The Microsoft MVP Award Program Blog

Independent Experts. Real World Answers.

The Microsoft MVP Award Program Blog

Independent Experts. Real World Answers.

MVPs for Office and SharePoint 2010:10 Tips for OneNote Organization

MVPs for Office and SharePoint 2010:10 Tips for OneNote Organization

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Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by MVP Kathy Jacobs as part of the MVP Award Program Blog's "MVPs for Office and SharePoint 2010" series. Kathy Jacobs is a Social Media Geek. She spends her life online. Her notebooks are full of social media sites, blog posts, travel information, job search resources, recipes, and much more. You can find her online almost anywhere as “CallKathy.”

OneNote is wonderful. You can put everything in it.  You probably do. The only problem? Once you put things on to the page, how do you find the stuff again?  OneNote offers a number of different ways to organize your notes so that you can find them again. There are 10 OneNote features that you can use to help you organize notes that you already have in your notebooks, as well as the new notes you want to add.

1. Create the notebooks you need as well as the ones you think you might need.

I have notebooks for personal stuff, for work, and for volunteer projects. I create a notebook for each client we work with in our business. I create a new notebook for any conference or event I work on or attend. I believe that you can't have too many notebooks. A notebook with nothing in it is just an empty folder on your hard drive. 

2. Create your notebooks where you are most likely to need them.

I don't keep most of my notebooks in the default location (My Notebooks in My Documents). Instead, I keep them on an external drive. This lets me access the content from any computer. Storing them externally also means that my partner has access to the notebooks even when my computer isn’t available.

To create a notebook somewhere other than your hard drive, use File--New. Click the Browse button to find the place you want your notebook to be stored.

Tip: I have a folder on my network drive called "OneNote Notebooks". This folder contains all of my notebooks. This way, my partner knows where to look for notebooks and doesn't have to guess where to look.

3. Set your default notebook location in OneNote to the network folder where you store your notebooks.

By doing this, you save yourself from having to remember where your notebooks are located. To set the default location, go to File--> Options, and select Save & Backup.

Change the Default Network Location to the same location where you created your notebook.

4. Organize your notes the way you think.

Do you think about projects by location? By client? By subject? By date? By person? However you think, that is how you should organize your notes.

A good friend of mine is teacher and a chronological thinker. She has a notebook for each month which contains sections for each week. Inside each section, she creates a new page for every day.  She also keeps a set of non-chronological notebook that contains information that she needs all the time.

Another friend builds a notebook for each client she works with, along with a personal notebook. Inside each client notebook, she has sections for the projects she does with them.

A teacher I know has one notebook for each class she has ever taught. When she teaches the class a second time, all she needs to do is create a new section for the class and link to any of the existing content she has already created.

I tend to have a mix of chronological and functional notebooks. I have one for each client I have ever worked with, as well as one for each former employer. I have a few "Catch all" notebooks, including a pair of family notebooks. Inside one of the family notebooks, I have sections for job search information which contain every cover letter I or my husband have ever sent.

5. Move your note pages to where they belong.

Moving a page of notes from one section to another in OneNote can be done in two ways:

Click the page tab and drag it to the section where you want it. If the section is in the same notebook, drag it to the section tab at the top of your notes. If you need to put them in a section in a different notebook, expand the section list in the notebooks list at the right of your page and drag the page tab there.

Right click the page tab and select "Move or Copy". In the list of notebooks and sections on the dialog box, select the section where you want the notes to end up. Click the Move button to move your notebook. If you want to make a copy of your notebook, click the copy button. (I tend not to use copy - I like to have only one copy of my notes. It makes them easier to find and use.)

6. Tag your notes intelligently.

On the Home tab, you have a list of tags. Use them. Tag everything. You can mark each note with more than one tag at a time. (And I frequently do.) Create custom tags for different projects, phases, people, and activities. Create your own tags, so that you can tag your notes the way you think instead of the way someone else does.

To create your custom tags, click the bottom arrow on the gallery of tags. At the bottom of the list of tags, you will see "Customize tags". Clicking this will bring up a task pane that allows you to modify the existing tags or to create your own tags.

I have a notebook of recipes in my note collection. The recipe titles are tagged with indicators of what kind of recipe they are (breakfast, lunch, dinner, Dutch oven, bake, fry, etc.). In addition, certain ingredients in the recipe lists are tagged. This allows me to create lists of recipes with certain ingredients as well as those that use certain techniques.

 7. Organize your tags.

Once you have created custom tags, keep in mind that you can apply the first nine tags in your list by using the control key. If you are going to be working on a set of notes, move the tags for those notes to the top of the list. To move the tags, bring the customize pane and use the arrows to change the order of the tags.

8. Remember that even if you can't find a note, OneNote can.

You can search for your notes either by the tags you have applied to them or by the content of the notes.

To find notes by the tags, click the "Find Tags" button in the Home tab. This will bring up a task pane with a summary of your tagged notes. You can order the search results by tag name, note location, or by date tagged. (You can also order them by note text, but I don't find that option as useful.) By default, the tag summary will include all tagged notes in all notebooks. You can scope that down by either date or location.

To find our notes by content, click in the "Search All Notebooks" box. (You can find this box just above the list of pages in your section.) As you type, OneNote will provide a summary of the pages with your phrase in the title as well as a summary of the pages with your phrase in the contents of the page. Don't want to search all your notebooks for your content? Click the drop down arrow to the right of the search box. You can select the scope you desire from a list.

9. Title your pages for future reference.

While it is tempting to not title your notes, you will find it worth your time to create titles that mean something. I know how tempting it can be to create a page and just let OneNote create the title from the first line of content on the page. The problem is that if you add notes to the top of the page, your page title will change.

Since OneNote 2010 lets you search for page titles as well as page content, putting a descriptive title on your pages will help you stay better organized.

10. Link your notes. To each other. To other documents. To the web.

OneNote has many options for linking notes to each other. From wiki linking to explicit links to URL style links, linking your notes together allows you to keep one copy of information but still reference it from multiple sections or notebooks.

If you know the title of a page of notes, you can create an automatic link to the other page with wiki linking. To create these links, simply enclose the title text in square brackets. If you don't already have a page with that title, OneNote will create one for you.

If your brain works better with hyperlink style links, you can create URL style links between your notes. Start by selecting the link you want to link to. Once it is selected, right click and select "Copy Link to Paragraph". Now move to the page where you want the link to reside. Select the text to be linked and press Ctrl-K on your keyboard. Click in the address field, paste the address, click OK. Boom - linked content.

Linking to content from the web is just as easy. As long as you have the URL in your clipboard, you can paste it in just like the internal links. If you want to type the link in to the address field, that works too.

Want to link from your other Office files to your notes? Dock OneNote to the right of your desktop using View --> Dock to Desktop. Work away in the other Office products as you normally would. When you want to make a note about something you are working on, click the Review--> Linked Notes button in your Office 2010 application to create your notes. You will be prompted for the page to contain your notes. As you take notes, a new icon will appear to the left of your content that links you directly to the location in your work where you were when you took the note.

  • Love the tip about wiki-stye linking.  Still a die-hard Ecco fan (I have my pet stego hooked to a treamill to run it) but will point Herself at this and One Note.  I think she'll like it.  Keep 'em coming, Kathy!

  • Thanks for sharing this type of information to get updates...Nice postings..!!!

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