over those elements. In turn, fussy users like myself were better able to understand the powerful utility of a genuinely purpose built writing tool. Fast forward to this version, Scrivener 3, and the interface is thoroughly modernised. Frankly, it looks amazing.

Alternative to Word for writing a thesis

Best Laid Plans…

I have every intention of covering the release in more detail as I start to uncover its finer points. In the meantime, if you are looking to ditch MS Word — or even Pages — and the more straight up text editors are too sparse for you. Scrivener is worth your attention. Especially if you are writing any kind of long-form work, but even the humble research essay can benefit immensely from a bit of fine control.

For more details of the update, see Literature and Latte You can download a trial for Scrivener directly. Scrivener is also available on theMac App Store. And, there is also an excellent version available for iOS


  1. Yes, I know for some people familiarity is everything.