Scrivener iOS-only Workflow: Tables and Lists @ScrivenerApp

It was the first entry in the Scrivener iOS Knowledge Base: Scrivener iOS doesn’t support creating or expanding indented bulleted lists, indented numbered lists, or tables. Check out the linked Knowledge Base article if you want to know why; but such a high percentage of the beta testers asked about this that I immediately thought—“How can I work around this?” Answering that question took me through a lot of iOS productivity apps and got me into long discussions with the developer, Keith Blount. Here are the answers I found:

If you have Mac or Windows Scrivener and have access to it regularly, your best practice is to use your Mac or PC Scrivener to deal with tables and lists. But if you’re an iOS-only Scrivener road warrior or you spend extended time away from your PC or Mac, read on.

In iOS Scrivener you can edit line items in indented lists, and cell contents in tables. You just can’t add list items, change list indentation, or modify table structure. Again, if you have Mac or Windows Scrivener and can live with the list and table structures you’ve got—until you get back to your computer—your best practice is to do so.

If you can live with unformatted lists and tables, another option is just to defer adding or formatting these visual elements until after you’ve compiled your project, and can use Pages or Microsoft Word to add final formatting.

But maybe that won’t work for you. You need these elements in your iOS-only project. Be aware that full formatting for Harvard-style lists is astonishingly rare on iOS. Table support is more common, but still hard to find—Scrivener is hardly alone in this. Read on for ways to add them while making certain that they’ll come out of Scrivener’s compile process in reasonable order.

The apps I mention below are NOT a complete list—they are only the apps I’ve tested for list and table integration with Scrivener iOS. If you have an editor that I haven’t tested, give it a try! Please let me know how it works! (By the way, I get no money if you buy any of these apps.)

Apps for Markdown (HTML) Lists and Tables

A good Markdown editor will let you compose simple tables, and indented lists (without complex formatting). Scrivener can import either HTML files or RTF files, but retains more formatting if your Markdown editor can export in RTF.

Choose a Markdown editor that supports tables and that will export either RTF (preferred) or HTML via Open in. Two that I’ve tested that work are iA Writer, and Matcha (NOT Matcha 3! Only the older version works.) I prefer Matcha because it will export in RTF, while iA Writer will only do HTML. Byword’s documentation suggests it will work as well as Matcha, but I haven’t tested it myself.

Two Markdown editors that will not work with tables are Daedalus Touch and Ulysses. If you already have these—they’re fine for lists, but have no table support. They also export only HTML, not RTF.

Apps for Harvard-style numbered lists

The only app I’ve found that will export well-formed Harvard outlines in .rtf format is Notability. Pages, Word, and Google Docs all insist on exporting in .docx, and .docx documents run afoul of the same problems that keep Scrivener iOS from doing its own tables and lists to begin with. If you’d prefer these, be aware that you will need to export to a document converter such as Doc Convert, and export from there into Scrivener.

Apps for more complex tables

I had good success with OfficeSuite Free by MobiSystems. That’s right, free. The default table style works fine when exported to Scrivener as .rtf. The fancy table styles I tried didn’t work so well, but I didn’t stop to play with all of them, and there are quite a few.

The bad news is that OfficeSuite Free has plenty of ads and refuses to export to some obscure file types unless you pay for an in-app purchase, but it is nonetheless usable as it stands. (You can buy the upgraded OfficeSuite Pro for $14.99 USD if you like.) Note that its nested bullet lists and Harvard-style lists won’t work in Scrivener—this is a solution for tables only.

Again, you can work with Pages or Microsoft Word if you don’t mind using a conversion utility to convert from .docx to .rtf.

Workflow pointers, or best practices:

Your general approach will be create and edit your table or list in your external editor of choice. Then, export an .rtf (or .html) file to Scrivener (via a conversion app if needed). Once in Scrivener, you can move the file to where you want it in your project.

  • I advise against copying and pasting into an existing Scrivener file; it means more work if you need to edit your table or list in your external editor and re-export. Instead, split your Scrivener document if you need to, and drop in the table or list as a separate file.
  • Always leave a blank line, plus a line with some dummy text (like “Delete me!”) below a table or a list in your original editor. For some reason, there needs to be that bit extra for the RTF file creator in iOS to properly end the list or table. Once you’ve exported to Scrivener, you can delete the “Delete Me!” line but still leave one blank line after.
  • Keep copies of your tables and lists in whatever editor you’re using for them. That way if you need to edit further, you don’t have to try to copy and paste out of Scrivener (or re-export the file back to your external editor.) You can just edit and export again.