I have already recommended Scrivener in the references of “Organizing Creativity”, but writing my dissertation thesis with it has led me to recommend it once more: It is simply an awesome, awesome, really awesome program. Note: It’s now available as Version 2.x and still the best tool I know for writing (and the posting is still up-to-date). No kidding — I wrote “Organizing Creativity” with it, which was over 400 pages long, had 138.105 words and 785.500 characters, and it was still very easy to find the thread or specific spots where I wanted to change something. Now my dissertation thesis has 45.531 words and 288.429 characters and still isn’t finished — and I just cannot cope with the love for this program. The typical interface of Scrivener. Very organized and a pleasure to use. You know the “Outline View” in Word? That shows you the structure of your document even if it handles the text as one continuing flow of words?
Scrivener has the “Binder” which can be used to create a rough outline of the document, for example: Introduction, Theoretical Background, Research Questions, Method, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, for an article with several text documents under each outline header. Or a more complicated structure for a dissertation (see image). While it may sound strange to divide the document into these “tiny” parts, it actually makes sense. You can switch quickly between the different parts. Got an idea for the Theoretical Background of Question Three? You can quickly add it because you can easily jump to that part. No more need to scroll through long text. You can also easily collapse and expand parts of your document, depending on where your focus is. Granted, I did not use this feature much — yet. But Scrivener offers you an index card for each text part of your document. You can write some notes what should be in this document and what not. Nice help to structure larger projects if you do not have Circus Ponies Notebook for this. Technically it isn’t much, but the ability to make notes to the small parts of the document is invaluable.
Got an idea what you have to mention in the Discussion section for Question 2? Write it in the “Document Notes” of that part. Sure, you could simply write it in the text itself, marked as a note, but it gets confusing fast. Got something that you want to have available everywhere in the document? Write it in the “Project Notes” (visible if you click on “Document Notes” and change the view to “Project Notes” — you can access it anywhere in the document. You are going to do a major revision of the paragraph you are working on or just delete that special sentence that might be useful once again. Instead of creating a new version of the document (and wondering in which version the golden sentence is days later), you can simply create a snapshot of the part you are working on. Snapshots are like versions in a Wiki and they come in two … well, versions: untitled and with a title you can enter. Use the title version, for example, “changed the baseline of the results to the visitors who actually used the device”, and you know what changed between the versions you have save. If you want to roll back to a previous version or simply get that golden sentence later you can do so easily. Since writing is actually more rewriting, this features is invaluable. Much, much better than the version control of any other writing program — Scrivener lets you quickly create backups of your texts. Great for rewriting — you can always seen and compare what you had written here previously.
Okay, now think for a moment about what a dissertation on this topic would entail. I would have to learn, think through, and try to refute every argument out there — arguments already published by super-duper-smart people — in favor of normative reasons externalism. What a mountain to try to climb! I’ve rarely seen a dissertation of this sort succeed. I will say I’ve never seen it done. 2 — You have to find a Big Idea: Every successful dissertation that I’ve come across is based upon a Big Idea. My dissertation’s Big Idea was to systematically apply John Rawls’ original position to the domain of nonideal theory. There’s a simple reason why it’s important to find that Big Idea: once you find it, the dissertation more or less writes itself. After all, once you find your Big Idea, you don’t need to “refute” every existing argument in the literature on your topic. All you have to do is show how your Big Idea illuminates the topic in ways that the existing arguments in the literature generally miss.