More on OneNote

imageLast time I told you a little bit about OneNote, the virtual notebook system from Microsoft and how AWESOME it is. Today I’m going to continue running down some of the features of the system for you.

My wife is the resident expert on this one, but I got some sound information from her.

Specifically for writing, however, this system is incredibly versatile and wonderfully constructed to ensure you can add anything you need to the notebook so you have it right at your disposal.


Fiction writing can become a snap, especially if you’re able to plan your novel out using an outline or a story-structure methodology. ON has a tabbed interface which is roughly analogous to the sections of a notebook you might get at a stationery store, or the way you’d divide up a three-ring binder. Those tabs each have pages, just like pages in a loose-leaf notebook would, and you can add and remove pages as you see fit.

I told you all that already, but how this applies to writing fiction can only be determined by you. I like the idea of those tabs being different aspects of the background of the book. As you know, I do some non-fiction writing and for me, those tabs can be places for me to store information about my subject matter, a place where I can put the rough draft (though I’d do the actual writing in Word, not ON), a place to work up different chapter ideas and expand on those or contract them. Adding and removing pages from a tabbed section is as easy as right-clicking and selecting the appropriate option from the context menu.

Oh, and as long as I’m working in ON, I can LINK to my Word document so all I have to do is click the link and open the draft, chapter, scene…whatever it happens to be. Then I start typing in Word and don’t have to leave ON to do it. How’s THAT for sharp?

Adding tabs is just as easy. I may find an ancillary topic touches on what I’m writing about, so I can take those things and store them in their own tab. And I can drag those tabs around in the notebook so they’re anywhere I want them to be, order-wise.

imageBut it’s able to do more than that, too. Entire web pages can be stored and linked right in the notebook. You can surf the web and add something to a notebook directly from the browser too. Internet Explorer (obviously) has this capability built-in, but there are add-ons for both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

Now, I normally steer you all away from Microsoft products because they tend to be pricey and their licensing practices suck, not to put too fine a point on it. But in this instance, I’ve done a couple of searches for open-source or free alternatives to OneNote, and I came up with squat. Nada. Nothing I’m comfortable recommending, and to be honest, I can’t see how some of those software packages ever got “recommended” to be substitutes for ON. Students who have become dependent on the software for their schoolwork can attest, nothing else comes close. Nothing.

That being said, ON offers a couple of other features I thought you might like to know about.

For one thing, if you have a microphone hooked to your computer, you can record your ideas and any brief snippets of thought into OneNote directly. It also will store video, so if there’s a great little piece of video you’ve either shot yourself or found on the web you can add it directly to the notebook and have it there with the rest of your information.

For me, that recording thing is a boon. I can get up in the middle of the night, record an idea for a book or story and go back to bed without having to do anything but wake up my computer. If an idea strikes me in the middle of doing something else, same deal – just record the snippet and come back to it later to do a full-on write up or exposition on that snippet.

I’m not a video guy, so that won’t like be of much use to me, but a lot of you might be able to cobble together a “book trailer” (which still sounds like an oxymoron to me – VIDEO to sell something you have to READ?) by collecting ideas from other sources and storing them in OneNote.

But those features aren’t even the primary reason the software was created. You can collaborate on this thing like nobody’s business.

imageMy wife and I just began work on our next non-fiction outing. She suggested OneNote as the primary platform to work in and I bristled. It was an added step. I can’t send the editor a ON notebook, I have to send them a .doc file. So now I have to move everything from Word to OneNote and BACK again to do this? It didn’t sit well with me.

But she shared the notebook across our homegroup and we worked in it simultaneously. I could add information and change text, stop editing, and a few seconds later she’d see the changes. While I did that, she could add pictures or link to information on the web, or work in another tab, even add and remove tabs or pages to tabs and I’d see them within a few seconds of the synchronization process.


Really great, because she’s also my first-reader for fiction. I can have a notebook for each of my fiction ideas and share those notebooks with her, then develop them and she can provide feedback and comments or make any corrections she sees they need, right in the notebook, all without having to move to my computer or my having to email her the file.


Once I’m finished with the edits, I can easily – and I do mean easily – export to Word or any number of other file formats, and I can even have OneNote produce a PDF file. This is going to make prep work for eBook publishing even easier!


So far, OneNote is proving to be one of the more undervalued, under-hyped packages in the Microsoft Office Suite arsenal. I really think MS should be doing more to get the word out about how powerful this thing is, get some non-student support for it, and get the collaboration features pimped. This is one great tool, and if you can get hold of it, you should.



2 thoughts on “More on OneNote

  1. I am way too sleepy to comment properly. But you’ve sold me on OneNote. Not that I can get it right this minute.

    I can see why you’ve gotten jobs writing the tech stuff. For me anyway you make that tech stuff seem simple and clear.

    Comes from a long career of writing instructions for people who don’t know sh!t from Shinola.

    It is also nice to hear of Microsoft getting something right.

    Yeah, in my opinion they’d get a LOT of stuff “right” if they’d back off their stupid licensing practices and make their crap more affordable. It’s a pretty simple formula, really, and there is NOTHING which matches this product of theirs.

  2. Sounds really impressive for serious writers. Great review.

    Thanks Delaney. 🙂 I think it’s a good tool for budding writers too, but yes, serious ones will benefit from it for sure!

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