Back to school with OneNote

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Back to school with OneNoteAs a college student, Liz Scoble loved using OneNote to keep all of her class notes organized and stay on top of her daily to-do’s. She recently joined the OneNote team after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. Here, Liz shares her favorite OneNote features for staying productive in school.

Keeping my life organized in college was not an easy feat. Between classes, extracurricular activities, and the work associated with each, I struggled to stay on top of everything that I needed to do. Thankfully, once I began to use OneNote to keep track of everything, I felt much more organized and productive. Here are some of the ways I used OneNote in college and features that I relied on to keep my life organized.

Daily task lists

With a busy schedule and lots of classes to keep track of, I found that the best method of organizing my schedule was making detailed daily task lists. I constantly checked, edited, and updated these lists, so I also color-coded them so I could see at a glance the type of work I had to do. Black was for classes, red was for due dates or exams, blue was for meetings, and green was for individual work. I loved using the to-do tag in OneNote (which you can add with CTRL+1), because it made it easy for me to see when I’d completed a task.

The wiki-linking feature can also be very helpful for keeping track of your notes associated with items on your task list. To add a link to a different page in your notebook, simply type your page title with double brackets on either end (example: [[To Do List]] ) and it will automatically become a link to that page. This feature helped me organize notes and make my task lists more useful.

Search notes

One of the features that makes OneNote so useful for keeping all of your class notes is that you can search through them, even if they are handwritten. I loved that I could write down due dates and assignments right in my class notes, and then easily find them when it was time to complete the assignment. When I took notes with pencil and paper, I would have to open my class notebook, find the lecture notes, and scan the pages for where I had jotted down the assignment. With OneNote, all you have to do is type a keyword into the search bar, and all of the pages that contain the keyword immediately show up.

Searching my notes also made studying for exams much easier. Every time I came across a concept that I knew I would need to master for an exam (or if the professor gave a hint about it), I would mark it in my notes by writing “Know for Exam #__” in the margins. When it came time to study for the exam, I would search this phrase in my class notes (with the specific exam number) and make sure that I had studied all of the concepts thoroughly. This method worked best for me when I was taking notes by hand, but if you’re typing, it is just as easy to mark key concepts with a star tag and then use the Find Tags tool to search your notes.

Send to OneNote

I received tons of handouts for each of my classes and often struggled to keep them organized. I would usually print files that were emailed to the class or uploaded to the class website so that I could keep track of the content on the printouts and take any necessary notes. As you can probably imagine, my folders quickly filled up, my printing credit dwindled, and my backpack got progressively heavier. Once I started using OneNote to organize my class notes, a solution to this problem quickly became apparent. Using the Send to OneNote tool, I kept all of my handouts organized in their respective section of my OneNote notebook.  Not only did this save me time (and paper), but it also allowed me to annotate handouts and quickly search through my growing collection of class content.

The Send to OneNote tool also helped me take more organized notes in class. If a professor lectured from a PowerPoint presentation in class, I would upload the presentation to OneNote. Instead of taking separate notes and trying to match them up with the presentation after class, I took notes directly on the slides. Drawing arrows to points of the slide that I wanted to associate notes with, underlining key content, and taking notes in the margins of the slide made it so much easier for me when it came time to study for exams.

OneNote on the go

One of my favorite things about OneNote is that I can access my notes anywhere. When I was waiting in line for coffee or at a bus stop, it was easy to access my daily task list using OneNote on my phone. If I wanted to work in a computer lab, I could access my notes on SkyDrive. I love that I never have to worry about forgetting my notes somewhere, because they are with me wherever I go!

Are there any features in OneNote that you love to use? Comment to let us know!

Liz Scoble

Liz ScobleWashington University graduate and OneNote team member Liz Scoble.


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  1. kurtsoeser

    I am using OneNote since 4 years now as a teacher and I could not live without it! All things are organized and documented with OneNote. My students can collaborate with my via SkyDrive and this year I would like to introduce a OneNote-notebook for every student.
    If you want to read more about my project and ideas, feel free to visit!

    • Hi Kurt,

      We’re so glad to hear that you love using OneNote! Thanks for letting us know, and we would love to hear about how your students enjoy using OneNote in your classroom as the year progresses.

  2. Puskarich

    What did you use to draw on the slides and take handwritten notes?

    • Hi Rich,

      I used a Surface Pro and stylus to take my handwritten notes. I found taking notes to be even easier with the stylus than with a pen and paper because I could easily select text and move it around the page, change the color, or resize it.

  3. Really love OneNote and have really missed it since moving to Mac.

    The OneNote apps for the iPhone and iPad are really awesome now too, but the major drawback is the fact that there is still no native app for the Mac, and lets be honest the Web App is pretty useless without the ability to retain content for offline use, not to mention its somewhat clunky interface.

    So come on Microsoft pull your finger out and give us Mac users the ability to use what is undoubtedly the best Note taking application in the marketplace.

    No Microsoft? The lack of OneNote is no reason to return to using a Windows OS and I do not believe that any Mac user would disagree with me there!

  4. Just starting to use OneNote and love the concept of handwriting on the Surface Pro. However, I can’t see how to run sentences together when handwriting. If I handwrite on a note page then convert it to text then handwrite another sentence and convert that one to text the text appears in another text box on the note page. How can I concatenate sentences into the one text box as paragraphs, etc?

    • Hi Des,

      To keep all of your handwritten text in the same note container, I would recommend converting the ink to text at the end of the paragraph that you are writing. If you individually convert sentences from ink to text, they will be placed in different containers (which is what you are experiencing). Another option is to use the handwriting keyboard (which you can find by switching the type of on-screen keyboard), which will allow you to write sentences and insert them as text directly into OneNote.

  5. Thanks Liz. It would also be helpful in writing if the Surface could be inclined at a low angle (like the iPad) rather than flat or steep. Do you have any suggestions about how this could be achieved?

  6. Please fix the search function. When I print a 300-400 page pdf all to one page and I search something it only brings up the first thing and does not allow me to continue scrolling through all of the items of my search. I know this can be fixed by printing the pdf to multiple pages but I like being able to flick through my notes quickly with my finger and shrink the pages down to find illustrations and annotations quickly. I love the app and use it almost 24/7 for medical school on my surface pro. pretty please fix this quickly.

    • Never mind found how you guys built it into the Ctl-F function. One note is seriously the best thing that has happened to me!! use it 24?7 for medical school. Surface Pro + One note is the best tool for students, I don’t know why this isn’t marketed more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have converted several of my colleges from their sad ipad ways =). Keep up the great work!

  7. mikeli2008

    Thanks for your share! Could you please check if the video camera is working when use the onenote 2013, but I cannot use it in Thinkpad tablet 2 when I want to insert the video in note.

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