Using Scrivener to Format for Indentations and Line Spacing

The act of publishing is not as easy as sending a Word document in to a publisher or uploading the file to Amazon Kindle and letting their software do all the work.  There are two faux pas that writers make all the time that bug type-setters to death and will make your work that much more troublesome when trying to get your masterpiece into a workable form that looks good in print.

These two problems are using tab to indent paragraphs and line spacing.

First of all, if you are using the tab key to indent paragraphs in your text STOP DOING IT NOW!   There is an easier way.  The second problem is that your text may have a ton of hidden line spacing that will give Smashwords headaches when trying to submit to the coveted Premium Catalog which gives your book worldwide distribution.

Scrivener magically fixes these two problems with a few clicks of the mouse.  First, open “preferences”:

Then click on the “format” tab:

Do you see that little example text box in the “editor”?  Move the top slide-bar over until it is between the “0” and the “1” on the ruler.  Then click “Use formatting in current editor.”  This will automatically indent paragraphs when you hit the return key.   Now under “Scrivenings” tick the box that says “separate scrivenings with single line breaks” and that will ensure that there are not any other line breaks between paragraphs or between chapter titles and the first paragraph of each chapter.  See example below:

Update:  Yet another way to fix indentation within your text is to simply click on the toolbar “Format -> Texts -> Indents -> Increase First Line Indents.  Happy indenting!

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

34 thoughts on “Using Scrivener to Format for Indentations and Line Spacing

  1. As stated above in a reply box, the Windows version doesn’t have the preferences option or the increase first line indents option. Any other ideas?

    1. I’m not sure. I have only used the Mac version. Perhaps you should go to the “Literature and Latte” website and ask their capable tech team. It’s free and they are really good about helping in a pinch.

  2. I’m trying to follow your directions, but I’m using Scrivener for Windows. Assistance is greatly appreciated.

    1. There is no format menu or preferences menu in Windows version. This is what I do with text that is imported:
      1)Click on TOOLS menu
      2)Click on EDITOR tab on the left vertical pane selection thingie…
      3)Click on default. Tabs from other program reset to Scrivener indentations.

      Worked for me, hope it works for you.

    2. I am having the same problem. Windows version of Scrivener doesn’t have the preference or indent options. Any other suggestions?

  3. I am new with Scrivener. Having an issue with the superscript. When I place a Superscript number after a sentence, the following sentence is also raised. When I hit return and start on my next paragaraph, the spacing is not the same as the previous paragraphs. I highlighted all the writing and set up the page for the same font and line spacing and nothing helped. I’m so sad:(

      1. How do you site your sources legally then? I am used to writing scholarly books for my master’s degree but want a more relaxed, friendly version to read. I found this one book that has a bibliography at the end but no notations in her writing when she used that source. Should I just do that and not worry? To me, that’s a copyright infringement. I don’t want to site each source after with name of author, date, page number, etc as I think it’s distracting for a general read. Thank you for responding. I did copy and paste my scrivener work for the developer to look over.

      2. Kacie, as regards your citation question: I find precisely the opposite is true for me than for you. I am distracted if the citation is _not_ there in the text. I’ve done a lot of academic reading/writing, and my books are my tools. I find it supremely annoying if I have to be constantly flipping back and forth to a bibliography that may or may not be formatted in a conventional or at least easily understood way. I much prefer clear footnotes– yes, footnotes– or at least end notes, so that my own notes, which refer to page numbers, yield the direct bibliographical information I want. I don’t find that the notes break up my reading. I find their absence distracting. It makes me want to go find the source material myself _right now_ and put the information in the margins myself.

  4. After two and half years, can I add my thanks here. I had written over 50,000 words with the wrong formatting, having brought my material over to Scrivener from Word. i was wondering how to re-do all those pararaphs, when I found this. What a time saver! Mille grazie!


  5. I copied and pasted from one file to another and the indents are awry. I’ve used your advice, but it hasn’t worked. I’m assuming it just works in a new file? This is the first time I’ve had this problem and I’ve been using Scrivener for four years now. Can’t understand what has happened. I’m hoping I don’t have to retype the whole manuscript 😦

    1. One way to do it in Scrivener is to go to “Format” then “Text” then “Increase/Decrease Indents” and then “Indent First Line”. This way the indentation is done within scrivener and doesn’t need to be done in compile.

      1. I just found out that in the Windows version, the Indentation controls are neatly hidden under Format => Text => Spacing.

  6. At the risk of asking a stupid question, and given that one has followed what you detailed above, how do you then get rid of the indent at the start of new chapters and line breaks (where there’s not supposed to be an indent/tab)?

  7. Isn’t Scrivener the one that’s only for Macs? o.O Could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain I tried to buy it and it wasn’t compatible with my PC. A pity, because I could see that it would be useful.
    Useful piece though; I know plenty of folks who would/will benefit from this. I’ll spread the word. 🙂

    1. Hi Ileandra,

      It used to be for Mac only, but it’s now available for Windows as well. You can always download the free trial to check if it’s going to work with your system. Should do!

      1. Thanks guys. I’m actually using Scrivenor now (Windows) and trying to pull things together. You all talked me into it. :p
        So far I’m still working on this formatting issue, but I hopefully I’ll crack it soon.

  8. Thank you for this tip! Scrivener’s formatting options are really great– wonderful for exporting without stupid artefacts life tab indents.

    Vikki, I would encourage you to try Scrivener! It’s only as complicated as you need it to be. It has many powerful features, but you can just dive right in and use it as a standard word processor until you need to use those features. The free trial comes with an excellent tutorial and there are plenty of resources on the web. IMHO, it’s much easier to use than Microsoft Word, and as you get working, it gives you the tools to organise your writing plainly and unfussily. I’m not using it to half its potential, but it has already made my work so much easier. Do give it a go! You won’t regret it.

    1. Oh no, Vikki. It is much easier. There is a very good tutorial text included with the program that walks you through the basics. Best purchase I ever made. It helps me organize, develop and publish my novels easily and efficiently.

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