What is Microsoft OneNote? It's a note taking/information accumulation program, right? Yes, it is. But its also a lot more than that. If you're the type of person who likes to or needs to stay organized, OneNote may be your salvation. Or if you're a student or in a career where you need to gather lots of research so you can compile reports, OneNote may be just what you need.
More importantly, if you're a computer person who needs to gather research, notes, technical information, keep technical tips, tricks and training info, web sites, fixes, etc...this could be just the program you've been looking for.
"But I like to keep my notes in my email or my Outlook notes." Sure, there are many devices for keeping your bits and pieces of information gathered and organized. In fact, until I discovered OneNote, I had my own method that I discussed right here in TechTrax: Using File Cataloger for Code and Support Libraries .
However, better mousetraps come along all the time. And not to sidestep Greg's cool File Cataloger, because it is a great, free utility and has many uses, I've realized that OneNote is better suited for me when it comes to keeping all my technical support notes and programming code organized and easy to find. The main reason is because OneNote makes it easy to search and find the item I need.
In this article, I'll give you a little taste of some of the basic things you can do with OneNote and why I've fallen in love with the program.
OneNote starts out by giving you a Guide to the program. The guide contains lots of instructions and samples of ways you can make use of the various features in the program.
You can easily start your own notebook. As with other Microsoft Office programs, click File > New to start a new project. The program provides you with several notebooks that you can customize, similar to starting with a wizard or template provided by Microsoft. The sample notebooks are already organized for you and setup with sections and pages pertinent to the type of information you'd want to gather in the notebook version you select. But you can easily change it to make customizations, as needed.
Below you can see some of the categories, student, work, research, group project and so on. But you can also just start with your own blank version. Give it a name and choose a color. OneNote is all about color, as notebooks, sections and pages are more easily sorted and recognized by color, if you're a sighted user.
You then get the option of how you plan to use the notebook and whether you plan to share it with colleagues or on other computers of your own.
Once you have your notebook started, there are also several page templates you can use to instantly create various special pages, such as a calendar, shown below.
Most people assume that OneNote is only for use with tablet PCs (the type that you can write on the screen) or with computer users who have separate pen tablets for writing. Sure, the program is conducive to allowing you to scribble out your content, which can be left as handwriting...
...or have your scribbling recognized and converted to typed text...
...or use a combination of the two.
But you don't need a tablet pen to use OneNote. In fact, it may be more efficient without the use of a pen, since writing with a tablet does take some practice. You won't be winning any handwriting awards from tablet writing; trust me on that one!
Although you can use your mouse to access pens just to allow you to circle important items. Yes, you could write with a mouse if that's all you have, but I've yet to see anyone who can do it very well. Better that you stick to the keyboard if you don't have pen tablet access.
Just writing information, however, is only a tiny portion of what you can do with OneNote, because the power in the program is the way you can organize, tag, and search your notes, as well as the wide variety of media you can use to capture the information you need.
The program is designed to allow you to easily create audio or video snippets to drop into pages. And there's a huge supply of graphic tags that you can apply to pages or just individual containers in a page to help draw your attention to important or action items. To quickly see all the things you need to do or all the people you need to call...just ask OneNote to show you all the notes you've taken with those tags and bingo...instant access to the tons of things you need to get after.
As an MVP technical support specialist, I have to have, and do have, tons of notes regarding various fixes for programs, particularly Microsoft Word, my most used program. I've been working to convert over my notes into OneNote. Now when someone says they are getting say a "disk full" error, I can enter that into the quick search in my Word folder and in seconds I have the requested search criteria highlighted in each page, as well as each page containing that term, highlighted. Now I can click each to check the various symptoms of each fix to see which might best match the problem at hand.
You can also have multiple notebooks open at the same time. And as you can see below, once you get rolling, you'll be amazed at how quickly you'll find yourself using OneNote for just about all your accumulated information.
Another very useful feature is the ability to transfer pages from the web right into OneNote, with just a click in Internet Explorer.
But what's even better, when you pass a page from the web to OneNote, it retains the original URL at the bottom, so you can click to get back to the live page, if necessary.
Another cool feature is the ability to create a page from various notes and then click to have it sent directly to Word. Here's a quick page I tossed together in OneNote.
Click to send it to Word and bingo...instant Word doc report. This is great, too, if you have trouble finding all the features like bullets and numbering or indents in Word, because they're much easier to find in OneNote. You may find yourself creating draft docs in OneNote and then passing them to Word for final touches.
Another one of my favorite features is the ability to quickly create a note anytime you need one. You can just hit the Windows button + N (for note, I guess) and a new note will appear. You don't even need to have OneNote open. Paste in a photo or drag information from your desktop...maybe just type a quick reminder. You can then close it and this note will be saved into your Unfiled Notes folder. Later, when you have time, you can do a little filing by dragging the accumulation of unfiled notes into their proper folders.
But you can also click the Full Page (or hit F11 when your note is opened) to expand the note right within OneNote itself. No need to hunt for the program icon.
Pictures can easily be dropped into a note so you don't lose it. Later you can go in and organize it where it belongs or use in any pages or documents.
The other wonderful feature is the ability to quickly take screen captures of any area of any screen on your computer. Now yes, I love SnagIt and use it constantly for screen captures that I plan to edit or photos. But this OneNote capture feature has been a big time saver because I don't have to change my settings or switch profiles in SnagIt in order to quickly capture some shot. And the best part is that it instantly goes right into my unfiled notes folder for me to deal with at a later time.
In the image below, I hit the OneNote hot key for a screen capture, which is Windows + S. When you do that, your cursor turns into a capture cursor. Click at the start location...drag to the end location...and let go of your mouse button. The area you captured will be sent to your unfiled notes folder. You'll know you're in capture mode because the screen will be faded out, as you can see below.
And note...I used SnagIt to take a screen capture of me taking a screen capture with OneNote. As you can see, my desktop faded out. The clear area is what I'm capturing with OneNote.
And when I switch to OneNote and check my unfiled notes, here's my capture. I can now copy that image into whatever document I need or just file it away as something I might want later.
OneNote is a terrific program for anyone who needs to or enjoys gathering information. And there's a lot more you can do with the program. Stay tuned for additional tutorials on this software.
And here's a tip I'm learning...don't be too concerned at first when you are setting up your notebook. I've discovered that the best way to use it is on the fly. What does that mean? Well, when I started creating my first notebook, I spent (wasted) time creating all these folders that I assumed I'd want. I set the colors, master templates and organized them in a way that I thought would be great. But as I started actually using the information, I realized it wasn't organized the way I really needed it. So I did a lot of reorganizing. I'm learning that it's a waste of time to create a bunch of folders ahead of time. Wait until you realize you need a new level of organization.
The cool thing is that you can easily change the organization of your notebook. You can drag folders under other folders, create new groups, move pages, move text containers to other pages. And it's all as easy as clicking and dragging it. For those of you who are click and drag challenged, a right click will give you copy or move options for more precise placement.
This month, I'm giving away a copy of Office 2007 Ultimate, which does include OneNote. So if you're a TechTrax member, be sure to get into the member's site and click to enter the drawing!
And if you want to learn more about SnagIt, click the Archives button above on the main menu bar of TechTrax and search for SNAGIT, as we have several articles on that very useful program.