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Resource: Electronic notetaking and using MS OneNoteTM

Prepared by Helen Palmer (June 2011)

Da Vinci and Edison kept notebooks. They captured their thoughts, observations and ideas. They wrote, they drew. They were prolific!  

Note-taking is a great habit for knowledge workers. Now we have electronic tools for quality prolific note-taking; tools with smart features to aid in flexible organising and discovering of the notes taken. I adopted MS OneNote a few years ago, and can't imagine life now without electronic note-taking. Electronic note-taking is even more integral to my life with the addition of a tablet laptop with which I can draw and handwrite notes, when typing is undesirable or limiting.

This resource explains some of my note-taking activities; features I value in MS OneNote to support those activities; and rules-of-thumb for how I have structured and organised my notes.

A. My note taking practice

B. Key features of MS OneNote
C. Organising and structuring notebooks

A. My note taking practice

I have kept note books over the past 30 years. My notebooks contained lists I of things I wanted, observed or planned to do; quotes, songs or poetry I collected; reflections on about books I read, movies I watched or presentations I attended; and other musings about life as I saw it.

I now have 10+ electronic notebooks covering personal and professional aspects of my life. Notebooks for my poetry, my home projects, my university course, my vocational musings, my company development, my client's projects, books I've read, collections of quotes I like. I've even transcribed some of my handwritten notebooks into electronic form.

Note taking scenarios

B. Key features of MS OneNote

B1. My top seven features (in no particular order)

  1. Tag items with preset or custom-defined tags that can be discovered in batches of same-tags.
  2. Insert documents as 'printouts' that can be annotated on or against: either with typed text, or with tablet inking feature to literally highlight words or include handwritten notes. Depending on the original document format, can search for text within the inserted 'printout'.
  3. Don't ever need to save - it's automatic. I can focus on the flow of what I'm writing and typing without having to interrupt myself to do the Save action. Particularly useful when taking notes in meetings, and the flow of note-taking needs to keep pace with the flow of the meeting/session.
  4. A single notebook tool that captures note taking regardless of whether it's personal or professional content. Only need to learn one tool (and its features) and can apply the tool in multiple scenarios for all note-taking needs.
  5. Place text easily on any part of the page, to add ancillary notes to other content. Text is in boxes that can be dragged around and formatted separately from text in other boxes. I don't have to confirm to linear sequential layout.
  6. Set-up notebooks to be shared with another computer, and when networked to other computer - there is automatic synchronisation in both directions to update notebooks. For me, this supports mobility with notebooks on laptop, and provides security with an automatic duplicate copy managed on main desktop computer.
  7. Flexible organisation with multiple notebooks, which have sections or section groups, which have time-stamped pages (can even backdate the time stamp if it's important).

B2. Other features of value (in no particular order)

C. Organising and structuring notebooks

C1. Mapping your notes to notebook elements

MS OneNote provides a number of structural elements for note-taking. In order of hierarchy: Notebook, Section Group, Section, Page, Sub-page, Text Box.

Here are examples of the structure I have used to organise the contents of some of my notebooks.



Group (s)




Store completed poems and feedback on poems.  Working space for ideas for poems and poems in development.


'Completed poems'
'WIP poems'

(per poem)
(per response)


Working space for ideas and plans for home improvements.
Store reference material to guide decisions about home projects.



(per aspect)


Store reflections on books and movies, lists of things (i.e. books I want to read), collections of quotes I like, collections of interesting words and definitions, etc


'Misc - Humour'

(per theme for quotes, humour, definitions)
(per book, movie)
(per aspect)


Store course materials. Working space for learning and assessment activities.


(per Course Unit)

'Reading: x'
'Presentation: x'
'Notes: x'
'Assessment: x'


Working space for ideas and plans for vocational development. Store reflections on work experiences. Store results from tests, testimonials and feedback.



(per aspect)

'Knowledge Dev'

Store collections of useful articles and resources. Working space for ideas and insights. Store collection of samples or exemplars of published work in the field.

(per field)  'Leadership' 'InfoMgmt'
'Change' 'Engagement'

'R&D for me'

'Article: x'
'Sample: x'
'Idea: x'
'Thoughts: x'

'RHX Group' (company)

Working space for ideas and plans for company development and business development. Store archival collection of promotional content.


'RHX Web'
'Internal Dev'
'External Dev'
'Product Dev'

'Next Actions'
'Reference: x'
'Notes: x'
'Activity: x'
'Idea: x'
'Research: x'

'Project XYZ'

Working space for project activities. Store collection of project related resources provided by client.  Initial store of record/business transaction details prior to formalisation in other documents, e.g. invoice, contract.


(per stage of project)

'Notes: Talk with x'
'Next Actions'
'Meeting: x'
'To Talk with x'
'Idea: x'
'Activity Plan: x'

C2. Tagging content within pages

Tagging is a way to consistently highlight meaningful paragraphs of content within a page. Tags can also be given to the titles of a page. Multiple tags can be assigned to the same content.

I use these predefined tags:

I have created some custom tags. Listed below with details about the associated symbol and purpose.
All Purpose

Applied specifically to Client Projects

C3. Conventions for organising and naming pages and section

I have some conventions as to how I name and organise pages and sections to provide common logical structure to my notes.

Pages within sections in Notebook

A. I prefix titles of pages with the following key words: Notes, Sample, Article, Activity, Idea, Reading, Presentation, Thoughts. For example:

B. I create key pages in some notebooks as focal points for my attention. For example:

Special Notebook with Section Groups and Sections

I have a special notebook called 'Knowledge Development' which is a collection of various knowledge areas in which I am developing and acquiring knowledge. Each Section Group, has the same Section headings: Articles+References, Samples, R&D for me (includes my own ideas).

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