Scrivener: Formatting Your Manuscript for Writing

I’ve been asked to continue this ongoing series on how to use Scrivener, a powerful writing tool that is a must for many professional writers. Scrivener works for those writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, and…the list is long. It is a pre-production tool, a tool for the writing and development of your material for publishing. While Scrivener includes the ability to export the information as an ebook and material ready for publishing, it isn’t designed as a tool for publishing a pretty book. It is the workhorse that gets you to that point.

Scrivener is software installed on your Windows or Mac machine and is produced by Literature and Latte. The price is very reasonable and the purchased version of Scrivener maybe installed on your desktop and laptop without problems so you may work in both environments.

So far in this series we’ve covered:

In this part of the series, I’ll cover how to set the standard format for new documents, the process of fixing content that comes in a jumble in formatting, and how to set the default or standard format for new documents in Scrivener projects.

Setting the Standard Format for New Documents

Let’s begin with how to set the standard formatting for new documents in Scrivener, projects you are just starting. I’ll cover the process for Windows machines. It might be slightly different for Mac.

When you start a new project, you have the option of using one of the many project templates that come with Scrivener, or add another from various sources around the web such as the NANOWRIMO Novel template for Scrivener. Select one that meets the needs of your project such as a template for fiction, non-fiction, or scriptwriting. These templates typically have the formatting set for their needs, such as scriptwriting formatting for dialog and scenes.

If you wish to overwrite these or create your own that works with your own working writing styles, you may.

There are two important things to remember as you set the default standard format in Scrivener.

  1. This method sets the standard for all new documents in all projects (save for template customization) within Scrivener from that point forward. It will not change existing documents. We’ll cover that in the next section.
  2. Changing the settings only changes what you see on the screen, not what is printed. You may set it to 18 pt size for readability if you wish, and write in a cursive or funky script if that is what gets you writing and enjoying the process. When compiling the content for publishing, you may wish to change all of those styles for readability on the printed version.

To set the default standard to your own customization:

  1. Go to Tools > Options.
  2. Select Editor along the side.

Scrivener - Options Editor Screen

On the screen titled Default Main Text Attributes you will find an editor preview for formatting the default styles. Below that are Editor Options.

Inside the Default Editor is a quote to serve as sample text. Above that are basic style buttons for setting the font, line spacing, justification, etc. Remember, these styles are what you see on the screen as you write, not what is necessarily printed.

Adjust the type as you wish or need for the style of writing you are doing.

I like writing with only a little space between sentences but obvious spaces between paragraphs. I also do not indent my paragraphs as that is becoming a more and more archaic method of formatting, especially on the web.

Scrivener - Default Main Text Attributes - Line Spacing - More Screen

I used the indent and tab control on the ruler to remove the indent, then switched the spacing by clicking the line spacing (1.5X 0.0./8.0 or something similar on the toolbar of the editor) and adjust it to 1.5x the space between lines and 10 or 12 px between paragraphs. Adjust it to meet your needs.

In the Editor Options area you have many options for changing the cursor (block insertion point width), and controlling scrolling, fullscreen features, etc. You may also change the ruler units from inches to metric, and make other customizations.

When done, click Apply and OK to exit the screen and return to the document.

From this point forward, new Scrivener projects using this template will feature those changes.

How to Apply Formatting to Existing Documents

Last year, our fearless leader published an anthology of writing and poetry by our group’s members and other writers in the area. One of the biggest problems in managing such a project is 1) people don’t always follow the instructions, and 2) people submit writing using a wide variety of formats and structures. The finished product must be styled consistently throughout the book, which means all those funky styles must be cleaned up.

If you have existing documents imported or pasted into Scrivener that don’t match the default formatting set by you or the default Scrivener settings, you can easily convert them. This process involves converting one document at a time within the Windows version of Scrivener, not the entire manuscript. Mac users are able to convert multiple documents at once. Note, this option may change in Windows as it has been requested.

  • Click in the Editor pane in Scrivener to highlight the document you wish to convert. If you don’t, the option will not be available.
  • Go to Documents > Convert > Formatting To Default Text Style.
  • In the screen that appears, leave all boxes unchecked in order to convert all aspects of the style, and click OK.
    • If you would like to preserve any of the options such as fonts, alignment, etc., then check that option in the list.
  • Click OK and the selected document is converted to the standard format you set in the previous section.

Scrivener - Convert Formatting to Default Text

If you are not happy with the result, click CTRL+Z to undo or use the Edit > Undo menu option.

If you are happy with the result, move to the next document and repeat the steps.

More Scrivener Tips and Techniques

I will be slowly adding more Scrivener tips and techniques for our writing group. If you have a specific question, please ask below in the comments here or on other Scrivener articles so we can help answer those questions and possibly add more articles to this series.

Scrivener offers extensive free videos with tutorials on how to use Scrivener, and there are many other writers on YouTube sharing their Scrivener expertise as well.



  1. Is there a way to ‘force’ a specific font for sections or paragraphs when I compile for paperback? I have just a few paragraphs in my book that are ‘computer-speak’ and I’d like them to stay in the sans serif font I use in my manuscript. Hope you can help.


      1. Thanks. On further investigation I was guided to the FORMAT > PRESERVE FORMATTING command on selected text. It does the trick; font and layout preserved when I compile.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.