What is it?

Even in this modern, digital age, I still get a lot of paper-based information through the letterbox. To keep from drowning in it, I do like to be organised (to a degree). I have ring-binders with Bank and Credit Card Statements in them. Others containing letters and offers. There is a folder with handwritten notes in it about the “New Garden Shed” project.  Maybe it is an age thing, but I just feel more comfortable doing it that way.

However, I’m a computer person as well.  I’ve been tracking my Bank Statement in an Excel spreadsheet for years (it does do negative numbers!).  Excel is very structured; its rows and columns layout is well suited to storing financial transactions.

The file of information about the shed isn’t structured at all, so finding things is tricky.  I could type it all into a Word document, but the layout would be too formal.

This is where Microsoft OneNote could come in useful.

The program has been designed as an electronic version of a tabbed ring binder.

OneNote A


You can create as many Notebooks as you like.   Just like the many different ring-binders you would have on the shelf at home, each Notebook can contain all the information about a particular topic.

Each Notebook can contain Sections.  These are the direct equivalent of the tabs inside your ring binders (in the Bank Statements Notebook you might have one Section for the January info, one for February, and so on).

Pages are where the actual entries go.  A Section can have as many Pages as you choose.

What sets OneNote apart from the other Microsoft programs is that the layout is completely free-form.  There is no rigid structure that you have to follow.  If you want to enter some text on the Page, just click anywhere and begin to type.

When I say “page”, I’m conditioned to think of sheets of A4 paper. OneNote isn’t like that.  Its Pages can be as wide or as long as you want.  If your typed entry goes off the edge of current area, the program just extends it.

What can I put in a OneNote Page?

Just about anything:

OneNote B


In this illustration I added:

  • A Textbox with free-flowing prose (I pressed Enter to start each new line)
  • A Bulleted List
  • A Table
  • A JPEG picture file
  • An Excel spreadsheet
  • A Screen-clip of my desktop wallpaper

To position those objects on the Page, I just dragged them to the desired location.  Another nice touch is that the program saves everything for you as it is going along.  There isn’t a File / Save command.  OneNote just takes care of it for you automatically.

Where can I Save my OneNote Notebooks?

Just about anywhere:

OneNote D


An old fogey like me is still more comfortable saving information to a local drive on my computer – or a network drive on our server.  That way, I know the data is secure.  Yes, those computers may develop a fault, but I’ve been around – I take backups !

These days we are encouraged to save to “The Cloud” – which is like file storage in the sky.  The argument is that we can get at our data from anywhere, we can share it easily with friends/colleagues, and we can get at it from more than one device.

To that end, OneNote can save to:

  • Local Hard drive
  • A personal OneDrive account
  • A Network drive
  • A OneDrive for Business account
  • A SharePoint site

[Note that the first two can be used with the free version of OneNote, but the last three need the paid premium version]

Which Devices can I use to access my Notebooks?

Just about any of them – (are you seeing a pattern here?)


When you are using the Windows PC version of OneNote, you get absolutely all the bells and whistles., including deep integration with Microsoft Office.  If you have a Windows Phone, OneNote comes pre-installed.

Prefer working on a Mac?  Microsoft released OneNote for the Mac in early 2015.  It looks very similar to the Window’s version, but has fewer tabs in its Ribbon, so not all the fancy features are available.

Own a Smartphone or Tablet?  There are apps for both Apple ioS and Andriod.

Office Online will let you work on your Notebooks through virtually any web browser.

Synchronise between your Devices

This is the bit that might turn me into a lover of The Cloud after all !

So I’m down at my local DIY superstore (let’s call it A&P) as part of “The Garden Shed” project.  I’m looking for just the right security lock for the door and can’t decide which is the best.  Out comes the Smartphone so I can take photos of the contenders and drop them into the Notebook (which is stored in The Cloud).

Back at home that evening, I open the same Notebook on my desktop PC and magically those pictures are there !
[with a bit more thought, I’m sure I could have come up with a business based example, but you get the idea]
I can now make a considered decision (with the help of higher authority).

This ability to collect just about any material, in just about any format, on just about any device – and put it together in a semi-structured way, is what gives OneNote its power.

 To-Do Lists and other Tags

Even though each Page can have a free-form layout, your Notebooks can be a little more organised.

OneNote has a set of Tags which you can use to mark items of special interest.

OneNote F


In this illustration I set-up a To-Do List.  You can add one using the [Home] tab in the Ribbon (although the keyboard short-cut Ctrl+1 is nifty).  I also added two Idea tags and an Important one.

There are many more pre-set Tags like these.  You can even create your own; there are over a hundred symbols to choose from.  Then use the Find Tags button to see all you Tags in one panel.

Use a Page Template

Don’t want to spent time laying out the page?  There are several Page Templates, spread over different categories that you can use (these are available from version 2013 onwards).

OneNote G


The one shown here is Detailed Meeting Notes from the Business category.  however, if none of the supplied Templates suit, you can create a layout of your own and save it as a Template.

Give it a Try

OneNote is one of those programs that is on most people’s computers, but rarely gets used.  They had Microsoft Office installed and it came as part of the package.

It is powerful, capable and quite easy to master.  It could help to sort out all those post-it notes and scraps of paper and keep together them in one place.

Give it a try and let me know what think – info@base2.co.uk