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Tech Tuesday: Formatting tips for Scrivener

Scrivener is meant for drafting manuscripts, and isn’t focused much on formatting them. But it’s understandable that you might have preferences for how the text in your editing window appears. Here are a few quick tips for setting it up.

Setting the Standard Format for New Documents (Mac)

The following steps will let you set the standard for all new documents in all projects within Scrivener, but will not change existing documents.

1. Go to Scrivener—>Preferences. (Mac v3: Go to Scrivener>Preferences>Editing>Formatting and skip to step 3.)

2. Click the Formatting button at the top.

3. Click in the small text editor at the top and use the formatting buttons to set up the way you want your documents to look.

4. All new documents in all projects will use this format (unless you set a project-specific format [Mac only], which I'll get to in a minute).

5. Close the Preferences window.

Setting the Standard Format for New Documents (Windows)

The following steps will let you set the standard for all new documents in all projects within Scrivener, but will not change existing documents.

1. Go to Tools—>Options.

2. From the row of buttons along the left side, select Editor.

3. Click in the Default Main Text Attributes editor at the top of the window and use the formatting buttons to set up the way you want your documents to look.

4. Click OK.

Applying Default Formatting to Existing Documents (Mac and Windows)

If you have existing documents that don't match the default formatting (either the out-of-the-box settings or the changes you just made in the previous section), you can convert them with the following steps.

1. Select the desired file or files in the Binder. Mac users can choose a folder or multiple files, Windows users must select the files separately from the folder. If not in Scrivenings mode (multiple document view), go to View—>Scrivenings.

2. Mac users only: Click in the text in the Editor pane. If your cursor is not in the Editor, the formatting options are not available.

3. Go to Documents—>Convert—>Formatting To Default Text Style. A small window appears.

4. Leave all boxes unchecked in order to convert all aspects of the style, and click OK.

The selected document is converted to the standard format you set in the previous section.

NOTE to Mac users: If you have already set a project style as below, converting a file with these steps will convert it to the project text style instead.

Setting the Default Text Style for a Single Project (Mac only as of 3/14/13)

You can set up a default text style for each individual project that overrides the global format you set in Preferences. Here's how:

1. Choose Project—>Text Preferences. (Mac v3: Go to Project>Project Settings>Formatting.)

2. Select the checkbox to Override Text Formatting For This Project. (Mac v3: Select the checkbox for “Use different default formatting for new documents in this project.”)

3. To use the settings in the current document, click Use Current. Otherwise, make changes in the Editor pane using the format bar that's provided.

4. Click OK.

All new documents created within that project will use the default text style you just created. To change an existing document to the default (whether set here or in Preferences), go to Documents—>Convert—>Formatting To Default Text Style.

Creating a Preset (NOTE: Scrivener 3 has Styles.)

Presets allow you to apply a previously defined set of formatting rules to existing text.

1. Format a section of text to match the settings you want for your preset. Or, find a section of text that is already set up the way you want it.

2. Click within the properly formatted text.

3. Go to Format—>Formatting—>New Preset From Selection.

4. Give your preset a name that specifies what it is. For example, I used TNRwIndent to represent my double-spaced, Times New Roman 14 pt with first-line indent.

5. Click OK.

Applying a Preset

Once you have created a preset, you can apply it to a paragraph or a selection within your document.

1. Click within the paragraph, or select all of the text, to which you want to apply your preset.

2. Go to Format—>Formatting—>Apply Preset.

3. Select the desired preset to apply.

Deleting a Preset

You can easily delete a preset that you no longer want.

1. Go to Format—>Formatting—>Delete Preset.

2. Select the preset you wish to remove.

Preserving Formatting

If you have text with a special format—maybe to represent letters, text messages, emails, or quotes—that you don't want to be overridden when you compile the project, you can preserve the font, spacing, size, indents, and alignment of it.

1. Select the text to preserve.

2. Go to Format—>Formatting—>Preserve Formatting.

The selected text is surrounded by a dashed line and highlighted in pale blue to show that it is preserved. Remove preserved formatting with the same procedure.

Want to know more? 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.

 Write on!

[Updated 4/3/19]

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  1. Reply

    I have a semi-related comment… mostly it’s a question about your Scrivener class.

    I’d like to join, but would like to know what days and times it will be to make sure that it works with my work schedule.

    I’m still not certain if I’ll take it or not… Scrivener works great the way I use it, but I’m sure I could be utilizing it more fully.

    • Reply

      Hey, Kali. The class is run on an email loop. I’ll be posting lectures (is there a better word for that?) 3-4 times per week and then giving you time to try out each feature and ask questions.

      The beauty of an email-based class is that you can show up whenever you want. Plus, you’ll always have the emails to go over in the future so you don’t even have to take notes. 😉

      The class runs the entire month of May. I hope you can join me, but no pressure!

      • Reply

        Yay! That’s so much better than a webinar at noon. I wouldn’t have to do them at work. 🙂 That makes it more appealing, certainly.

  2. Reply

    Just signed up for your class! I agree with tospinayarn that I like what I’m doing with Scrivener so far, but I really could use it better.

    Thanks for the preset tips! My formatting is all over the place right now and it’s itching at my OCD. 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks, mesummer! I look forward to having you in the class. I know what you mean about standardizing your formatting. I’m the same way. Glad the post helped!

  3. tanya


    I had signed up for the scrivener class back in jan (jan 29) but it was for an april class. was it pushed to may (which is cool) but i was worried i had missed some emails.

    • Reply

      Tanya: The class sign up deadline is April 30th, so maybe that’s where the confusion came from. I have you on my list, and we’ll be starting May 1st. I look forward to seeing you there!



    Hi Gwen,

    I just purchased Scrivener and I don’t know where to start. I am writing a novel and don’t want to lose momentum trying to figure Scrivener out. Can you recommend a website that will show me how to work it easily? Thanks.

      • Isabel


        Thanks. I figured some of it out already. Just haven’t figured out how to add a prologue without it becoming part of chapter one after I hit the compile button. Any ideas?

        • Reply

          Isabel: Are you putting the prologue in its own folder? That’s what I’d do. In which case you’d want to use folder names for your chapter titles instead of the automatic chapter numbering.

          Or, you could just split out the prologue once you export to your word processor. Good luck!

          • Reply

            Hi Gwen,

            I am trying everything to get the prologue to show, but it ends up being either a chapter or sits directly on the title page. I am about to loose my mind. 🙁

            • Reply

              Karissa/Isabel – I worked out how to this morning. When you go to compile, the expanded options show things like contents, separators, formatting, transformations etc. and you need to go the formatting section or tab (depending which version of scrivener you use). Once there you can edit how each level and/or its descendents are formatted. e.g. click “Level 1+” and the ‘Modify’ and then click “Section Layout” and you can change how all levels from the root and below are handled.

              So, what I’ve done, is removed the Prefix from Level 1+, and added (cut and pasted in fact) a prefix to Level 2+ instead. The code for the prefix needs to be “Chapter ” (without the quote marks). This means every level 2 file in the binder is a chapter. I keep chapters inside folders representing parts and anything before part 1 in the root level therefore doesn’t get a chapter number – so that can be quotations and the prologue. You can also set Level 1 folders to have prefixes so your parts have names.



              • gruffdavies

                Looks like part of the code got stripped. it should be chapter followed by $t inside angle brackets – but just move what’s in the prefix in level 1+ to be level 2+.

  5. Reply

    The one thing I’d like to be able to do is a one-click ‘zero formatting’ – so if I clip some research notes from a web-page I don’t have to manually fiddle with text size and colour to make it legible. Nearest I can get is formatting all the way up to headline & back down but that’s a bit silly…

    • Reply

      TheMichaelMoran: If you’re copying and pasting, trying using Paste and Match Style (Shift+Option+Command+V on the Mac, Ctrl+Shift+V in Windows), instead of using the standard Paste command. That won’t give you plain text, but it’ll match the text settings to your project’s default style for new documents. Hope that helps!

  6. Omer


    Dear Gwen,
    I took the trail version before buying and could not figure something:
    Is there a way to assign keyboard shortcut to the formatting presets I make? It seems kinda basic but i cant find a way to do that.
    Can you please open my eyes on that matter?


    • Reply

      Omer: Sorry for the delayed response. I’m still catching up after the Thanksgiving holiday and traveling.

      You can set up a keyboard shortcut for your preset, but you have to make sure it doesn’t interfere with an established shortcut, or it won’t work. Here’s how:
      1. Copy down the name of the preset exactly as it appears in the menu.
      2. Go to your Mac’s System Preferences.
      3. Choose Keyboard, and then click on the Keyboard Shortcuts button at the top.
      4. Click Application Shortcuts in the list to the left.
      5. Click the [+] button at the bottom.
      6. In the pop-up window that appears, click the top drop-down button and choose
      7. In the Menu Title text box, enter the name of the preset (exactly as it appears in the menu).
      8. Click in the Keyboard Shortcut text box and press the combination of keys you’d like to use for the shortcut. NOTE: If the combo is already taken you won’t get a warning or anything, it just won’t work.
      9. Click Add.

      When you go back into Scrivener and look at the preset–either on the format bar menu, or in the Format–>Formatting–>Apply Preset submenu–you’ll see the keyboard shortcut you assigned. If it doesn’t work, follow steps 1-4 above, click the arrow next to in the list to see all the shortcuts. Double-click your preset shortcut and enter a new one. Repeat until you find a combination that works.

      I hope that helps!

  7. Gilly


    Dear Gwen,

    I just implemented your very helpful preset with shortcut function described above. It works beautifully (thank you for sharing) apart from the fact that the paragraph present always applies the formatting to the whole paragraph, even if I have only selected a few words within that paragraph to use the preset on.

    Any ideas what I may have done wrong there?


  8. Pingback: Tech Tuesday: Getting rid of double paragraph returns in Scrivener | The Edited Life

  9. Leigh


    I’m currently compiling my document and when I downloaded it to my nook, 40,000 words is only 108 pages. I want 250 words per page and have this setup in scrivener, but four nook screens equals a page which is about 500 words a page. How do I fix this?

    • Reply

      Leigh: You can’t control the number of pages that show on the Nook (or another reader for that matter). It’s going to change depending on the size of the font the person reading it chooses, which size reader they have, and so on. You might be able to force it using HTML, but I bet it wouldn’t look good, and you would need to do that outside of Scrivener. Good luck!

  10. Ronny


    Aaa, your tips saved me from having to retype my nomoredefault formatet scene.

    Thanks a lot.

  11. Pingback: logbook « Scrivener Tips

  12. Reply

    Something else I just discovered that’s even quicker. If you go to the inspector (View → Layout → Show Inspector), select your prologue document(s) and check the “Compile As Is” box, Scrivener will not number it/them.

  13. Reply

    Hi Gwen,
    something that’s been driving me crazy today: I’m just wondering if Scrivener will update styles that I’ve applied manually? You know, if I wanted to change my Character Template headings consistently all the way throughout my project? It’s not a big matter like formatting how my actual book will print, because this is all stuff in my Scrivener research notes. But it’s the sort of thing that bugs me if I can’t figure it out. Thanks. Awesome blog, and great tips above.

    • Reply

      Eclipse Now: There’s no auto-update like you’re talking about for headings and such within your document text. The fastest way to handle it would be to create a Preset and then apply it to all of your headings. Thanks! 🙂

      • Reply

        Cheers. At least I know, and can stop banging my head against a brick wall trying to find it! But I heard a rumour that a find & replace styles may be coming, but it could take some time.

  14. Pingback: Scrivener for Windows gets an awesome update (1.7.1) | Gwen Hernandez

  15. Reply

    Hi, Gwen…I have Scrivener for Dummies, working my way through it slowly. I have a question not addressed in your book. I know I can add icons to file and folder names, and that there is a check mark (tick) icon available. But what I need is a way to add check marks in the TEXT of a document. The font Wingdings2 includes a check mark, and if I remember correctly (I may not) it’s Shift P, but when I insert this the mark is badly distorted, I can’t even make out the shape. Do you know why this occurs? Or do you know of another solution, or some other font that has a check mark????

    • Reply

      Toni: This differs between versions. The Mac version has a checkmark bullet for lists, the PC version currently does not (no idea why). On the Mac, if you go to Edit—>Special Characters, there are some checkmarks under the Bullets/Stars section. In Windows you can access special characters from Edit–>Character Map. I was able to copy the checkmark in Wingdings, but when I pasted it, it came out as a hand holding a pen. However, when I selected the incorrect character (which then shows as Wingdings font in the format bar) and used Edit–>Paste and Match Style, it turned into a checkmark. For some reason it’s not switching to its own font the first time. Not sure if that helps. Good luck!

      • Reply

        Terrific! Thanks, Gwen. I appreciate the fast answer. This problem came up on my windows laptop, but I do have Scrivener on my Mac also so I’ll just do the work that needs checks on my Mac. I keep forgetting that the Windows version lags behind the Mac version. I suppose I’ll lose the checks when opening the Mac created file in Windows…

        I’ve copied your remarks about Wingdings to ponder – I’ll give that a try. Your expertise is a blessing.

  16. Reply

    Thanks for your help. I like Scrivener but have hit a few snags getting to run how I want. You have helped me resolve most of those!

  17. Reply

    I’m running the linux version, and yes you are talking about an older version, but I am damn glad I found your blog. This section, even though cosmetically different, pointed me in the proper direction. 🙂

  18. Reply

    Here’s something I don’t get. I created a project by pasting in from Word, then used document/convert tand all is well. Until I copy paste or select and drag any text. If I don’t use “Past and Match Style” the pasted text is always converted to New Times Roman in smaller type, even though my Scivener doc is all Courier and the Word doc I pasted from is all Courier and all my presets are Courier. I don’t know where the Times is coming from.

    • Reply

      C. Stuart: Are you using Windows? I found notes about a similar bug on the forum, relating to copying from an internet browser. Their recommendation was to select all of the text and copy and paste the whole thing again. Then run Document–>Convert–>Formatting to Default Text Style again. For some reason it takes two steps to strip out the extra formatting.

      Have you tried using Import instead of copy/paste? The file will be converted to RTF during the import process, then you can convert the formatting and it should stick. HTH!

  19. Reply

    Any idea of a way to set up a keyboard shortcut to apply a preset? It gets pretty old having to click through the menus. Even going through the menus via using alt- is a big annoying: alt-R-F-A (select a preset).

    Thanks for the post.

    • Reply

      Joseph: There is a button on the format bar with the list of Presets (far left button with a pilcrow [backwards P symbol] and letter “a” on it). That’s probably your easiest route, but it requires the mouse.

      You can modify/create some keyboard shortcuts under Tools–>Options–>Keyboard in Scrivener, but I don’t see any preset menu items there. Sorry I can’t be more help.

  20. Byron Joel


    This question will betray my n00biness but…

    How the heck to I shift a bullet point to the right or left in Scrivener(mac)?

    • Reply

      LOL, Byron. That’s why I’m here. 😉

      Select the bullets and go to Format->Text->Increase/Decrease Indents and choose either Increase Indents or Decrease Indents.

      To decrement the bullet (make it a lower level bullet in the hierarchy), move your cursor to the left of the first word in the bullet and press the Tab key. Shift+Tab increments it, if possible.

  21. Jim


    Thanks for a really useful article, Gwen! I have one question that’s still bugging me, though: once I’ve changed my formatting presets, is it possible to revert my presets to defaults? Over the past few years I’ve changed various formatting presets without really knowing what I was doing, and I would now like to completely reset Scrivener to “factory settings”, including the formatting presets. Any idea how I should do this?

    • Reply

      Jim: Glad it was helpful! You can reset your global settings in Scrivener>Preferences (Mac) or Tools>Options (PC) by clicking the Defaults button. I’d recommend you click Manage and save your current settings first, just in case you change your mind and want to revert.

      However, this doesn’t affect the format presets. You can recreate the presets on your own, but there’s no easy way to restore them (unless you want to mess with plist files and such). You could uninstall Scrivener and download a new copy of it. That won’t affect your Scrivener projects, and should give you a new factory version. Just make sure you have your registration key on hand from when you purchased the software.

  22. saul roldan


    I use a lot the order list. I will like to create a preset or one key function that when I press a key will apply the right format list to a paragraph. For example:

    From this:

    first line
    Second line

    An do this:

    1) First line
    2) Second line

    Next I will line to create a new preset or one key function that do this:

    From this:

    first line
    First line A
    First line B
    Second line
    Second line A
    Second line B

    Tod do this:

    1) first line
    A) First line A
    B) First line B
    2) Second line
    A) Second line A
    B) Second line B

    I will like that when I selecta “first line” and apply the style It will start with 1) and when I select “second line” will start with 2), same with the letters A), B).

    How can I create a one key shortcut to do this?

    • Reply

      Hi, Saul. Unfortunately, the text engine Scrivener is based on is not very robust when it comes to lists. As you’ve probably already discovered, it’s easier to format the list while you type it than to go back and apply formatting after the fact. Especially if you have multiple levels (indents) within your list.

      If you start off a list with 1) and then move to the next line and press the Tab key to indent, you may get something like the – symbol. You can change that via the bullet list dropdown in the Format bar to A). Thereafter in that list, all indented items will use A) B) and so on, even if you use Shift+Tab to add some more numbered bullets first. But I haven’t been able to create a preset or shortcut that will correctly apply bullets to an entire existing list.

      The only way I can think of right now to make this at all quicker for you is to create a preset (Format–>Formatting–>New Preset From Selection) for both the 1) style and the A) style, then when you’re creating a new list, apply the 1) style to the first line and create your list, then when you get to an indented section, apply the preset to that line. The rest of the list should follow accordingly.

      Once you have created your presets, you can then add keyboard shortcuts for them (through Windows or Mac OS, depending on what you’re using). Wish I had something better for you!

  23. Mark


    Hi Gwen, Have you tried Scrivener 3? I’m looking for the equivalent of Format–>Formatting–>New Preset From Selection to create format presets, and not seeing a way to do that. Have you done so? Thanks!

  24. Reply

    Hi, Gwen. Love your blog. I have a question that I can’t seem to figure out. In the old version of Scrivener for Mac, the preset text colors in the format bar were black-red-green-blue-purple. I use all of those colors for different things in my draft. Now the purple has been replaced with gray and I prefer the purple. Is there anyway to change that?

    • Reply

      Thanks, Loretta! Unfortunately, I can’t help you with this one. I thought I had an option that would work, but it didn’t. 🙁 I’d recommend hitting up L&L tech support or the forum. Good luck!

  25. Reply

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  26. Reply

    Frustrated. I have Scrivener 3.1 and have repeatedly tried to set new preferences to Helvetica with new tab settings and Scrivener repeatedly goes back to Courier and its previous tab settings even though my preferences default pane says Helvetica. Aargh.

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