The ultimate brainstorming tool? Review of Scapple

Scapple screenshot

Scapple at work with my mind.

Scapple. Sounds fun so that’s a good start. This is a tool that is brought to you from Literature and Latte, the makers of Scrivener (and of course Scrivener for Windows.) It’s a way of getting all those notes and sideways scribbles that you used to shove on a notepad onto the computer where you can edit them and move them around.

Having a big (and I mean BIG) new project with lots of moving parts to tackle it seemed only right to have a go. First brilliant point: it is a 30 day active-use trial, meaning if you download it, go wild for 4 days then don’t touch it for the rest of the month, you still have 26 days of your trial left. This is a trial designed for the wondering mind and looming deadline lifestyle of a writer.

So did Scapple do it for me?

I started using Scapple properly yesterday. I already have five Scapples? pads? documents? – whatever you want to call them. I am a massive fan of the notebook and the whiteboard, but I think Scapple might just have won me over. Here’s why:

  • It looks and feels super simple, but every time I wanted to do a ‘thing’, there was a way
  • It really is a blank piece of paper – no formatting rules or weird shifting and alignment. You can type things down where and how they come to you.
  • You can format your notes as they start to come together around topics – so all green blobs are ideas about metrics, or all purple is social media. This is as opposed to your piece of paper where you have to scan through every note to find ones relevant to what you are focusing on next.
  • You can group notes and links together (by making them ‘magnetic’), so what was a bunch of ideas can become the centre of a more focused brainstorm on the same pad or dragged and dropped to a new one.
  • The formatting options means creating a hierarchy of ideas or points becomes easy, and quickly visually accessible. The core of a project becomes obvious and requires no ‘magic-eye’ sessions staring at a big mess of handwritten notes searching for the hidden meaning.
  • It’s intuitive and easy to get to grips with. Yes I had to look up a couple of things in the manual, but on the whole things are labeled sensibly, there are obvious keyboard shortcuts, and it is built to be very Mac-like in its mentality, ie things just work, click and drag just does, and it looks nice at the same time.

The kicker

The biggest reason Scapple seems to have done it for me though, is that within an afternoon, what had felt like a monolith of a project was broken down into six central sub-projects, each with distinct to-dos. The scale of each sub-project was comparable with another by its sprawl and connections on Scapple.

And all of this occurred without me drowning in paper, or cutting things out or taking pictures of my whiteboard to record one version before cleaning it to create another.

Cut up documents before Scapple

Life before Scapple: restructuring my dissertation three years ago…

So, I’ll keep you posted on whether it’s so good after 30 active days that I feel it’s worth $14.99 to keep Scappling…I have a feeling it will be.

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6 Responses to The ultimate brainstorming tool? Review of Scapple

  1. Jason says:

    I’ve been considering this for my work and you make it sound like a good tool. When was this posted and do you still like the program?


    • Clare Dodd says:

      Hi Jason, I wrote this just a few months back. I’ll be honest I haven’t used it a lot since, but that’s more due to the nature of my projects lately than the tool (and the fact that I really to love paper and pen!) I’d certainly still recommend giving the trial a go if you are looking for an online brainstorming tool.

  2. Laura Ess says:

    I did an article on Dreamwidth about using Mind Map applications with Scrivener (follow the webpage link). Scapple was included in that, as was Aeon Timeline and other applications, because they can all be imported one way or another via the same process. Scapple is really designed to have its elements DRAGGED into the Scrivener binder. It retains structure far better that way than being imported via OPML formats.

    PersonallyI think that Scapple would be much handier as a “plug in” to Scrivener. That is, you’d create a scapple document within Scrivener and play around with it while in that program. But it’s in early development at the moment, and who knows?


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    […] 16. Scapple. This brainstorming tool allows you to easily map and track ideas. […]

  2. Scapple, a tool recommended by everyone. – Mark Miller - 14 May 2017

    […] this blogger pointed out to me, the trial lasts for 30 days of usage, which makes me believe that it would be a […]

  3. Scapple Your Ideas – Mark Miller - 14 May 2017

    […]  Clare Dodd mentioned some relevant information in a review she wrote on Articulate. She stated: “The formatting options means creating a hierarchy of ideas or points becomes easy, and quickly visually accessible. The core of a project becomes obvious and requires no ‘magic-eye’ sessions staring at a big mess of handwritten notes searching for the hidden meaning.” In fact, in a classroom setting, hieratically organizing ideas is an effective method to retain information and to make the learning process easier. Additionally, the information is clearly organized, which solves many headaches. […]

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