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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}