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References in Scrivener

[UPDATE 31Jan2020: For the Scrivener 3 version of this info, check out this post on Bookmarks at Writer Unboxed.]

Importing research, images, and web pages into Scrivener is handy, but sometimes creating a reference might be a better option. When might you want to use a reference instead of importing?

When you always want the most up-to-date version of a file or web page.
When you import a file, Scrivener creates a copy of it, thus freezing it in its current incarnation. Sometimes that’s desirable, other times not.

If the file is large or you have a lot of them.
Importing files increases the size of your project, which can slow down backups and syncing with online drives. A large project may take up too much space on a flash drive or be too big to email. Some people also prefer not to have their Research folder cluttered with anything but the most important reference materials.

When a web page doesn’t import well.
If you’re having trouble importing a web page, a reference lets you create quick access to it.

When you don’t need to refer to the item frequently, but want to be able to find it easily.
You can create internal references that point to items within the project (usually as document references, see below), but I’m going to focus on external references in this post. External references point to items outside of the project, located either on a drive accessible by your computer, or a web page.

Accessing the References Pane

To view the References Pane, click the References button at the top of the Inspector.

Reference button circled


Reference button circled PC


You can create a document or project reference. A document reference is only visible when the item to which it’s attached is being viewed in the Editor (or is selected in the Corkboard or Outliner). A project reference is visible regardless of which item currently has the focus in a project.

Click the References header in the Inspector to toggle between Project References and Document References, see below. In this post, I’ll be creating project references.

References header Mac


References header windows


Creating a Reference To a File

Use this procedure to add a project reference to a file on a drive that’s accessible from your computer.

1. If necessary, toggle the header to Project References.
2. Click the [+] button and choose Look Up and Add External Reference.

Add External Reference menu


External references menu


3. When the Add References window opens, choose a file and click Open.
The reference document shows up on the line. For Mac users, the URL in this case is the file's address on your drive.




Creating a Reference To a Web Page

This option lets you manually enter the reference information. If you happened to know the file path for a file on your computer, you could use this option to add it as well.

1. Click the [+] button and choose Create External Reference.
2. In the first text box, enter the description of the reference (e.g. Bob’s Vacation). Press the tab key to move to the URL text box.
3. Type (or copy and paste) the web address for the page (e.g.
4. Press Return or click anywhere in the References pane.

creating a web reference


new web reference


TIP: You can create links to Evernote notes this way too. See this post for more on how to copy a note's URL.

Dragging & Dropping References

To add any kind of reference, you can also drag it from Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC), the Scrivener project Binder, or your browser’s address bar (grab the URL icon) directly to the References pane. No extra steps or clicking buttons required.

Just make sure you’ve selected either Document or Project References first, and that for a document reference, the desired document has the focus in your project.

Viewing a Reference

To view a reference, double-click on the document icon at the left of the reference line.

Editing a Reference

If you give a reference the wrong name, or need to edit the location, you can edit it anytime by double-clicking it.

Deleting a Reference

  1. Select the desired reference.
  2. Click the [-] button in the References header.
    The reference is removed.

Want 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.

{Updated 17 Mar 2016}

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  1. Joyce


    Another great post. Dragging and dropping from the URL bar is a really useful tip. I still find it cumbersome to have to enter the web site name and the URL separately–it would be nice to have a one-click bookmarking feature.

    • Reply

      Thanks, Joyce. I’m always looking for ways to save time and be more efficient. I might not be a manufacturing engineer anymore, but some things don’t change. 😉 Not sure why they set References up that way, but it turns out you can actually just drag the URL and drop it on the References pane. If you don’t like the title, you can then double-click the text to change it. I’ll update the post to make it more clear. 🙂

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  4. m


    how can you add a selection from a pdf as a reference (with bibliographic info attached) to a folder?

  5. m


    i wonder how can you add a selection from a pdf as a reference (with bibliographic info attached) to a folder?

    • Reply

      m: There’s no way to refer to a portion of a document. You’d have to add the whole PDF as a reference by selecting the desired folder in the Binder, then choosing the References button in the Inspector and selecting Document References. Then add the reference.

  6. Reply

    hello Gwen, is it possible to have a relative path to references? If I open my project on a different computer, where it is placed on a different drive, all my reference links will be broken, even if I keep the
    reference files in the same subfolder of the project, is that correct? What should I do if I want
    my project to be easily transferrable between two computers?

    • Reply

      Dora: Unfortunately, Scrivener does not support relative links in References.

      Other options are to save the referenced items to a commonly accessible drive or app, like Dropbox or Evernote, then link to the location there. Or you can import key items (instead of saving references to them) so you can access them no matter which computer you’re using, and even when offline.

      • Reply

        thank you, referencing to Dropbox sounds like a good idea 🙂 I don’t want to import reference material because it’s shared across projects, and I want to update it independently – need to keep it separate 🙂 have a nice day!

      • Hileotech


        Hi, new here, so please forgive if this issue has been answered…
        I created a folder in “Research” and imported (not referenced) a lot of PDF’s, while creating some kind of “index” of them using “Insert Scrivener Link” function (e.g. The ABC topic is in the following files: internal-link-1 p. 123; internal-link-2 p. 456 etc.).
        As my project grew in size I decided to create a new “only-reference” project and dragged-and-dropped in this new project the folder I was working on in the old one. I (sadly) noticed that *all* scrivener link to pdf’s were broken.
        Question: is this a bug (or kind of) or is it intended to work another way?
        Thanks for any help (and sorry if this seems more a literatureandlatte forum question…)

        • Reply

          Hileotech: No problem asking here! The links are broken because they were links to internal files in the project (not their location on your computer). Once you moved the links outside of the project it could no longer “see” them.

  7. Hileotech


    Thanks for your answer!
    As far as I understand there’s no way to fix this behavior, is there?

  8. Ruben


    Sometimes adding pictures really help in identifying things you are mentioning. I cannot find the reference Pane. In which version was this included?

    • Reply

      Hi, Ruben. The References pane has been in both versions of Scrivener for years. It’s one of the options in the Inspector (the right-hand sidebar). If you don’t see the Inspector, click the circular blue button with an “i” in it, or go to View–>Layout–>Show Inspector. Then click the 2nd button from the left at the top of the Inspector (on the Mac it’s a bookmark/ribbon icon, on Windows it’s a stack of books icon).

      As you’ve pointed out, my images have gone missing (not sure what happened!). I have it on my list to update this post and images sometime this week. Thanks!

  9. Michael Taylor-Noonan


    Thank you, Gwen. I had struggled with a plan to integrate Scrivener with Hemmingway and Word editors – and go back and forth between each. I was stumped because the sync feature would crash with Offfice365. But now, thanks to this blog, I have a way!

  10. Alan McGrath


    Gwen, what is the functional difference in making references as you’ve described, versus simply play a link in the editor? Maybe I’m missing something, but if the purpose here is to reference the most up-to-date version of a given site, wouldn’t a simple link accomplish that as well?
    Or are there benefits down the line, say, once the work is completed and it’s time to compile? Do things end up functionally or aesthetically better with references versus links?
    Thank you for your work,

    • Reply

      Hi, Alan. References just gives you a place to store all your links, internal and external. If you put a link in the Editor–by which I assume you mean into the text–you’d either need to take it out before compiling, or place it into an annotation to keep it from ending up in your final manuscript. Ultimately, Scrivener gives you many ways to handle links, I just think this is the cleanest. Other options would be to put them in the Synopsis or Document Notes, for example. It’s really whatever makes sense to you and works best with your process. HTH!

  11. Reply

    Thanks for your efforts here on your blog. Great.

    Question: Is it possible to download the references or to include them in the compilation? Would be good for documentation purposes or to add it as a kind of documentary report to the compiled file.

    • Reply

      Hajo: Unfortunately, no. References are specifically intended to keep the linked information separate from your project, so there’s no way to include them when compiling. You’d have to download the material and add it to your compiled work separately. The other option is to import those items into Scrivener, but again, Compile isn’t really designed to work with files that aren’t in the Draft/Manuscript folder, and especially not non-text files. Thanks!

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