Microsoft OneNote – The Hidden Gem for Effective Note Taking and Outlining

Are you thinking about taking your notes on your computer, but aren’t sure which application to use? Do you already have Microsoft Office installed on your computer? With Office comes Microsoft OneNote, easily one of the most flexible and powerful note-taking applications currently available. You take your notes on pages in a notebook which can be organized in section groups and sections. OneNote pages are like empty sketchpads which can contain anything anywhere. This includes normal text, handwriting, collapsible outlines, images, mathematical formulas, voice recordings, snippets of webpages, and even videos. Notebooks can be shared and accessed by multiple people at the same time, so you could, for example, have a whole project team simultaneously collaborating on a page from anywhere in the world.

I use OneNote in two different ways:
I print or scan documents to OneNote and annotate them with markers and margin notes in pretty much the same way I would do it on a sheet of paper. In addition, I tag notes as questions, important points, tasks, ideas etc. These tags can in a later step be used to create summaries of issues to be clarified, follow up tasks, or to distil the important information from notes on multiple pages in one summary document. Probably the most overlooked feature in OneNote is its outlining function. Outlining is a very effective method to create hierarchical summaries of complex documents. It is also widely used to create the scaffolding for projects such as articles, web pages, business plans, or even complete books.

OneNote allows you to create such outlines with ease and allows you to subsume information under headings and subheadings which can be collapsed and expanded at will, so you only see the information you want to focus on at a given moment. Unlike in some other outlining applications, OneNote outlines can contain text and multimedia in headings and in the information subsumed under headings. You can even have headings with no text, but only images.
When doing research for a writing project, I start by creating a flat outline of the main points I want to cover. For each of the points, I might have to get information from multiple other sources. For each source, I create a subheading under the main point and paste the source information such as a snippet of a web page under this subheading. Along with the information, OneNote automatically pastes a link to the source, which allows me to always keep track of where I got a piece of information.

During my research, I often decide that I want to change the order of some of the headings or subheadings in my outline. This is really a breeze with OneNote: You just drag a heading or subheading to its new position in the outline. All information subsumed under a heading goes with the heading.

In this article, we merely scratched the surface on how you can effectively use OneNote for note-taking and outlining. For more information, please check my article below. I am confident that once you get the hook of how OneNote can simplify and speed up your work, you never want to live without it again.

Shahid Zargar is a technical expert, he has written technical blogs, manuals and reviews for many websites such as