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Tech Tuesday: Advanced Highlighter Features in Scrivener

You probably know that you can highlight text in Scrivener using your choice of colors. Big deal, right? Any decent word processor offers that. But did you know that you can also search by color, and rename the colors to something more meaningful for how you use them?

If not, then read on.

Just in case you don't know already, here's how to highlight text in Scrivener with one of the standard highlighter colors (or one of your own choosing).

  1. Select the text you want to highlight.
  2. Go to Format–>Highlight, and then choose the color from the submenu.

Now on to the really cool stuff. I know several people who mark up their paper drafts with highlighters. Why? One does it for items such as dialogue, emotion, conflict, and setting. Another marks each character's dialogue so he can track it through the whole MS and make sure it's consistent. Still another uses it to mark areas that need research or revision (much like we did with annotations).

You are only limited by your imagination here. Once you've marked up your draft, you can use the Find Highlight function to search for all highlighted text, or one color.

  1. Go to Edit–>Find–>Find By Formatting.
  2. In the Find drop-down menu, select Highlighted Text.
  3. To search for only one color, check the box next to Limit Search To Color, then click the color box to choose the desired color.
  4. Click Next (or Previous if you want to go backwards).
  5. Scrivener will take you to the next instance of the chosen color(s) in your MS.
  6. You can edit or read the text and then click Next again to move to the next instance, without closing the Highlights Finder dialog box.

Image of Formatting Finder window
If you'd like the change the color names to something more meaningful, you can do that too (currently Mac only).

  1. Go to Format–>Highlight–>Show Colors.
  2. Select the color label (double click) and type your own label.
  3. The new labels will show up in the Highlight submenu of the Format menu.

I hope you found this as cool as I did. Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

Happy highlighting!
[updated 7/31/14]

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  1. Reply

    Oh, there you go. I’m not a writer. I just dictate my blog to a monkey who pounds out the keys. I also yell obscenities at the monkey as well. It’s all good, he or she gets a banana regardless.

    • Reply

      Well, maybe if you have a Mac, you should get Scrivener for yourself and then you could participate meaningfully in these discussions. 😀

      Although, I think working with the monkey might even be more fun. And who doesn’t like bananas?

  2. Rich


    Of course I have a MAC, is there anything else? Hell it’s so easy even a monkey could use it.

    I don’t need shiver or whatever the hell that is, I’ll leave that for you real writers. But I do get paid to write, hmm maybe I am a stud writer after all.

    • Reply

      I’m sensing that you’re into monkeys. Yes? And, yes, you are actually getting paid to write which is something most of us are only dreaming about at this point. Thanks for rubbing it in, Rich. 😉

  3. Christine


    Oh, I LOVE THIS! My handy dandy highlight sheet for my final read through of the pivotal scenes is going into the Scrivener program.

    You rock!

  4. Reply

    Gwen, you make writing so pleasant!!! thanks for all the tips!
    I am going to write my memoir one day and I will use all your tips.
    Thank you!

  5. Zoe


    Love this, Gwen–thanks for the reminder. I have actually used the highlighters this way in the past but forgot I could do this. Will come in very handy. 🙂

    • Reply

      No problem, Zoe. There are so many handy features in Scrivener. Playing around with them for the TT series helps me find/remember them. Thanks for stopping in!

  6. Reply

    Gwen thank you. I would have never taken the time to sort this one out.

    Also, Instapaper is great. Handy as it can be.

    • Reply

      Hey, Curtis. Glad it’s helpful. Anything else you want to know about that I haven’t covered? 😉

      And yes, Instapaper is turning out to be a real timesaver, as is Evernote. I’m always happy to share things that make life easier.

  7. Reply

    Thank you for the info! I’m (very) new to writing, and while I have Scrivner (and love it!) I don’t always know the handy ways it can be used.

  8. Reply

    Fabulous idea. I have used and loved Scrivener for a couple of years now, but I know I’ve barely scratched the surface on what it will do. I retweeted this.

  9. Reply

    Hey Gwen —

    Every now and then I take a look at the Scrivener Keywords feature, but I can’t figure out how to use it. Doubtless there’s something pretty simple that I’m missing. How ’bout a Tech Tuesday on that.

    –Thanks, Mark

  10. Jeff Perren


    Is there a way to select, say, a paragraph in Scrivener using a keyboard shortcut (function key, two-key combo, etc.)?

  11. Jeff Perren


    P.S. I was looking for that function as a way to easily do a word count on a paragraph without having to select via the trackpad.

  12. Reply

    Great article, I noticed you have keyboard shortcuts for each color highlighter. Can you tell me how to add those, I can’t seem to find it! Thanks.

    • Reply

      Dan: Currently, changing the color names is Mac only. If you have a Mac, you can do the following (I updated the post to reflect the new procedures).

      1. Go to Format–>Highlight–>Show Colors.
      2. Select the color label (double click) and type your own label.
      3. The new labels will show up in the Highlight submenu of the Format menu.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Sasa


    HI, Great article. I am writing screenplay on Scrivener ,and have one question. Is there anything that can automatically highlight different characters in my script. For example: character SONYA should always have red dialogue>?

    thank you

  14. Pingback: Scrivener for Thesis Writing: Labels, Status, Custom Meta-Data and Keywords [1 of 2] | Qualitative Research

  15. Meghan


    This is awesome thanks so much. How do I prevent my highlight from filling blank space when in bullet format? For example, If I have a bullet and then three lines of text and want to highlight something that runs from line 2 to line 3, the highlight fills in the entire row (from 2 to 3) with highlighting despite no text existing in that space. This is not a huge issue but it is visually messy.

  16. Reply

    Great article!
    I just would like to confirm, it is only on Mac version that you can enable these custom labels for colors? Because I can’t find that in my windows version 🙂

    • Reply

      I believe that’s still the case, Ayman. I’m traveling right now and can’t check for sure. If not, it might be available in the forthcoming Scrivener 3 for Windows.

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