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a:How to Find Anything in Scrivener 3

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Scrivener excels at helping you visualize your story’s structure, and at keeping your manuscript and supporting materials organized. But, sometimes you still need to search for something. Whether it’s a scene you misplaced while trying to move it, the details of a conversation between two characters, or the main character’s boss’s eye color, Scrivener makes it easy to find what you need.

Here are three easy ways to search within your project.

Searching the Entire Project

In Scrivener 3, there’s a new Search button on the toolbar that aggregates several search-related functions, including Project Search (formerly a text box in the toolbar), Document Search, Synopsis Search, Find by Formatting, and Project Replace.

search button

Project Search is the most robust and furthest-reaching search option. It can scour the entire project for text in all kinds of places—not just the main document text—and can also match metadata (e.g., Label, Status, and Keywords).

Using Project Search

To quickly access Project Search, click the magnifying glass portion of the Search button. A text box opens at the top of the Binder.

search text box

Type the word(s) you want to search for in the text box. The Binder changes to a list of documents that match your search criteria. When you select one of the documents in the list, you can scroll through to see any matches highlighted in yellow.

search results annotated

Command+G is the helpful shortcut for Edit>Find>Find Next, which will jump you through the matches in the document you’re viewing so you don’t miss any.

To clear the project search results and view the normal Binder list, press ESC on your keyboard, or click the X in the project search text box.

Changing the Search Parameters

Did you notice that one of the matches in the example above was not the word I typed, but a word that contained my word? Sometimes that’s great. Other times not so much. In this section, we’ll look at how to adjust the parameters to get exactly what you’re looking for.*

*(These five subsections are more more for reference than fun reading. Feel free to skip to Getting a Quick Hit with the Quick Search Toolbar and return to this part when you need it. Or when you can’t sleep.)

The settings for Project Search can be adjusted by clicking on the tiny magnifying glass in the project search text box to change what elements Scrivener searches (e.g. All, Title, Text, etc), what type of search it performs, and which files it looks in. You can even make your search case sensitive, which is handy if you have a name that is also a word, like Bob or Trace.

TIP: Before you enter any text, the project search text box displays the most recent type of search in gray text (e.g., All (Exact Phrase) so you know what kind of search settings are selected.

search options menu

Determining Which Parts to Search

The “Search In” section of the menu allows you to narrow the elements Scrivener searches. You can only choose one option for this section. So, if you want to only search the text of your documents—as opposed to titles, synopses, notes, keywords, etc—you can choose Text. If you’re looking for a synopsis with a specific word in it, choose Synopsis.

TIP: If you choose All, and you don’t see a match in the text of the selected document, check in the synopsis, label value, title, etc. 

Choosing What to Match

The “Operator” section is where you decide how specific the match should be. You can only choose one of the following options.

  • Any Word will return a match if one or more of the words—or parts of the words (e.g. form in formed)—are found in the document, in any order (not necessarily next to each other).
  • All Words will only return a match if all the words you typed in the search box—or parts of the words—are present in the document, in any order. So if you typed “big gun” Scrivener would return a match for a document that contains “the gunman was big.”
  • Exact Phrase returns a match only if all the words appear in a document in the exact order you typed them, but will still match partial words. So, “big gun” would return at match for “big gun” or “big gunman.”
  • Whole Word lets you narrow your search to exactly the word(s) you typed. So, “gun” would return a match for “gun” but not “gunman.” Keep in mind that while this is useful for names and words that are part of other words, you can also get tripped up by possessives. For example, “Bob” would return a match for “Bob” but not “Bob’s.” If you need both, try a different option.
  • RegEx allows you to use regular expressions. If you’re not familiar with them, don’t worry about it!

Deciding Where to Look and More

The “Options” Section lets you further narrow or expand your search. You can choose more than one option for this section.

There are a lot of handy choices here, like narrowing your search to only your Draft/Manuscript folder, excluding files that are in the Trash folder, making your search case sensitive (great for names of people or locations), and ignoring diacritics (accents and other marks used in some languages to change the pronunciation of a letter).

Search “Included” Documents refers to those documents that are marked to include in Compile. “Excluded” documents are those not marked for inclusion in Compile. You’ll find the Include in Compile option at the bottom right of the Editor pane, or in the Compile window.

Invert Results displays the opposite of your search request (e.g. if your search is set up to find all documents with the word “phenomenal” in them, choosing Invert Results will display all documents that do not contain that word).

Creating a Collection from a Project Search

There’s an option at the bottom of the project search menu to “Save Search as a Collection.” Choosing this option creates a collection based on the current search criteria.

Anytime you view the collection, it will run the search and display the results. This is great for finding documents with metadata applied, such as those labeled “To Do,” scenes written in a specific point of view, articles written for a specific blog site, or anything else you might want to view regularly.

To view your collections, click the View button and choose Show Collections (or go to View>Show Collections). Use View>Hide Collections to close them.


Getting a Quick Hit with the Quick Search Toolbar

For a quick search that displays the results in context, use Scrivener’s new Quick Search feature. I often find it more useful than a project search because it displays the result in its surrounding text, making it easier to determine which result is the one I want.

Unlike project search, though, you can’t adjust the settings for Quick Search. It only looks for the exact phrase you type. It also gives you a short list of hits, so if you’re searching for something that recurs frequently, it may not make the cut.

The Quick Search is located in the center of the toolbar. When not being used to search, it displays the title of the document you’re currently working on, or document and session word counts when you hover over it.

quick search bar

Here’s how to use it.

  1. Click in the text box and type a word or phrase to get a list of files containing those characters, organized by where they were found (e.g. Titles, Text, Synopsis).
  2. Click on a listed item to view the document in the Editor, or choose Full Project Search to access the Project Search feature if you didn’t find what you need.
  3. Click Escape, or the X in the text box, to clear the search.

quick search results

Searching within a Single Document

To limit your search to the document you’re viewing, click the down arrow next to the Search button and choose Search in Document (or go to Edit>Find>Find).

TIP: If you click in the document (e.g., to edit text), you’ll lose the Find window. You can use Command+G to find the next match in the document without reopening the Find window. 

Searching for Specific Formatting

Have you ever wanted to find all of your italicized words? Or maybe you’re a fan of annotations like I am and you want to go through them one by one during revisions. Find by Formatting is your friend. Here’s how it works.

  1. Click the down arrow next to the Search button and choose Find by Formatting (or go to Edit>Find>Find by Formatting).
  2. In the Find dropdown menu, choose the type of formatting you want to search for. In the example below, I want to find italicized text, so I chose Character Format, then clicked the I button for italics (and deselected anything else).  find by formatting window
  3. Many of the format types allow you to search for specific text in that format. To do so, type the word or phrase in the Containing Text text box. EXAMPLE: I use this to search for annotations that I’ve marked with codes like “MED” or “RES” for medical questions and research, so I can deal only with the ones I’m ready for at the moment.
  4. Click Next to find the first instance, and repeat as needed until you find what you’re looking for.

There are other search options in Scrivener, but these are the ones I use most. What questions do you have for me about searching, or anything else, in Scrivener?


About Gwen Hernandez

Gwen Hernandez (she/her) is the author of Scrivener For Dummies, Productivity Tools for Writers, and romantic suspense. She teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world through online classes, in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com.


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