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Compiling a DOCX in Scrivener 3

laptop on a desk in front of a window with a view of trees, with blog title written above [1]
This is not my view.

Beyond a basic orientation to the software, what’s the number one thing people want help with in Scrivener?

Compile. No contest.

In April, I introduced Scrivener 3’s new approach to compiling (exporting) with a post about section types [2]. Section types are foundational to the new compile feature, so if you need to bone up on the topic, I recommend you start there and then come back. (Or at least check it out later.)

Ready? In this second installment on compiling, I’m going to help you export your manuscript to a Word document, but the process is similar for other types of output.

Why might you want to compile to a DOCX file?

TIP: DOCX files are based on Rich Text Format (RTF), which is compatible across more word processors, and may do a better job of exporting images, lists, and tables than DOCX. RTF is also best when exporting for Apple Pages. If you’d prefer to create an RTF, choose Rich Text (.rtf) in step 2 of “Choosing Your Format” below.

Whatever your reason, you can create a lovely DOCX without too much fuss. I promise. Before you start, be sure you’ve set up your section types under Project>Project Settings>Section Types [2].

Choosing Your Format

The format determines what the final output will look like, including the margins, fonts, line spacing, first-line indents, chapter headings, scene dividers, and paper size. For this example, we’re going to choose a submission-style format.

  1. Go to File>Compile (or click the Compile button on the toolbar). The Compile window opens.
  2. From the Compile For dropdown at the top, choose Microsoft Word (.docx).
  3. In the Formats column at the left, select Manuscript (Times). This format also works for other types of output, like RTF, Print, PDF (if not creating a paperback book), and HTML.

Scrivener compile window [3]

Adjusting the Look

If you’ve never assigned section layouts for this format, you’ll see a yellow box in the Section Layouts column (center) warning you about it. Even if you have, you’ll want to ensure they’re correct for the current project.

The following image shows common elements of a section layouts “tile” and what they represent. I selected this layout because it shows most of the possible elements, but this one would work best for those who do not use chapter folders, and have one document for each chapter.

section layout tile annotated [4]

To assign a section type to a section layout, do the following.

  1. Click the Assign Section Layouts button in the center column. The Section Layouts window opens showing a tile with an example of the section layout’s settings for each layout.
  2. Select a section type in the list at the left.
  3. Scroll to find a section layout tile with the desired formatting on the right, and click it.section layout assignment pane [5]section layout assignment pane [6]
  4. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until all section types are assigned.
  5. Click OK. The Section Layouts column now displays your choices.

section layouts column showing assignments [7]

Choosing Your Content

In the right-hand column, make sure you’re viewing the Contents pane. If not, click the Contents button at the top (looks like a bulleted list).

Now select the files in your manuscript that you want to include in the compiled output.

contents pane [8]

Assigning Section Types

Be sure that the section type for each file is correct. If not, you can change it by clicking the dropdown menu under the Section Type column heading.

Section Types appearing in gray italics have been automatically assigned based on your rules in the Project Settings. When you manually assign a section type that differs from the Structure-Based rules you set, it shows as black, regular type.

contents pane showing section types [9]

Modifying MetaData

Click the MetaData button at the top (looks like a luggage tag) to make sure your name and book title are correct.

Setting Compile Options

Click the gear button at the top to adjust the compile options. This is where you can include/exclude annotations, comments, and footnotes, and remove other formatting globally from your output.


When you have everything set as desired, you’re ready to compile.

  1. Click Compile.
  2. In the Save As text box, type the output file name.
  3. Choose a location for the output file.
  4. If you don’t want the file to open automatically after compiling, deselect the option to “Open compiled output in.” Or, you can change the software (e.g. you want to open a DOCX in Pages instead of Word).compile export window annotated [10]
  5. Click Export. All of the Compile windows disappear once your file is created.
document displayed in Apple Pages [11]
Compiled DOCX displayed in Pages

Troubleshooting the Easy Stuff

If you aren’t getting the look you want, here are a few quick things to check.

If you can’t find a layout that does what you want, you can create your own. Right-click any compile format and choose Duplicate & Edit to create your own. If you were familiar with Compile in the prior version of Scrivener, much of this will look familiar. You can edit the section layouts under the Section Layouts tab, which is similar to the old Formatting tab.

Worst case, you can get your manuscript really close to what you want and make it perfect with a few easy tweaks in Word or Pages. Have fun!

What questions do you have for me about compiling, or Scrivener in general?

About Gwen Hernandez [12]

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [13], 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 [14], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [15].