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Scrivener 3’s New Approach to Compile

vector of woman carrying a stack of papers that reaches to her nose [1]In an attempt to make compiling (combining and exporting) your work in Scrivener 3 easier, you can now choose the final appearance of your manuscript based on a visual representation.

Whether you’re producing an ebook for an online retailer or sending out the first 50 pages of your manuscript to an agent, chances are you’ll have several sections that are formatted differently. For example, your title page, scene text, and back matter.

To successfully format your work, you’ll need to understand two new concepts: section types and section layouts. Section types are values you assign to files within your project that require the same format. Section layouts are the aforementioned visual representations of what those sections will look like.

Understanding Section Types

Section types might sound similar to styles, but styles are applied to a specific portion of text—often to differentiate it from the rest—while section types are assigned to an entire document or folder. For example, you might have a section type called Scenes that is assigned to the text documents that contain the actual scenes of the book. See how easy this naming thing is?

Another section type could be called Back Matter, and would apply to everything that comes after “The End.” If you’re using chapter folders, you’ll need a section type for those too, so you can specify whether the title is printed or just a chapter number, the font size, and so on.

You choose names that make sense to you and assign them to the desired files.

When you’re ready to compile, you tell Scrivener how each section type should be formatted by assigning a section layout to it. More on that later.

TIP: I find it helpful to have an “unformatted” section type to apply to files that stay exactly as they are displayed in the Editor. This is helpful for things like your title page and other front or back matter items with unusual typography or alignment.

Viewing Section Types

To view a project’s section types, go to Project>Project Settings>Section Types. What you see in the list varies depending on the template you chose when creating your project (and whether or not you’ve made changes).

Section Types pane in Scrivener 3 [2]

Modifying Section Types

Before making changes to the existing section types, take a minute to think of the different formats you’ll need for your manuscript. Don’t worry, you can always modify them later.

Section types pane annotated [3]

Assigning Section Types Automatically

You can automatically assign section types based on file type (e.g. document or folder) and hierarchy level (i.e. subdocument level in the Binder).

For example, you might assign All Files (i.e. text documents) to your Scenes section type by default. You can change the value for files that are exceptions to the rule—like front and back matter documents—so overall, this will save you time. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Select the Default Types by Structure tab at the top of the Section Types pane.
  2. Under the Section Types column, click the row for the value you’d like to change and choose a new section type. Scrivener highlights the affected files in the Binder (even those that won’t compile) so you know what you’re working with.
  3. Repeat step 2 until all structural items have the desired assignment.

Section types pane displaying Assign Default Section Types tab [4]

TIP: To create additional rows (e.g. folders at level two and below in the hierarchy to differentiate part folders from chapter folders), click the Add Level (+=) button in the lower left corner of the pane.

Assigning Section Types in Other Ways

Whew, are you still with me? Okay, good. Once you have your section types set up and assigned, you can change the value for an individual file in several places. Remember, this is for those items that are exceptions, like a text document within your front matter that should be formatted differently from your scene documents.

Assign a new section type via one of the following:

Assigning Section Layouts

I can’t go in to all of Compile here, but now that you have your section types assigned as desired, the next step is to determine what they look like. Here’s a quick, simple compile run-through to get you started.

  1. Go to File>Compile.
  2. In the Compile For dropdown at the top, choose PDF.
  3. In the Formats column on the left, choose Manuscript (Times). NOTE: This is a predesigned format that creates a file with one-inch margins, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12pt, for 8.5”x11” paper, with chapter numbers and titles, and a header with author name, project title, and page number.
  4. In the Section Layouts column in the center, click the Assign Section Layouts button at the bottom. Compile window with Assign Section Layouts button circled [5]A new window appears showing your section types on the left, and the available section layouts on the right (see image below).
  5. Click the first section type on the left, then scroll through the visual options on the right until you find one that matches what you want files of that section type to look like, and select it. For example, for my Scenes section type, I’ve chosen the Section Text layout because that provides double-spacing, a # symbol between scene documents, first-line indents on all paragraphs except the first one in a document, and so on. Section Layouts window in Compile [6]
  6. Repeat Step 5 for each section type.
  7. Click OK to close the Section Layouts window, then click Compile.
  8. Choose a name and location for the output. Unless you deselect the “Open compile document in” checkbox, Scrivener opens the compiled output in the selected software.


Can I import/export the section types from/to other projects?

Yes. In Project>Project Settings>Section Types, click the Import or Export button (see image below).

Section Types window with Import/Export buttons annotated [7]

What if I don’t like any of the Section Layouts or need to make other changes in Compile?

Section Layouts can be added, modified, or deleted by creating your own compile format. The easiest way is to select an existing format, right-click (Control+click for Mac), and choose Duplicate & Edit Format. The Section Layouts tab is where most of the formatting changes can be made, and is similar to the Formatting tab in the old version of Scrivener.

You’ll find more compile options under the other tabs, many of which should look familiar to seasoned Compile users.

TIP: Write down which layouts were assigned to which types so you’ll know the layouts you need to modify. Many of them have similar names, so it can be confusing (e.g. Chapter, Chapter Heading). You can also delete unused layouts to declutter, or add new ones as needed.

How many section types do I need?

As many as it takes to format everything as desired. For items with singular formatting, you can set them up in the Editor, then assign a catchall section type like Unformatted. In Compile, assign Unformatted to the N/A or New Page section layout to retain its original formatting. This prevents you from needing five different section types for front matter.

Can I apply a section type to more than one file at a time?

Yes. You have two options.

Contents pane in compile showing how to assign a section type to multiple files [8]

Hit me with your questions about this or any other Scrivener topic.

About Gwen Hernandez [9]

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [10], Productivity Tools for Writers, and the “Men of Steele” series (military romantic suspense). She teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world through online classes [11], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [12].