Writers in the Storm

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August 2, 2013

10 OneNote Features that Will Rock Your Writing World

I’m a software trainer by day so I have several “true loves” in the software realm. But as a writer, my hands down favorite lately is OneNote.

I. Heart. OneNote.

What is it, and where do you find it?

OneNote is a planner and note taking software. Capture text, images, video and audio notes, and keep important information readily available. If you’re the organized type, it’s likely that you have a binder with all of the research information and pictures for your book.

OneNote allows you to keep this information in the same format electronically so it’s searchable.

You’ll find OneNote in your START menu.

I could do several posts on the topic (and I probably will) but when I stopped to think about what I use the MOST in the program, it was pretty easy to come up with my Top Ten fave features.

#10 – ToDo Lists

OneNote allows you to insert handy checklists. You just check off the item when you’re done and you can keep it for posterity or edit the list as you move to a new day.

How to do a check list:

Click to type in your OneNote notebooks page (top tabs are sections, right side tabs are pages) and type “Ctrl+1”

  • In the top middle of your Home ribbon in OneNote, there is a “To Do” button
  • Type your To Do
  • Hit Enter
  • Use the Ctrl+1 shortcut key again to add more checkboxes

Note: You’ll see lots of keyboard shortcuts through this document and now that OneNote is available for the Mac, I'm going to have to dig up some of those. Incidentally, my favorite shortcut is Ctrl +PageDown to “flip thru” the pages in any section of your notebook.

Click here for the latest OneNote and Microsoft updates that affect writers.

#9 – Tag and Find Important Items

Why is this exciting? One Note has a series of Tags that you can add to any page that are easy to search by with the “Find Tags” button on the ribbon. I’m copying and pasting a screen shot of the Tags drop down to the right but there are even more than are listed. This feature makes me SQUEE!

#8 – Sync up OneNote between your phone and computer

Yes, you heard me! If you have a smart phone, it can synchronize with the OneNote on your computer. Sign me up!!

Note: You need to first set up the app on your smart phone and you must also set up OneDrive (used to be SkyDrive), which is helpful to do anyway. OneDrive is only available with OneNote 2010 and later! It will not work with the older versions.

Tips on setting up your OneDrive in OneNote and getting the iPhone app are here (along with a ton of other amazing OneNote answers).

#7 – Tables and Charts (which can be sent to Word or Outlook!)

Who doesn’t love a good table…perhaps you need one listing scene elements? You can create tables and charts directly on a OneNote page and then:

  • Copy and paste it to Word
  • Email it.
  • Right click on your OneNote table and choose “Copy Link to Paragraph” to embed it in a document anywhere else on your computer. (If you haven’t set up SkyDrive, the One Note file and the file where you pasted the link must be on the same computer!)

#6 – Hyperlinks to anywhere

You can copy or create hyperlinks from any page, anywhere, and put it in your notebook page. I’m thinking of keeping an active writing notebook with tabs for each topic to store the amazing links that I run across in my web surfing. My bookmarks tend to get lost because there’s so many.

#5 – Print to OneNote

When researching, you can send a whole page or part of a page directly to OneNote. Click Ctrl +P on your keyboard (or you can choose File > Print) and your page is sent to an unfiled note in OneNote, which can be moved to any section or page. Note: You’ll see your “Unfiled Notes” tab at the top of your OneNote screen.

#4 – Send whole or part of any page to OneNote with a shortcut key

Imagine surfing the web and pulling up a side note by either pressing the Windows logo button + N or clicking the N (OneNote) icon button in the task bar (down by the time) and being able to jot down your notes to keep in your book’s OneNote binder. This shortcut automatically files it in the Unfiled Tab in OneNote, which you can move around.

#3 – Audio and Video Files

OneNote will also add audio or video files to your notebook pages. It can even record the same right into a page! Now that we’re in conference season, I’ve made the goal of adding my meeting and class notes into OneNote, and then recording those extras things that I didn’t get down in my notes.

#2 – You can attach files to any page in OneNote.

Can you writers say character charts? Photos? I thought of moving this higher on the list, it’s so sublimely amazing.

From your Windows Explorer, click and drag any file onto a OneNote Page. You will get the following dialog box:

You can insert a hyperlink, or choose the second option to have an icon on your page that you double-click on to open the file. But the last choice (to insert the file as a printout)? LOVE IT! I used this with a conference handout to make my notes next to the speakers content. It saved me a ton of time.

And my #1 FAVORITE thing in OneNote is:

OneNote doesn’t have a Save button. OneNote automatically saves your work on an almost constant basis in the background. This means I don’t lose work, even if forget to save.

p.s. If you want to save your notebook with a new name you can use the Save As feature located under the File menu. Also, if you’re using the OneDrive sync feature, you need to be sure to sync before you go on the road. OneNote auto-saves, but it doesn’t auto-sync!

Helpful Links:

Does OneNote sound like it would be helpful to you? Do you have questions, or shortcuts you’d like to share? We’d love to chat with you in the comments!

Where can you get more of Jenny?

Her blog information is below, but she also teaches online. For all you writers and OneNote/Evernote fans, Microsoft just released OneNote for the Mac (it's FREE)!

Next week's class details:

      • Course title: OneNote: The Simple (Kinda Sexy) Organization Tool
      • Course time: webinar next Monday March 24th at 7 pm EST - it's available OnDemand afterwards, so don't worry if you can't make it.
      • The initial webinar is followed by two weeks of online time where we cover the material and create notebooks. We finish with another quick webinar recap.
      • There are various levels for the class, depending on if you just want the knowledge or if you need active one-on-one help setting up your notebooks. Be sure to click the course title link above to see what's included for the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum levels.
      • Use the discount code MORECOWBELL for $10 off!

Lastly, we're going to have THREE special things for this kickoff class:

      1. A member of the Microsoft OneNote team will audit the class to answer any questions on the technologies and features that are still new.
      2. A drawing will held to give away a subscription of Office 365 to one lucky attendee.
      3. Any interested authors will be entered into a drawing to be a guest author for the Office blog - in return for the description of how OneNote helped you "get it done," Microsoft will promote the winner's novel at the bottom of the post.

Really, y'all...how can you beat that? (You can't! This inaugural class is the only one that will have all this, since it comes so quickly on the heels of Microsoft's rollout.) Click here to sign up!

About Jenny Hansen

Jenny fills her nights with humor: writing memoir, women’s fiction, chick lit, short stories (and chasing after her toddler Baby Girl). By day, she provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s digging this sit down and write thing.

When she’s not at her blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA and at Writers In The Storm.

91 comments on “10 OneNote Features that Will Rock Your Writing World”

  1. I've heard a lot about OneNote, but it appears to be only for pc's. Or for the newest OSX Macs. Correct? Do you know a way to get this on a Mac running snow leopard?

      1. EverNote is a COMPLETELY different program.

        OneNote is called OneNote in Office15, in Office365, and in the Live.com free tools, which feature, at least, Word. Excel. PowerPoint, OneNote, and several gigs of free cloud storage.

        1. Thanks, Dave. I know it's a different app, but I want Carol to get the benefit of a similar piece of software. I actually think OneNote is much better than Evernote, but Evernote is pretty darned good. 🙂

      2. there is one other option for Mac users – PC emulation. Modern Mac computers are fast enough that, to my experience, you can have a PC emulator software program running that is fast enough. And it's fairly easy to toggle back and forth between running a Mac as a Mac and running it as a Windows PC. Then, using the emulator, you can install Microsoft Office or even just OneNote.

    1. Carol,

      I love onenote and this is one program i missed most when i switched from windows to mac.

      These are few options you can use to make onenote work on your mac.
      1) Install parallel 8 VM and install windows/Microsoft office on that.
      2) As the first option requires running the windows parallely, when i don't want my VM to suck power, I run the onenote on Fluid (http://fluidapp.com/). Fluid is basically an app which opens the web version of Onenote. Works decently, it doesn't have fancy features like search on tagging (But i can survive without that for sometime).

      My reason for staying with onenote is that I have lot of notes and reference content pasted over in it from my windows days. If you are starting new, you make want to evaluate evernote and not even worry about making onenote work with mac.


      1. Yogi, this is fantastic information! You'll likely scare some of my tech-challenged pals, but I was wondering about this exact thing. Thanks for laying that out. 🙂

  2. Omg, Jenny, I had NO idea One Note could do all this! I thought it was just for lists!
    It's kinda a super-mini Scrivener! And free is always good! I'm saving this - thanks for the tips!

    1. I can see you liking it in terms of having that visual spot for each book and the research. Also, for your Writer's Toolbox. You can have a binder with the list of links and another page with your favorite how-tos.

    2. Remember TrapperKeeper? he binder where you dumped everything under the sun, used the various pockets and folders? Same thing here ... only digital. Use OneNote for one week -- for everything -- and you'll never go back.

      I've been using OneNote for about a decade now and have +/-6 gigs of stuff [text, tables, images, video, audeo, PDFs, etc.] save in it.

  3. I've read about EverNote (I'm a Mac hugger - won't find me on a PC, sorry!) but haven't looked into it. Now I'm intrigued. Adding that to my to-do list. 🙂

    1. My Mac pals adore EverNote. Same features for the most part, but your going to have to search for a list of shortcut keys, cuz I can't give them to you. 🙂

  4. I've never heard of this! It sounds awesome! I have notes absolutely EVERYWHERE. Organization is not my strong suit. I need this tool! Thanks for this post, Jenny.

    1. Sharla, this is right up your alley. Especially when you're traveling, you will still have access to your notebooks via your phone and your travel computer. Nice, huh?

  5. Jen, Reading all your posts, I realized how much I need to get more organized. How on earth do you do it?? Me?? I am so disjointed that my piles have piles ... then I put on on one side of the desk or put it in a file folder "to be sorted" ... about a year later I find something with a deadline "Oh, that's where you went." My WIP and all my other writerly stuff is a bit better, BUT I might have ten or twenty versions of the same query or fifteen or eighteen drafts of the same book. I save them in separate doc files, on discs, in flash drives, in my back up and some I print and save on paper.

    I am a holy mess and I might be a hopeless holy mess. I've said it for years. What I need is a wife, a housekeeper and a secretary 🙂

    1. Florence, I can't pretend to be organized, but I am MORE organized when I let the software and technology do the work for me. At least everything on the computer is searchable. That's more than I can say for my stacks and bags of paper.

    2. Me too! So deep in genealogy mess of what I consider really important stuff that I don't know what to do. I just don't know where to begin. I have my Tree on Ancestry, and this is OK, and the inofrmation is there, but it means I'm forever "married to" Ancestry, Did you find help on here on organization? I need it desparately. I'd like to do something with my hard copies.. I recently got into the DAR, so I had to get that one part of that line straight--I thought it was--actually it was as far as the people and dates were concerned--with some shuffling of papers.. HELP , I'm drowning in it and I don't even see how, in one lifetime to get it all in any kind of order that works.. Helen

    1. "It's a Leo thing..." <-- LOL. Yes, I've known many Leos and you are not alone, Judy. I recommend you give OneNote a browse. Once you set it up, it's pretty easy. Everything is either in the toolbar or the right-click.

  6. Could you explain more about how to print a page to Unfiled Notes? What you wrote doesn't work for me. I do Control + P and get the printing option. Thanks!

    1. Debra, if you have been into OneNote and set it up, you'll have "Send to OneNote" and "Print to OneNote" available in most of your other apps. If you install OneNote Mobile on your smartphone, you can sync to there too. So, in IE, right-click and Send to OneNote.

      When you're in any program and you hit Ctrl+P (you don't type the "+" sign) to launch your printer dialog box, you'll see "Send to OneNote 2010" in the drop-down list of printers. The only caveat is you MUST have already launched OneNote on that computer at least one time. The information goes into the Unfiled Tab and you can open the binder you want it in and drag it to the correct page.

      Does that help?

      1. Now to display my ignorance. I tried. I really did. I even opened up IE to see if I could do it from there- I prefer Firefox. Even in IE, I don't have the option to send to OneNote. There is Microsoft XPS Document, but that just files it in my documents. Not as handy as OneNote. ???

  7. OneNote. Okay, as I read over the page I felt a panic attack coming on. Jenny, why do I feel so overwhelmed with this stuff? Shoot me now! But...I remember Laird Sapir telling me something about this a couple of weeks ago. Something about this program allows you or a couple to make lists and each can check it off as you go. So she and her hubby use this for shopping and errands. Then they don't have to call each other to find out what needs done or picked up before coming home. They just check the list and mark it as done. I though it was an awesome concept. Now to put it to use. Quick question. Once you set this up on your computer, will it talk to an apple device? As you know, I am not the techie person one would hope to be. Thanks for this great idea Jenny! 🙂

  8. LOL My mind is boggling, Jenny! I think I must be missing a certain gene that makes all this stuff make sense or at least keeps it from taking an eternity to catch on to. I have trouble signing in to various places I've been before. The name or the password doesn't match. I have it all written down, but still the message is, "this doesn't match our records." LOL Does make me nuts. I'll save this post and try to take it for a spin. Thanks.

  9. You mean I can replace my research binder with a program that's searchable? No more printing out information, trying to store it in some logical order, then trying to remember where it was when I need to refer to it again. This is going to save me so much time. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Jenny, I'm also a software trainer and author. IMO, it's worth upgrading to OneNote 2013. It's much faster, more flexible, and it syncs well between my two computers, and my iPad and iPhone.

    1. I agree with you, Bob. The 2013 version is way cleaner, but I have tons and tons of friends who are still on v2010. It seemed the best version to screen shot for that reason.

  11. I like Evernote. It syncs to my android devices (PC, phone, notebook) and it's there. But then, I also have a wall next to my writing desk filled with Post-It notes! So I have reminders all over the place and still have pieces of paper in various files and places. I think notes, for a writer, are what we do. Years of notebooks, years of half-finished pieces. I sometimes go through the files (essays, poetry, short stories, memoir thoughts) on my computer and think, "How am I ever going to get to these ideas.....?) And my husband keeps the grocery lists on pieces of paper on the downstairs counter. My life of lists. Now there's a poem I need to write. I'll make a note of it!

  12. I have used OneNote for a long time. I use it so much, I have turned it into a verb - I "onenote" stuff! Giant filing cabinet with awesome search capabilities. Anything I see on my computer that I think I might want to refer to some time in the future, I onenote it. Then I just go search OneNote for it and presto, there it is. No more trying to remember where I saw something.

  13. Jenny! Congrats on the MS nod! I just got a new MacBook Pro (!), which isn't even set up yet, but I uploaded EverNote to both my iPhone & iPad so I'll be ready when my IT department (husband) gets busy! Thanks for the tip!

    1. I'm totally jealous of the new MacBook, Kim! And you are gonna love EverNote. I think OneNote has some more flexible features, but as a writer, note-taking software is just the BEST. 🙂

    1. LOL, Christine. If you love your pen and paper, you stick with 'em darlin'. For myself? I'd lose them about 3 seconds after I finished. 🙂

  14. Great post. I'm a Mac girl and an Evernote whore. Love the clip feature. And the sync feature and auto save. It's a great place for my different streams: teaching, parenting, writing... Sounds like you use OneNote similarly!

  15. It's nice to find someone else who loves OneNote as much as I do! I've been using it since my husband brought home a demo copy from PDC in 2003. I would be so lost without it! We gotta spread the word so Microsoft doesn't can it 🙂

  16. For Mac users an alternative to EverNote is NoteBook by Circus Ponies... I actually fell in love with that first at home on my Mac then discovered OneNote as a replacement for tracking my projects on my work PC. I'll admit I have not used NoteBook in a few years (used it to stay organized when I was taking classes but didn't have a need for it when I graduated) but it was neck and neck with OneNote as far as functionality. There were a couple little things I remember that each had over the other that I would miss when going back and forth but I would say 90% of the features I used were in both. I tried EverNote around the same time because I could not get either NoteBook or OneNote to sync to my iPad or iPhone. I saw later that Circus Ponies released an iPad app but it was expensive and got bad reviews at first so I never tried it. Likewise while there was some kind of OneNote viewer for iOS by Microsoft and another 3rd party syncing app called MobileNoter but neither worked well. Bi-directional syncing was hokey and trying to do anything on a page from the mobile app usually completely hosed the page when it came back to the desktop.

    I am curious about the current OneNote/iOS syncing options, do you HAVE to use SkyDrive? I would be using this on a very locked down work PC and using cloud servivces is highly discouraged...

    1. If you were going to access your OneNote outside of that very locked down PC, you would need to have SkyDrive. You can save internally on a network and then use it across the network (based on folder permissions), if that's helpful. The nice part about SkyDrive is it's basically a website/portal you visit your files at.

  17. here's a tricky one for you. in OneNote 2013, a seemingly minor change from previous versions is a daily hassle for me and I can't find a settings option to get around it. Using OneNote for a to-do list management is my primary use of it. If i have a line tagged to identify it as a Priority 1, 2, or 3 by using a tag, hitting return key to make a new line item automatically tags it according to whatever the line before was tagged. This means that i then have to untag it and retag it if i didn't want the new line to be the same as the one above it. This was not how it worked in previous versions, and i cannot find a way in onenote 2013 to change that action. While it may seem inconsequential, it does mean lots of unneccesary typing or mousing frequently throughout the day for me (like, I need more wrist strain??). Is there a setting in OneNote 2013 that can change the default "new line" action so that it does not include the tag from the line above? i sure hope so. thanks. 🙂

    1. Hey there,, MOGBlogger! Try this and see if it will work for you:

      A simple solution is to customize your Priority tag, move it up on the "All Tags" menu so that you can use a control function (Ctrl+1 up to 10). To do this, choose Tag on the ribbon, scroll down to Customize Tag or choose the Priority tag, right click, if you want to change the style of the tag, then choose Modify. If you want to assign a CTRL function, then hit the up/down arrows to move it into position 1-9. When you hit return, the next line will automatically take on the characteristics of the tag above, but by using the CTRL function, you can quickly change the tag. Hope this helps.

      1. Alas, Jenny, I'm already doing that - using control-1 for a priority-one item, etc. A great feature, true enough. Maybe I'm asking too much of OneNote to not have to hit 6 keys (cntrl+1 to make it checked, then cntrl+1 again to make the tag go away, then cntrl+2 or whatever tag i actually wanted it to be, to switch a line item from one tag to another when it used to take much fewer. 🙁 But thanks for the idea anyway -- it's a good one.

  18. Even after 4+ years of using OneNote, I'm constantly finding new things I didn't know. For example, #7. I spent half of last semester doing review questions in OneNote to have them available for final exam studying, then copy-pasting into word to turn them in online. Then I found this: Go to File - Send - Send to Word. This is in 2010, so if you have 2013 it may be different, but worth looking in to! It might only be a minor time save, but anything that keeps me from rooting around in my start menu to manual launch a program is a win for me!

    My favorite use - instead of printing out a billion recipes, I keep them all in OneNote. One notebook for tried & liked recipes, one for new ones to try. Then I can pull them up on wi-fi on the old deactivated smartphone I don't care about getting filthy. One day soon I will pick up a cheap off brand tablet to stay in the kitchen so that I can have a bigger screen.

    1. yes, the recipe collection idea is one i use a lot. the super easy, super fast search of oneNote makes it nearly instantaneous to find a favorite recipe I've collected, faster than search the web for it. And the fast search means that it's not critical to remember where in the notebook i put it - oneNote finds it usually before I'm finished typing the search. i like your idea of using a spare old smart phone in the kitchen. .

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