Using Devonthink for writing (academic) books and long reads: a good idea?

Hi DT-community,

I have a general question with regard to use Devonthink for longer writing. I explain myself a bit.

I discovered Devonthink rather accidently through Devonthink for Historians (which I can recommend highly to people for who DT is something new - as it was for me) and since then by reading & browsing this excellent forum. In a short time I became a huge fan and finding myself doing a lot of my computer-based professional and personal activities in Devonthink. What I do like most on DT, is that it’s all in one single place: everything is stored, viewable and can be annotated, reworked or exported in DT. It has become my Finder AND all the apps I needed to open and work on my Finder-documents. It has simplified my (work) life in a great way.

Still, one thing I haven’t figured out. I work in the field of modern history, Devonthink handles & organizes my research perfectly, but I still don’t know about writing longer articles and books in DT, instead of the dedicated writing apps I’m used to (Scrivener/Ulysses). It seems to have the huge advantage of having everything in the same place - my research and my writing - but I would like to hear some experiences from other members, before replacing my writing apps by DT. Has anyone used DT to write manuscripts > 100.000 words? Can you add footnotes & references in DT easily (I use Bookends as a reference manager)?

Underlying is this thought: I read a lot of threads about how to combine DT with reference managers and writing apps, with sometimes very complex workflows or scripts :slight_smile: I’m heading more towards simplifying, and integrating writing (and maybe at one time even reference managing) into DT.

Thank you!



You can easily, if you wish, (continue to) use the likes of (the excellent) Scrivener for the kind of longer mss you need.

If your documents are imported (or indexed) in DT you will have all the advantages of both pieces of software.

Everything in every (Scrivener, for instance) document will be indexed by DT.

You will be able to organize your documents (in DT) according to subject/date/theme hierarchies as needed and as is logical to you - and tag them in the most helpful ways.

And you will also be able to work ‘natively’ in, say, Scrivener, without losing any of its many advantages.

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I’m not a manuscript writer, but imho DT is the wrong writing tool
For any serious writing, I use a dedicated word processing app
The documents are stored in DT for easy access


Today, I think I could do it, but I don’t. I prefer using Tinderbox or Scrivener. Having said that, I use DT3 for nearly everything else.


There are two phases in writing: writing and editing. You can write a book in DT but DT is not the best place to edit your book.

You can write your book using rtf or markdown. Markdown allows footnotes. You can be keep your writing in small sections and then organize these sections the way you want by using merging.

I believe Bookends can add references directly in DT, but I do not use this software. You can always put placeholders for references and add the references during the editing phase.

Of course, Scrivener has more resources, but DT has everything that you need if your goal is just writing without to be concerned about editing.

When you are happy with your manuscript, you can export it to a text editor (MS Word or other) and complete the editing task.

Give a try. Write one chapter in DT and let us know the outcome.


Ok, thanks @mksbelper. I’m aware I will lose some of the advantages of native writing apps, but the question is if it weighs out against the disadvantage of having to sync & operate in two programmes, how easily it might be. But I’ll look into it!

Well, synching is automatic and not something you need to fret with (other than setup). And DEVONthink vs. the other apps mentioned have completely different purposes so your time surely won’t be wasted as both will facilitate the purpose for which they were designed. And the apps can be operated in seperate windows both in their own 1/2 of the screen, so going back and forth should be no problem.

So, your biggest challenges will be reading, writing, and editing, I think. :wink:

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Yes, together with Devonthink I learned how to take notes in markdown and it works perfect for me. Because the notes taking are going so well, hence my thinking of also bringing my writing to DT. Separating ‘editing’ and ‘writing’ might indeed work conceptually to do this, as long as I know I can edit it afterwards the way I (or a publisher) wants.

So yes, trying one chapter seems a good advice! I’ll did not yet tried to make footnotes in markdown nor the Bookends referencing in DT - it works in Scrivener/Ulysses - but as they work smoothly… That would be a big plus. Again, I know I will lose something in not using dedicated writing apps, but on the other hand, I could do everything in one environment by exporting my writing to DT.

Maybe it’s a personal issue, trying to do everything in one app or instead choosing dedicated apps and syncing them.

Thanks for your advice!

:slight_smile: yes, let’s not forget about them

I’m using DEVONthink, Scrivener, and Bookends—they are the core elements of my workflow.

My recommendation would be to use all three of them but I agree with others here that you should just try writing in DEVONthink. Markdown will be the format of your choice because Apple has not implemented footnotes in rich text.

While Scrivener is a rich text program it has footnotes implemented. The good news is if you use its Import & Split feature for Markdown files the footnotes will automatically get converted to (Inspector) footnotes, italics and such are intact, and if the Markdown file is structured by headings and sub-headings the hierarchy will be properly reflected in the Binder.

And as for Bookends: If it is running you could call its floating search panel from any app by hitting CTRL twice and copy a reference from it. But if you have one main writing app you could set it as such in Bookend’s preferences. That allows one keyboard shortcut to switch from the writing app into Bookends’ main window and back.

The default shortcut is CMD-y. It works great in SCRIVENER but only in one direction with DEVONthink (Bookends to DEVONthink, not the other way around). Just because CMD-y is already assigned to something else. But you could change that.

Lots of tiny details, I know. But the most important part is your writings will never be locked in DEVONthink. Quite the opposite, it would be easy to export them to either Scrivener or Ulysses, be it because you decided they are more apt for long writing or be it just to finalize your text. And to do the latter with one of them I really do recommend.

PS: To my knowledge (from a few years ago) Ulysses does not offer MultiMarkdown which is implemented in DEVONthink. So ironically if you are using MMD’s inline (or “random”) footnote format it might need more effort to convert them into Ulysses’ Markdown footnote format that to convert them into Scrivener’s rich text footnotes.

PPS: To be exact you actually could write in rich text and have footnotes in Scrivener if you don’t mind some control sequences wrapping them. You could conveniently insert them by a keyboard shortcut but you might find them distracting. On the other hand you won’t get Markdown without markup either and without lots of backslashes when you want to write certain characters as-such and not as markup.


Thank you! That’s all really helpful, I’ll will keep in mind & try out the tiny details you explained.

I like to use Devonthink like I would use Scrivener’s research folder. The navigation pane of my word processor serves my needs as a stand-in for Scrivener’s draft folder.

For me, that’s the best of both worlds.


Ruben, I think you need to keep your objective in mind: if it is an academic manuscript, you would like to eventually have a manuscript that is compatible with for instance MLA, or comparable academic standards. For such MLA-compatibility, Scrivener is, in my experience, unrivalled.

Within Scrivener, there is a section you can devote to research. Whatever you put there, can have a direct link to DT, where you organise your research by thematic areas, or whatever keywords or subject categories that are specific to your topic. The freedom to group, ungroup or add new groups is just great for organising your subject matter by categories that are relevant to the topic at hand. Within DT I have ‘mimicked’ a short bibliography for quotations and memorable pieces of text. Otherwise, I use Mendely to produce the bibliography, that also needs to be MLA-compatible.

Yes, I am writing an economic history academic manuscript, and I am familiar with ‘DT for Historians’, which is valuable for its suggestions.

Remember, best is most often the enemy of good: until the day arrives that Devon Technologies wraps Scrivener and Bookends/Mendely into one programme, your strategy ought to be a mix of all three.

Best wishes and good luck with your manuscript, PK.


DT is terrific for managing your sources/research for writing academic and other books.

It is not a great tool for the actual writing.


I write my manuscripts in markdown as well, and use a mix of Scrivener or Ulysses depending on the length of the work and what kind of footnotes I need to include. There are two specific things keeping me from using Devonthink as a primary writing tool:

  1. Typewriter mode. That is, I like my input line to be somewhere in the middle of the screen/window and not at the bottom. I find it helps me cogitate. I have tried having a DT editor window extending only half-way down my screen, but it’s not the same.

  2. Fluidity with iPadOS and iOS. I switch writing between my laptop and iPad frequently. Sometimes I even hop onto my iPhone and write or edit when I find I have some time but no access to either of the bigger tools. Unfortunately DTTG is unusable in this instance. I have tried using iA Writer to edit a file indexed by Devonthink but that adds another element of complexity and I am always nervous about remembering how to delete or move files properly that are indexed so as not to screw everything up.

If I had a wish list, it would be to have bibliography management built into Devonthink before a cool editor. After all, many of the pieces of a great bibliography management tool are already there (local PDFs that can be marked up, linked to notes, export annotations etc).

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If I had a wish list, it would be to have bibliography management built into Devonthink before a cool editor.

No problem with wishing, but there are bespoke applications that do this well, e.g., Bookends.

Teehee… yes. My workflow includes Zotero at the moment. I still fantasize about the day when I can enter a DOI into DT and it pulls down bibliographic data and the PDF if available. The bibliographic data (stored as metadata associated with the PDF and/or webpage) can then be used to create a BibTeX bibliography file…


Enter a DOI where?


How about File > Import > From DOI....


Interesting idea.
No promises but you’ve been heard. :slight_smile: