Microsoft OneNote is part of the Office group of applications and is a frequently overlooked component that most Business Analysts and Project Managers should be paying a great deal of attention to. There are few applications that can have as big an impact that are “free” for your organization (assuming they are a Microsoft Office corporate license holder, as so many big organizations are). This is a brief introduction to OneNote that I put together for the other BA’s in my group in order to introduce them to OneNote.
Microsoft describes OneNote 2010 as “a digital notebook that provides a single place where you can gather all of your notes and information, with the added benefits of powerful search capabilities to find what you are looking for quickly, plus easy-to-use shared notebooks so you can manage information overload and work together with others more effectively.”
OneNote can store and organize:
- Video files
- Audio files
The Digital Filing Cabinet
Microsoft likes to say that OneNote uses a tabbed-notebook metaphor for its organization structure, but I find it easier to think of it with a filing cabinet metaphor.
On the left are the “drawers” of the filing cabinet. And there are an infinite number of them, each stored as its own separate file. Within each drawer are “folders”, which are represented by the tabs across the top. And within each folder, there are “pages” of information, which are on the right.
Like a real filing cabinet, as soon as you put something in OneNote it is saved automatically and every change you make is saved automatically. There is no “Save” button.
Also like a real filing cabinet, you can move items about easily just by “moving” them. Want to move a OneNote page from one folder to another? Just drag and drop. Move a folder from one “drawer” to another? Just drag and drop. Unlike real paper though, if you want to move text from one page to the next, it’s still just drag and drop.
The digital “pages” can also:
- Be set to have different background colors
- Display rule lines or not (and change the spacing of the lines if you want)
- Are of infinite size. You can keep adding and the page automatically expands horizontally or vertically as much as you need.
Pages within a folder can also have a hierarchy, and one page can have sub-pages (up to 3 total levels), just by grabbing an existing page tab and dragging it to the right slightly. The results looks like the image below.
If you need more working space, the “pages” and “drawers” columns can be reduced in size by grabbing the edges and dragging (just like a column border in Excel), or you can enable the “full page view” to hide them.
Another useful feature is the “Dock to Desktop” view. When you select this option OneNote is opened in a slim panel on the right side of your screen.
This panel is:
- In “always on top” mode so it remains visible
- Dynamically adjusts the width of other open windows so that they are not overlaid by OneNote.
- Automatically engages the “linked notes” feature where appropriate so that you can refer back to what you are taking notes on.
- You can adjust the width of the docked view by grabbing the inner edge with the mouse and dragging to the size you want.
This is very useful for easily taking notes when you are watching a presentation, reviewing a document, searching the web for information, or in other situations where having a persistent note page is useful. See below for an example of what this looks like.
To get rid of it, just change to the “Normal” view.
OneNote supports the idea of shared notebooks, with the data for the shared notebook being stored on a server shared folder, in SharePoint, or in SkyDrive. This feature lets multiple authors access a shared notebook at the same time. And since OneNote keeps a local copy of any shared notebooks (or drawers in my metaphor), you still have access to the information even if you don’t have a network connection.
Anytime someone edits to the pages and sections in the shared notebook, OneNote automatically synchronizes the changes (about every 10 minutes on SharePoint) so that the notebook is always up-to-date for everyone.
Needless to say, this can extremely useful on projects where you can created a shared notebook for core project team in which to store important notes, emails, links to resources, Linked Notes to documents, and other content that is useful to everyone on the team. And if you put the shared notebook on SharePoint, you can leverage all of SharePoint’s access controls to restrict visibility, restrict write access, and to ensure important information is always backed up to a network store while having a local copy on your machine.
OneNote includes a built in Search function that shows results as you type. It also has some built-in OCR features, so that your searches will include any text in images that the OCR capability can read. When you search the results are dynamically populated (more specific results as you add more characters) in a window like you see below.
- The search window includes different sections for recently picked search items, page or notebook titles that contain the term you are searching for, and pages that contain the term you are search for within their content.
- The term you are searching for is highlighted in the search results when it is part of the displayed information.
By default, OneNote searches in all Drawers / Notebooks, but if you click the down arrow to the right of the Search box before you start typing your search criteria, you can limit the search area.
The Search function will even search within audio files using language recognition BUT in order for the audio indexing to occur your computer must be on, OneNote must be open, and your system must be idle. If OneNote has not indexed your audio recording, it will not show in the search results.
OneNote includes a Tag feature where you can assign a tag to any block of text, image, or file. You can also assign some tags to hotkeys for quick assignment, or you can see the full list of available tags by selecting what you want to “tag” and right-clicking. If you don’t see a ready-made tag for what you want, you can create custom tags.
If you want to find content you have tagged, you can use the tag view to see a list of tags, select one, and have the corresponding “tagged” item highlighted in a note.
A good idea for a BA is to create custom “Business Need”, “Business Requirement”, “Constraint” and similar tags to use as you are capturing notes during elicitation. You can then quickly find these with the Tag View function.
In addition to “tags” OneNote supports “wiki” linking. This enables you to create a link on any page to any other folder, page, or block of content.
You can create a link to any page or folder by typing the name of the page or folder in double-brackets, like this: [[name]]. The result will look like a normal link you would see on a web page (bright blue, underlined text). When you click the link you are immediately taken to that page or folder within OneNote. When clicking a link the current view changes, it does not open another instance of OneNote.
If you want to create a link to a specific piece of content, such as an image or a block of text, select the content and right click. Then choose the “Copy Link to Paragraph” option shown below.
Then go to the page in OneNote where you want to insert the link and either left click in the location you want the link to appear and press Control-V (the normal Windows Paste key command); or right-click the location on the page where you want the link to appear and select the “Link …” option in the right-click menu. When you select the “Link…” option the following menu appears:
- Type the text you want displayed in the top input box.
- In the Address field, paste the location you just copied, or pick the specific notebook, folder, or page in the selection area.
- Click OK
Two additional things to be aware of for the link functionality is that:
- You can also open the Link input box by pressing Control-K on your keyboard.
- The Address field can also be a link to a web URL or to any file on your hard-drive or network share.
When used with Internet Explorer, Word or PowerPoint, OneNote 2010 supports a “Linked Notes” function when in the docked view mode. As you take notes based on the content of one of the specified applications, OneNote stores a reference to the particular web page, Word page, or PowerPoint slide you were on when you added the note. No need to remember to copy the URL or location where you saw the information, OneNote does that for you automatically.
If you want a more specific reference than the page level, you can also highlight specific text in Word or PowerPoint, then add a note in OneNote, and a pointer is stored to that specific text block.
The Linked Notes functionality is generally activated automatically when you are in the docked mode, but you can deliberately initiate a Linked Notes session on the “Review” ribbon menu.
To access the references in your linked notes, move your cursor over your page content and an icon is displayed to the left of any content that has a note link that will let you launch the referenced source and go directly to the linked page/text.
OneNote includes a “screen grab” function that is similar to SnagIt (without the powerful editing that SnagIt offers). When OneNote is open, you can press with ‘Window Key + S’ combination to initiate a screen grab (or select the “Screen Clipping” icon on the Insert menu of OneNote. It’s important to note that the screen grab is ONLY for the last window that was accessed before OneNote. So if you want to capture part of a web page, select your browser with that page open first, then OneNote, and then activate the screen grab function.
Onenote will then insert the image at your cursor location in a OneNote page. If you activated the function without having an active cursor in a page, OneNote will give you menu to select the folder and page you want to insert the image into.
If you find you want just the text from a screen grab, right-click the image and select the ‘Copy Text from Picture’ option. Then paste where you want it.
See the two links below for more info:
NOTE: SnagIt is a LOT more capable than OneNote in this area and I highly recommend it, but this works for many needs.
OneNote includes a built-in recording function that records audio from your computer microphone, an attached microphone, or your headset (good for dictation). Just click in the empty area of a note page and click the Record Audio or Video buttons.
The recording is saved in OneNote as a discreet audio file (so you can save it out to a folder location).
To play back a recording, go to that note page and there will be a “Playback” menu option.
One really great feature is that as you take notes while recording audio into OneNote or while listening to an existing recording in OneNote, it associates that text note to the particular spot in the audio file that is being recorded or played back.
If you then click the “See Playback” option, as you move the cursor over the notes you took during the playback, there will be a “Play” icon to the left that lets you go directly to that part of the audio file when you took that note.
OneNote will also integrate with Outlook. There will be a “OneNote” button on the Home ribbon of Outlook 2010. Clicking this button will send the current email to OneNote as a note page. The note will include all information (including attachments) that were part of the email.
This feature is great if you want to save critical emails to your project notebook in OneNote. You can also click a button in OneNote to export a page to Outlook as a new email.
Outlook Task Integration
OneNote includes the ability to create a task in Outlook just by right-clicking within a note. For example, if you are taking notes and want to set a task to follow up on something you wrote, just select that text, right click, choose Outlook Tasks, and choose the time frame for the task.
Integration with IE
Another nice integration feature is that OneNote adds a “Send to OneNote” to most of your right-click menus in IE. This is useful if you want to capture text or an image from some source and store it in OneNote. And when you send from IE to OneNote, it captures the URL that you got the information from as well
For example, this is the URL info that was inserted when I sent the web page below to OneNote: “Inserted from <http://www.betterprojects.net/2008/08/what-is-project-scope-what-should-it-be.html>”
OneNote includes the ability to directly access the Microsoft Translation Services. Any text you want translated should be on a OneNote page. Just highlight the text, then right-click, and select “Translate”.
Once you have selected the “Translate” right-click option, a translation bar appears to the right on the OneNote view.
- Select the language you are translating from, then select the language you are translating to (note, a much smaller set)
- The translated text appears under the “Microsoft Translator” header. If you want to insert the translated text into OneNote, place your cursor where you want the text then click the “Insert” button.
- Note, it’s not great translation, but it’s a good start.
There are numerous templates available for download from Microsoft that will pre-design a note page for you. Or even an entire Notebook. One example is the Project template that includes:
- Different folders for:
- Project Review
- Planning & Tracking
- Phone Calls
- Meeting Minutes
- Each folder contains templates for different note pages that document different activities
- Find them here: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/results.aspx?qu=onenote&av=zsc140&queryid=fba79c46%2D4738%2D4d36%2D9453%2D8ec13a2378e3
- You can store audio or video files in OneNote that aren’t recorded directly in OneNote. If you record a Meetingplace meeting, go ahead and download it and store it in your project Notebook.
- If you are meeting away from your computer, a digital voice recorder that lets you export to an audio file can also be used and imported into OneNote.
- You can use a shared OneNote notebook among the project team to store information (contact info, critical emails, audio recordings of meetings, etc). You can share this on the project SharePoint site and use SharePoint permissions to limit who can access it.
- You can use Linked Notes to provide feedback on a document without having to worry whether track changes is on or not. You can use this with shared notebook (above) if you want to provide feedback (or raise questions) about a document that only the project team can see.
- Download the official OneNote 2010 Product Guide (good intro) here (the other Office 2010 Product Guides are also here): http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=5829
- Official OneNote Blog at Microsoft: http://blogs.office.com/b/microsoft-onenote/
- Getting started with OneNote 2010: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote-help/getting-started-with-onenote-2010-HA010370233.aspx
- Take linked notes in OneNote 2010: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote-help/take-linked-notes-in-onenote-2010-HA010388533.aspx?CTT=1
- OneNote and PowerPoint: Better together! http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote-help/onenote-and-powerpoint-better-together-HA010231452.aspx?CTT=1
- Use Note Tags and Search to keep track of your notes: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote-help/use-note-tags-and-search-to-keep-track-of-your-notes-RZ010355809.aspx?CTT=1
- Better together: Word and OneNote: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote/better-together-word-and-onenote-HA102737477.aspx?CTT=1
- David Rasmussen’s Blog (mostly OneNote stuff): http://blogs.msdn.com/b/david_rasmussen/