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Summary:

I write a lot.  I do it because I love writing and I love sharing information with others.  Most of my writing consists of reports and articles such as this and I have a system for the writing process that is constantly evolving as far as […]

U70_pics_020 Onenote_box I write a lot.  I do it because I love writing and I love sharing information with others.  Most of my writing consists of reports and articles such as this and I have a system for the writing process that is constantly evolving as far as the tools and methods I use.  The single most important part of my writing process is Microsoft’s great note-taking program OneNote.  OneNote is so much more than a mere note-taker for me that I hate to call it that.  It is a repository for future ideas, a wonderful outliner, and a journal of the history of each article I write.  OneNote coupled with the Tablet PC is such an important tool for me that I felt it worthwhile to document the entire writing process I go through in the hopes readers might find some useful information in how I use OneNote.  I should admit my motives are not purely noble, as I am also hoping that you OneNote users out there might be able to offer suggestions and tips to me to improve my methods.

Doing Research with OneNote

My work normally requires a lot of research whether it is for my consulting work or for my articles here on jkOnTheRun.  Most of the research is done online and I am always on the lookout for future material when I am surfing the web.  This is the area where OneNote is invaluable as a collector and organizer of information of all types.  I use a number of methods for getting information into OneNote, some that are a part of OneNote and some using outside utilities that help get certain types of information into the "Notebook".  The tool I use depends on the type and volume of information I want to put into the OneNote library.

Onenote_screen_clipping_1 OneNote has an extremely useful tool that was introduced in SP1 that works especially well with the Tablet PC.  It works on normal PCs too so don’t overlook it if you don’t have a Tablet.  The OneNote screen clipping tool allows you to "clip" a rectangular piece of the screen and is activated by right clicking on the OneNote icon that resides in the system tray.  Simply by selecting the "create screen clipping" option from the popup window you can drag a rectangle across any part of the screen you want to capture and it pops into OneNote under the section called "Side Notes".  This is a regular OneNote page that you can copy, annotate, and use like any other information in OneNote.  This method is well suited for smaller images you want to make available in other work.  OneNote thoughtfully appends a note reminding you where you clipped the information from and in the event it came from a web page it puts a hyperlink beneath the image so you can easily return there in the future.  Nice, simple and very quick.  Tablet PC users can of course use the freehand Snipping Tool you can get free from Microsoft which works well.  It won’t copy the snipped image directly into OneNote so I prefer the OneNote clipper for most clippings.

Ie_to_onenote_powertoy Sometimes I need to capture an entire web page of information and need to keep all links on the page "live" and all images intact.  Microsoft has a nice PowerToy for OneNote that fits this bill perfectly in the Send to OneNote from Internet Explorer PowerToy, a boring name for a very useful utility.  Once installed a OneNote button appears in the Internet Explorer toolbar that when clicked sends the entire web page to OneNote where it appears in the WebClippings section.  While this PowerToy can’t always preserve the layout of the web page, mainly due to frames on the page, all the information is duly saved and passed to OneNote.  All images and text is present and accounted for, all links on the page are preserved and clickable, and the title of the resultant OneNote page tells you the title of the web page along with a hyperlink for returning to the page in the future.  Extremely useful and one of the most used methods for me to capture web information.

Pdf_printed_page The third method I use to get information into OneNote comes in handy to get stuff into my notes from programs other than Internet Explorer.  The OneNote Image Writer tool installs as a virtual printer driver that is invoked from any application that lets you print.  Instead of choosing a real printer for hardcopy you choose the OneNote Image Writer printer and the document is "printed" to a OneNote section called "PrintedPages".  While the resultant page is not editable (it’s only an image of a printed page) it is handy for capturing all types of documents (especially PDFs) that can then be annotated with ink and used for future reference.  All of these methods combined with OneNote make up a powerful tool for collecting, storing, and organizing many different types of information to use in my writing.

OneNote as Outliner

Any writer will tell you a work of any length at all requires some sort of outline.  Everyone has a different style of outlining and I won’t get into that here, especially considering my outlines are usually not that detailed like some people prefer.  I shy away from detailed outlines because I find them constraining for most of my articles and I like to roam a bit with my work.  Okay, really I’m lazy.  I won’t discuss different outlining methods in this article but I do want to share how I use OneNote and a Tablet PC for preparing to write an article.

Onenote_outline_1 The Tablet PC coupled with OneNote makes writing an outline a real joy to do, which is something I never thought I would say about outlining.  I always create my outlines in ink which I find is just so much more creative than typing one.  Ink is free flowing and so much more visual than typing text on the screen.  This free form outlining method stimulates the creative process and I find the structure of whatever article I am working on almost defines itself.  I can concentrate on the content, not about text entry.  It’s difficult to describe but it is a very important part of my writing and I can’t imagine not doing it in ink.

OneNote’s inking tools work very well with this outlining process and I can usually outline a complete article in a single sitting and without spending a lot of time on it.  Most outlines end up with the topics and subtopics being rearranged several times before the final form takes shape and OneNote excels in aiding this process.  Since OneNote keeps all items separate within a page it is a simple task to click on a topic in the middle of the outline and drag it to a new position.  It is so cool to watch my handwriting move around the screen until it is in just the right place.  Once the order of the outline is perfect I am ready to actually write the article.  I should point out that OneNote on the Tablet PC can convert all ink to text for those who like that but I prefer to leave the outlines in ink.  I find that when I work with the outline in ink I remember the thought process that was behind the ink, so to speak.  I don’t get that with text that is typed on the screen.  It helps me to get creative during the all important writing phase of the project.

Writing the Masterpiece

Once the outline is done the real work begins and OneNote helps make  writing fun, and for me that’s what it’s all about.  I do all my writing in OneNote, partially because that’s where all my reference material sits but also because OneNote has such good tools for working with text.  If I am working on an article for a print publication then I can insert the images I want to appear in the article directly in OneNote.  This method is like a page layout process that way.  Once the writing is done and the images are in place I can then easily move it into Microsoft Word for submission to the publisher.

Articles to be posted on the internet require a little different approach and for those I do all the writing in one OneNote section and keep all the images separate from the written document.  This makes it easier to post the article using the internet publishing tools that I use.  Since internet articles are posted in HTML, it is imperative that all formatting is removed from the article text so I do a select all in One Note and copy the text to the Notepad. Notepad strips all formatting from the text which can then be copied into the internet tools for publishing. 

All articles I write, no matter the ultimate destination, are written strictly using a keyboard.  I never use ink for writing the articles because my handwriting is terrible and I don’t want to bog down in the process of correcting text that is incorrectly converted from ink.  I like to have the prose flow from the keyboard, and typing is much faster than inking anyway.  This method may not be for everyone but it works very successfully for me and I am very comfortable working this way.

OneNote has honestly revolutionized my writing and taken the preparatory steps like collecting reference material and outlining from the tedious to the enjoyable.  I find this reflects in the final written work as I can concentrate on the part I like the best, and that is the writing.  I am very interested in hearing from others who use OneNote in their daily work and would especially like to hear other ways to make good use of the powerful tandem of the Tablet PC and OneNote.

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By James Kendrick
  1. James:

    Excellent article. Here’s a suggestion that will bypass the paste-to-Notepad step in your workflow – get ClipMate. It has an excellent feature that allows you paste pure text from the clipboard while retaining the formatting information if you subsequently want to paste the fully-formatted text. There’s also a freeware tool called PureText that strips the clipboard contents but it doesn’t retain the formatting and only works on the current clipboard contents.

    I agree that OneNote does so many things right that it’s unfair to simply call it a note-taking application. It is a unique information manager and an excellent resource for any writer. Tablet PC users can’t afford to be without it. The only competitor I see currently is the as-yet-unreleased EverNote which is in public beta but is currently lacking critical core features that I need to see before I can render a final judgement.

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  2. Marc, thanks for the heads up on ClipMate. I actually have downloaded it but not installed it yet. Better do that now. :)

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  3. hamad alhomaizi Monday, November 15, 2004

    jk –

    thanks for the insight into a writer’s approach to using onenote. i also am seeking to constantly improve my productivity skills through onenote and similar tools. one thing i’ve just started implementing through onenote is the built in flagging feature as well as customizing some of the flags for my Getting Things Done way of work. i’m waiting for it to get more tightly integrated with Outlook for sending tasks etc. although i already use the ‘send to outlook as task’ feature it still does not transfer the flag as part of the task.

    some suggestions for you – i once inadvertently activated the onenote screen clipping feature through a Windows Hotkey combination. i can’t recall the sequence off the top of my head but if you look it up i think it could be of use. second tip – when printing to onenote using the imagewriter (something i use quite a bit) you can select the folder to print to besides the default printedpages folder. what’s nice about this is that you can select the desired folder every time you print to onenote through a autoprompt. the way to select this feature is go to the printer setting for the onenote imagewriter and look around the options – self explanatory.

    keep up the great reports and thanks.

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  4. Thanks Hamad. Good tips and much appreciated. I do know that MS is working on adding flag integration and categories for notes (YAY!) for hopefully the next release.

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  5. I’ve written one book and drafted a second using OneNote alone, and it’s been quite helpful by allowing me to excise and revise chapter/character content on the fly. However, one cannot comfortably write an entire novel from OneNote — after 14k words, OneNote does not display all the text. A novel usually consists of 50-100k words. Many writers I know use a good text editor, such as UltraEdit or EmEditor, which allows them to concentrate on content rather than any temptation of formatting. A great article, and thanks for sharing!

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  6. Zaine, thanks for the input. I agree that you wouldn’t want to write a novel in OneNote. In fact, I think I would want something with only text on the screen. WordStar would be nice. The main focus for me with OneNote is the research. I’m a “capture” junky for good info. :) BTW, have you published anything we’d recognize?

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