Setting up your OneNote notebook

A discussion I had today reminded me of a design conundrum we went through with OneNote when we were preparing it for first release. A guy I was talking to today said that he thought (for his web site storage product) it would be lame to put example folders on the site to try to show how to use it, since nearly everyone would actually want something different and unique to themselves. So he wanted to go with a generic, empty space and help text right there to explain that you can make folders as needed to suit your organizational needs.

Funnily enough, we had the same discussion for OneNote back in early 2003 – what should appear when you first start the application? In one camp were the purists who said that the simplest starter set of sections that nearly every user would need would be the best. To support this, they pointed to lots of anecdotes from users complaining that pre-populated spaces really bothered them, since they had to delete what was there. This wasn’t just a hassle – some people had even said that they felt “their” space was violated – that a brand new product should not look like it had been used by someone else. The other camp said that if we just put a reasonable generic sample out there it would do more good than harm. We decided to test the theories.

Some data supporting the purists came when we experimented with instructional or example content for the proposed sample sections. For example, not only were we going to have a sample section called “Meeting”, the sample “Meeting” section was going to have a first page that showed how you could take meeting notes in OneNote. We had the same for several other samples. In tests, people said this really bothered them since their notes seemed “polluted’ by someone else’s stuff – even if they knew it was instructions meant for them. Personally I had been a big fan of using the pages of the starting notebook to try to explain the product, but somehow we couldn’t get the instructions in there in a way that didn’t freak out a significant fraction of users.

So we shipped the first release, with just two sample sections: General, and Meetings. We felt nearly everyone would need or at least accept “General”. There were some who wanted to delete “Meetings”, since some people (maybe students especially) don’t go to things called “meetings”. But the rest of us felt that having two was important to show that you could have more than one (duh).

One of the top pieces of feedback we got from the initial release was people asking “How to I organize my notes with this?”. Since we had provided no guidance, people started out all sorts of ways. Some people just added pages one after another in a single section and relied on subpages to get some structure. Others just added sections with only one maybe two pages, since each section was an event for them such as an interview. A handful started going nuts with folders. Still others decided to make a section for each week of the year, since they were used to daytimers. (aside: although organizing by time is familiar to paper users since it is more or less forced on you by the medium, it is actually one of the weakest ways to organize since as the amount of notes grow your ability to remember when you wrote something relative to something else goes way down. A calendar underneath helps but on a computer it is better to organize by topic or person or some other category – you can always view your notes by time using View/Page list if you need to find something that way and search is not working for you)

For our SP1 release we decided to be more bold. We couldn’t do anything terribly slick such as let people choose from a set of notebooks due to limited development budget, but we resolved to be more aggressive with the sample notebook. Now when you start OneNote you get a set of sections with folders to show how you can organize projects, courses, your home stuff, as well as a place to store old things you don’t want to see but don’t want to delete. It is still generic, but at least it indicates how we intended you to use the product – what sort of thing sections should be used for and so on. etc. We also jammed in a “helpful tips” section (I insisted) because it seemed like we kept getting the same questions over and over again, and maybe providing these tips in the application itself would supplement our help web site. The sample notebook has really helped reduce confusion, although we can still get a lot better in this area. Sometimes too much flexibility can be a problem and people can use some guidance.

Another common topic related to this is the concept of “piler” vs. “filer”. These are two poles of note management. A “piler” is someone who just puts everything they get into a big stack. They rely on memory of roughly how far down the stack something probably is when they go to find it. Finding things this way is not particularly efficient particularly as your stack gets big, but the upfront cost is nil which is appealing to many (including me). A “filer” is someone who puts notes away by category until everything is in its proper place. Assigning categories to everything is a chore and hard to remember to do consistently, but it pays off when you need to find things since it is easier to pull them out of a filed set of notes. We actually did some research on this to see where the general population is on this topic. As with most things concerning personal organization, things are spread: about 15% pile, 15% file, and a whopping 70% pile first and file later when they get a chance.

We wondered if this behaviour would change if notes were electronic and things like searching were super-quick. Result: not really. Search is rarely used among our users. 85% of people put things where they would go look for them later so they don’t report any trouble finding them, and no need for search. A few others (the heavy note taking pilers) do rely on search, but the nature of people is not changing (yet). Will it? Hard to say, since even with instant search it is faster to click a topic title (section) and then a page title than it is to type a search term, then wade through what might be several hits to get the one you want if your term was not unique to the page. Things are different when you are talking about your own notes vs. say, the entire internet.

So, how about some example ways to organize your notebook? I was going to write a lot on this topic, but I saw that our web site has beaten me to the punch. There is actually a whole set of example notebooks up there, organized by profession. Check it out. If you don’t fit any category, just pick one that looks like it might be similar – the structure is probably a good match. You have to drill through a bit to get to the actual samples. Here’s one for students for example.

For reference, I’ve discussed before how I use OneNote, and a lot of you responded with your own strategies: How do you use OneNote?

Ok, as usual – feedback shamelessly solicited.

Comments (32)

  1. Rob Stevens says:

    I’m setting up my OneNote like this:

    *One Folder for each class, with Sections for each major topic

    *Research Folder, with Sections for each research topic

    *Work Folder, with Sections for each project

    *Invidual pages as needed.

    I found that when I first started using Thunderbird’s RSS aggregator, I quickly got lost in all the posts. When I burned it to the ground and started over again, I got smart and made a lot of folders to keep me organized, and it’s really helped. I vowed to not make that same mistake with OneNote, and I think it’ll pay off. I’m certainly a "piler" by nature (take a look at my office!) but a little extra time spent organizing Thunderbird has shown me the advantages of being a "filer"!

    I’m still trying to find a suitable replacement for 4.0 Student, though … and while I’m seeing some interesting options, nothing is really jumping out at me. (Hint, Hint!)

  2. Adam Young says:

    I use OneNote a *lot*. I use it to organise research for a novel and also as a big scrapbook. I don’t use it for IT-related stuff as much, these days though, and I’ve never used it in work to organise meeting notes or work.

    By including a "Meetings" section, you seem to be aiming this at corporate users. I can imagine if I were a regular non-corporate user I’d be a little confused by this. Most of them will see OneNote as a kind of electronic scrap book… (apparently scrapbooking has suddenly become a big craze the last couple of years – maybe you should target this user base?).

    Organisation is important to me, but I still feel as if OneNote restricts me in some ways. The folder-based approach is nice, but it’s not easy to get full visibility of folders – when you navigate down it’s a bit confusing as to how you get back up (the little "navigate up" icon isn’t clear), and it would be good to have a more permanent folder view (like the treeview in Win Explorer). Make folders as simple to use as tabs and sections.

    In terms of illustrating how to use OneNote, I deleted your sample sections, and I agree that this isn’t the way to go. What about having a Wizard pop up at first startup, that gives a tour of the product? Might be useful, especially if users have notes stored in other documents (emails, photos, txt and docs) that they want to consolidate, and a wizard might help them do this, as well as giving them tips on how to organise everything.

  3. Chris:

    I still think OneNote is one of the best things to happen to personal productivity since the spreadsheet, and it’s too bad that more people haven’t embraced it— it’s kinda like skiing down a really steep run… it takes a little courage, but once you push off, it’s a blast.

    I’ve used it for a long time (and been aware of it even longer), I’m noticing 2 things. First, I’ve found my life has 2 branches, Personal and Work, and this is reflected in my folder structure— from there, my notebook branches out wildly. Second, given the depth and breadth of my notebook, I couldn’t live without search and note flags. If you think it’s possible, I seem to be a cross between your "filer" and "piler".

    Perhaps my biggest wish would be a richer way to reorganize my notebook… maybe something a little bit like Favorites Organizer in IE only better.

    Also, regarding Group Pages: Great feature— I use it a lot but it sure would be nice if we could collapse the group.



  4. I was a faithful user of OneNote at work until my pc was reformatted and updated. Not a problem as I had my OneNote stuff stored on a network drive.

    when i reinstalled OneNote all the old stuff was there *except* for my individual Note tags. That was the last straw.

    I switched to EverNote and like that better.


  5. Andy Y. Lin says:

    I’m definitely a filer, but I do use search when I’m looking for something. That’s why the new ink system is very important for me; it makes the inking drawings and text, and letting me search all of that, transparent.

    I think it’s important for the filer that OneNote folder and section manipulation also applies to any linked files. If I move a section or folder, I want all relative-linked files (e.g. <file.dat>) to be moved with the section, and absolute-linked files to remain in the same place (e.g. <file://c:file.dat>). This is a must when it comes to the filer personality. I hate it when I move something and it breaks all the links.

    This applies to recorded audio as well, which I recall doesn’t move with a section.

  6. FineJames says:

    I too, am an Evernote convert.

    Simple reason, folders is too outmoded man. I like the ability to tag notes better.

    You got me back if you tag now the new one, dude

  7. Jeff A says:

    I find it hard to believe that search isn’t used more often. I use the "Send to OneNote" button in IE all the time. I have tons of pages pulled from different sites in my OneNote.

    Months later I use search to find terms that I knew where on that page.

    I really wish the search feature was a little quicker

  8. Jeff Singfiel says:

    I’ve been using Onenote for various things, including for my Getting Things Done system. I have one whole folder called GTD. In that folder I have a "toolbox" section, with templates, weekly review list, etc. There is also a subfolder called "Projects" there. The first section is called "Summary" and the rest of the sections each containa a project. The Summary section contains a page with the names and hyperlinks (and no they’re not pretty, but they work) to every other Project/section. The second page in the Summary section contains a page of flags, catoagorized by each project (waiting fors, next actions, reminders, etc).

    I "send to onenote" all the pertinent email from a project, web clippings, etc. to it’s project page.

    I disagree that the folder/file thing is outmoded. I’m sure that WinFS will made this all radically different anyway, but I like being able to back up and move around sections, folder and stuff manually. I don’t want one large rollign piece of paper that is going to get enormous after a year or so.

    When a project is finished it’s moved to an Archive folder and it never has to be included in the search unless I want it to.

    Okay, enough said.

  9. Babble says:

    I am writing this using a free trial of OneNote I installed on my home computer.&amp;nbsp; Last week I chimed…

  10. Nicole Simon says:

    I am perfectly able to file – if the system allows me to structure them the way I need them.

    In case of Onenote, I came across several problems as I yesterday wanted to do some work in it:

    We have folders, register cards and tabs on those register cards with subtabs.

    Quick notice:

    I cannot move tabs up or down, as I would like them to be.

    I cannot collapse them on the sub tabs.

    Subtags are not indented but only have a different shape – but are in no other way differentiated.

    And i cannot redrag and drop them.

    That is wha tI would *like* to do but can’t. I ended up doing sub tabbing myself in calling the subtabs not a b c but "- a", "- b" etc.

    I am doing filing not in the way I would – as in different folders with tabs, but I noticed that I dislike the way I only can choose a folder by the drop down bar – and not by having a folder bar like in Explorer or Outlook.

    If I would have that, I would not only switch more often, but also drag and drop a whole lot more.

    As for the predefined folders – I do not remember if I was asked if I wanted folders or a clean version, but I ended up deleting them right away. HAving that choice (install yes / no) would be great, combined with a "if you don’t like it, go online and find another set of folders for you." Which of course would mean to slightly present the would be folders on the install screen.


  11. John Waller says:

    My wife, and her staff of 5, use OneNote to record lesson notes (all connected via a LAN) in a private singing school context.

    The .one files are on the server and each Studio (teaching room – four in total) has a PC running OneNote connected to the same Notebook on the server.

    The notebook (Lesson Records) on the server is arranged:


    Teacher’s Name


    Student’s Name

    Normally 1 student per teacher but we love that it’s easy to move a student’s lesson record to a relevant teacher’s folder if another teacher is filling in for the regular teacher.


    Record lesson notes. Lesson are provided in blocks of 10 weeks. One half hour lesson per week.

    We split each page into 10 lessons via simple dividers (inline dashed lines).

    Each block of 10 weeks of lessons get its own page under that Student’s section.


    never used (yet)


    Recently started using these to record song suggestions for our inhouse music library. Students or teachers often think of songs during lessons.

    They now jot these down in the Lesson Record and flag them.

    The Note Flag Summary page provides a useful overview (and shopping list!) of song suggestions.

    P.S. we’d love to be able to summarise the Flag Summary (is there a way?)

    e.g. 10 requests in the past 2 months for "Wake Up" by Hilary Duff etc 🙂

  12. Jeff Singfiel says:

    John, Note Flags Summary is a selection from the task pane (Ctrl-F1). You’ll find lots of options there for sorting your note flags, including a very handy "create summary page" button. Good stuff.

  13. J’adore ce logiciel Onenote, c’est vraiment un produit assez novateur que je conseille &#224; n’importe qui. C’est une des killer applications du TabletPC, mais c’est aussi tr&#232;s bien sur un PC portable ou un PC de bureau. Un des point fort de Onenote est de pouvoir organiser ses notes comme on le souhaite. Voici donc un excellent article de Chris Pratley, un des programmeur de Onenote sur l’organisation de votre Onenote. Pour ma part voici comme je m’organise, mais c’est…

  14. Varman says:

    I have been using OneNote for the last week. It’s a great product and I am only disappointed that I hadn’t learned about it before. HOwever, I think it would have been underutilized w/ a desktop or conventional notebook. I now have a X41 Tablet which works great w/ this program.

    I maninly have been using it for researching using PDF’s downloaded from various journals. I have a differnt folder for each topic and have notes on papers in each folder. I originally tried to print into OneNote using the OneNote image writer which was fast but created very spindly looking text. The Send to OneNote power toy was much better but a little slower. I also became concnerned about the size of the files and was dispapointed b/c I could not search through the PDF’s (as you can in GoBinder). I now simply use a PDF reader to take snapshots of points of interest and then paste those snapshots into Onenote. The Sidenote feature is helpful in this regard for stuff from the web.

    I can then drag a drop the file into OneNote to create a link to the file which would open in it’s original application.

    I can then summarize the findings of a group of papers as a very free form Mindmap (Can I post this… is the term trademaked by Buzan). This works better for me than complex programs like MindManager (which I am sure are great but have too steep of a learning curve to do the same things that I can do here rather easily).

    Overall, its a great product. I wish it could support PDF’s a little better (as GoBinder does). Other features that I would like are similar to ones that other users have mentioned… simple drawing tools, the ability to pan or zoom with a hand tool (as in Acrobat), the ability to creat hyperlinks with "friendly text" or hyperlinks to images (i.e. if I drag in a file, it would be great it just showed a PDF icon and the file name instead of the whole file path).

  15. says:

    OneNote scares me. I think the ink and the ability to easily ink and type in a single note is brilliant. It is quite an amazing feat.

    The problem is … OneNote isnt really all that useful. I wish it was.


    [quote]We actually did some research on this to see where the general population is on this topic. As with most things concerning personal organization, things are spread: about 15% pile, 15% file, and a whopping 70% pile first and file later when they get a chance."[quote]

    –> OneNote really forces you to file first. The hierarchy approach to things is like that.

    "Personally I had been a big fan of using the pages of the starting notebook to try to explain the product, but somehow we couldn’t get the instructions in there in a way that didn’t freak out a significant fraction of users."

    –> The vagueness of OneNote really does need some "Show the Users how to do it". As long as it is easily deletable (which it is). It certainly wouldn’t be hard upon installation to choose between a few different usage scenarios and that particular use could be installed as an example. Leave the option for "no example files".

    "Search is rarely used among our users. "

    –> that is because OneNote’s search function is anemic. NOT to mention that OneNote does really not integrate with a user’s existing files well. The only saving grace is that third party tools (ie. Google Desktop Search) will index .one files.

    From the Comments.

    "I switched to EverNote and like that better. "

    –> EverNote’s easy to use and POWERFUL categories feature make it a better information management tool. The Support of XML in EverNote is significant.

    OneNote needs four things *DESPERATELY*

    1) VBA and LOTS of plugins.

    2) EverNote-like Categories

    3) Better integration with existing user files.

    4) Better integration with Office.

    I also feel that waiting for Office 12 before upgrading OneNote is an extraordinarily long time.

  16. Nicole: you can drag pages up and down in the stack by first dragging them left or right "out" the stack, then up or down. Or use Alt-Shift-UP/DOWN arrow

    EMRHelp: OneNote doesn’t force you to file first. For example, I just put everything in my "inbox" section until I get around to filing it. Since it is almost always the last section I used, it is the one that comes up when I start OneNote. Search is not underused because of problems with our search. We followed up on the low usage with surveys and the main reason by far was what I stated: people can find their stuff much easier and faster using their organization than with search. Complaints about our search capabilities were tiny in relation to this (not that they couldn’t be made better, as with anything). In a product that doesn’t allow you to organize (such as EverNote), you become much more dependent on search, which doesn’t scale over time for the reasons I noted. Search is "hot" these days but it is not a panacea. Although search is great as a backup, as the number of notes grows it gets harder to find pages using a short search string so using search as the *primary* way to locate notes gets old fast. Sorting by time scales much worse – you quickly get lost once you have more than a few entries. (Jeff Singfiel’s comment above is right on) If you use categories to try to make up for the fact that you can’t organize, you have to religiously apply category metadata to every note you take when you take it or it disappears into the enormous pile and you have to hope you can find it again with search. Remembering to apply metadata such as categories to a note is quite a burden to do consistently for most people, and definitely a pain if you are leaving a meeting quickly. When we designed OneNote we didn’t just think about the first few notes you take – we tried hard to make sure it would still be working for you years later with many, many notes. OK, now I’m trash-talking so I should stop 🙂

    To All: PDC is next week. After that you’ll hear a lot about the next rel of OneNote…

  17. filburt1 says:

    As a student in college I use OneNote all the time…in fact it’s really the only tablet-specific piece of software I use, especially given that I have a convertable rather than a (useless to me for usability) slate.

    Before I go into the structure of my notebook, some nitpicks:

    1. It needs to be able to print the page background, meaning it needs to be able to print page guides and such! Stuff like math assignments look very disorganized without the page’s lines.

    2. Sometimes when writing, it will just start to slightly rearrange some nearby lines of handwriting. Very annoying.

    3. The note flags aren’t perfect; for some reason, even if I write in a straight line and only write one line of handwriting, the definition note flag won’t highlight the entire line. I have to specifically select all of the handwriting (right-drag with the pen) and then apply it. OneNote doesn’t seem to group all of the handwriting on that line together.

    4. It would be wonderful if the date/time at the top of a page was the last date/time the page was edited or the date/time that the page itself was created. Right now it seems to be when the section was created which is pretty bad for class notes…I just noticed that on 9/7/05 that one of my notes pages had a date of 8/28/05 which confused me for quite a bit until I recognized the correlation.

    5. Highlighting sometimes makes OneNote crash. I can’t really reproduce the problem, but it’s also the only way I can get OneNote to crash. I hope to find the specific steps to cause it.

    6. Inserting writing space seems quirky. Sometimes it will work flawlessly. Sometimes it will just ignore my dragging, and sometimes it will move handwriting above or below where I want it to do so. It would be good also if the insert space function somehow read the page’s stationary so it could snap to page lines (right now, not paying attention to the page guides while adding writing space makes all handwriting below the split float above or below page lines).

    7. The "Send to OneNote" function has two annoyances: the first is that text is still rendered as an image and is therefore unsearchable. I realize that this is probably a technical limitation of the OneNote file format or how printing works, but it would be a godsend if the text was preserved as text. The second is minor: it insists on putting all printed pages to a section at the head of the folder hierarchy. It would be nice if it was like the freeware powertoy OneNote Image Writer where it asked where to save the file (which .one file) or it simply went to whatever section was currently open in OneNote).

    For all this criticism, there are hundreds more good points that makes OneNote a tablet’s perfect companion. It has made my grades improve in every class where I’ve used it. It makes studying far more useful because I can search my notes and immediately find what I want. All I need is a tiny printer and scanner to cram in my backpack so I can finally get rid of pen and paper–in fact, last semester, I went two weeks until I finally needed to use pen and paper. It’s been two weeks so far and I haven’t needed it yet again.

    So anyway, my OneNote hierarchy:

    My Notebook: Top 5 Tips for Students (I occasionally read it), Random (just a scrap section), Helpful Tips (still occasionally read that too), School, Work, and Sent Files (from the OneNote virtual printer).

    Within school, there is a folder for the semester; for example, "Fall 2005", then a folder for each class such as "ENGL 393". Within each class there is usually a "Notes" section, then other sections as necessary like "Homework" and "Classwork." Within each of those sections are pages, usually named with the date, chapter number, and chapter name. In the past, I still thought of OneNote pages as physical pages with the same limitations so I used subpages when I ran out of room. Now I just keep writing on the infinitely long page which works out much better. I still use subpages for things like handouts that apply towards the notes I’m taking.

    For "Work", I have the project name, and then whatever sections are applicable. For example, in one of my projects, I have a "Sketches" section where each page is a sketch I made for some GUI layouts (it’s much easier to draw a layout sketch with highlights for planned LayoutManagers in Java in OneNote than just coding it).

    So that’s my OneNote. It sure is a great product…especially now that I upgraded from 512 MB of RAM to 768 MB of RAM and finally just taking a "screw it" attitude and to 1.5 GB of RAM.

    And as a final side note, it appears OneNote properly responds to skinning from WindowBlinds and window decorations from WindowFX with no problems. Good stuff.

  18. says:

    Quote from Chris — "I just put everything in my "inbox" section until I get around to filing it. "

    >>> Ummm .. .that means it is filed in the Inbox section. That is filing. That is filing in the Inbox to start and moving later.

  19. As you wish. By that definition saving anything is "filing". I was making the distinction between merely saving and actually choosing a place to put the note(i.e. filing). One thing we like about sections is that you have the option to choose the place to create the note when you create it, which means when you are done there is no filing to be done. Or, DON’T choose a place to put it and file it later (or not).

  20. Tom says:

    Argh, please tell me there’s a way to fix this — anytime I click on a url in OneNote, it opens with Internet Explorer! My default browser is Firefox. This type of lock-in drives people batty. PLEASE tell me this will be an _option_ in the next version, or tell me how to fix it. Thanks!


  21. Tom, I am not able to repro the "lock-in" you describe. I installed FireFox 1.0.6, set it as my default, restarted OneNote (to make sure it picked up the new setting), and now links in OneNote open in FireFox. Can you provide more details about your setup?

  22. Tom says:

    I’m using Firefox 1.06 and it’s set as the default browser (I checked in its settings). I’m using OneNote SP1 on WinXP Pro. I don’t know what other settings to check, but I get this result every time.

  23. Bill Monroe says:

    I suppose I’m more of a piler. I’ve been using OneNote since the beta on both traditional and TabletPC notebooks.

    I basically have 3 Sections — The Web Clippings Section, General, and Misc.

    Most of my time is in the general section. I use a separate page for each day, and put the date in the title bar for that page. If I want to separate things out, I use the sub page feature. I do wish it was easier to rename the sub pages, however — I’d like them to have a box at the top of the page, like the main pages due.

    Regardless, each main page has a date as it’s title and I just keep adding more.

    The Misc section is for random thoughts and brainstorming activiities. Sometimes I just need a place to copy and paste tons of info while I sort through it later. Most of the data in this section is transient; I don’t really need it for more than a couple days.

    Also, this is the section I like to use when I demonstrate OneNote to people or have my notebook connected to a projector — I’m more likely to have sensitive data in the General section.

    I rely heavily on the Notes Flag Summary features to organize important infomration and To Do item. When I’m looking for something, I rely on the search feature.

    There are a couple of reasons I don’t try to organize my data more. First, the search function makes it less necessary. Second, ironically, it makes it more difficult to find things.

    As time goes by, the way I look for and mentally categorize data changes. If I take the time to set up a more detailed organizational system, it will be obsolete before too longs, and I won’t be able to find what I’m looking for. I find it easier and faster to search, or to guess an approximate timeframe and browse.

    One thing that I find interesting about all this is how differently everyone uses OneNote.

  24. Tom: FWIW, now that FireFox is my default browser, I can’t switch it back to IE – the setting is being ignored. If I were the type, I might call this "lock-in" – but I’m not the type :). Maybe try uninstalling and reinstalling FireFox?

    Bill: I couldn’t agree more. If you look at some of my posts from earlier (2004) you’ll see I have written a lot about how note taking and information management is a very personal thing and there is no "correct" way to do it. So we tried not to force any particular paradigm onto people.

  25. Tom says:

    Ok, point taken about the lock-in thing, but I figured that OneNote had made the choice about the browser since the behavior started after I unlocked OneNote. I uninstalled, rebooted and re-installed Firefox 1.07, but no dice — it still brings up IE whenever I click on a link. I’m stumped.

  26. Tom, send me mail so we can debug it – I’d love to track this one down. mail me: chrispr(at)

  27. Shane Lindsay says:

    chris said: "If you use categories to try to make up for the fact that you can’t organize, you have to religiously apply category metadata to every note you take when you take it or it disappears into the enormous pile and you have to hope you can find it again with search. Remembering to apply metadata such as categories to a note is quite a burden to do consistently for most people, and definitely a pain if you are leaving a meeting quickly."

    In Evernote you can filter for notes that don’t have category, so if you don’t categorise at first you can go back to them and process them. Of course the criticisms you make apply to Onenote also. The current method of moving a note to a folder is a pain, and more hassle than assigning a category in Evernote. The introduction of drag and drop will help, though.

    The point is that when you have a piece of information you can either file/tag it when you encounter it, or you can dump it in a inbox. I find that if the cost of assigning a folder/category is too high (i.e. it takes longer than a few seconds) then it everything gets dumped into an inbox, which has to be processed at a later date. Which can be a pain. Having a structured file system is fine for projects I think, but a rigid organisational system works less well for those little bits of information, like snippets of webpages, little thoughts etc…

    Idea for feature – have a global shortcut keys that can automatically copy and paste anything from the clipboard, and/or brings up a dialog box which a fast GUI which allows that data to be put in a folder/tab.

    A further point – it seems to be support for categories/tags is a requested feature for onenote. I liked your suggestion of creating them with unique key words, but have you considered adding it in a formal way? I migrated to evernote as I liked the tape/timeline/categories, but it didn’t really solve me organisational problems, am thinking of returning to onenote, because overall I think its a better program.

  28. Shane, thanks for the insightful comments. I actually think categories are a great feature. I think you’ll see them "formally" in OneNote some day.

    My comments on EverNote were that having to *rely* on categories means that you are essentialy forced to pile, then remember to label (file) later. People who work this way will think the approach is great. People who prefer to locate the right place to take notes do not feel comfortable with that. With OneNote, we wanted to give you the ability to work any way you liked. We know from our research that many people (when not in a hurry) actually prefer to find the right place to take notes (maybe even refer to some existing notes on a topic), then add more. This actually matches my usage – sometimes I file first and other times I just pile. To be clear, OneNote allows pure piling just like EverNote – EverNote is equivalent to having only a single OneNote section.

    In the "just pile" case you’re right that the siutation in OneNote is similar to EverNote if you want to file later – but you have the option to work the way you want. BTW, I hope you are moving such unfiled note pages to a section by using right-click on the page tab and then choosing the section from the short list of commonly accessed sections that appears rather than always using the Move dialog.

    I think a bigger problem with the "giant pile you sort/query" approach is that it doesn’t retain context well. Again in our research, people told us they like to switch project contexts and when they come back to a project they want to be where they left off. OneNote automatically returns you to the last page you were looking at when you go to a section. It also allows you to order the pages however you would like (not just by time or other enforced order) and remembers this organization so you can keep sets of pages grouped together in a larger project context. This is very hard to do with categories since the context is not retained.

    The analogy might be that with OneNote you can spread your papers out on your desk however you like for a project, then move to another part of your desk and do the same for another project. Then you can come back to the first project and everything is as you left it in mid-idea, your last used paper is on top, etc. With EverNote’s approach, when you switch context (or just close the app) all papers have to be effectively returned to the stack they came from when you stop using them. When you requery that category, the pages are fecthed and they come back ordered by time and showing you the first one. This order may not be how you had them/wanted them ordered, so next time you access that project you have lost the context of what you were doing.

  29. RichardC says:

    I use Maxthon as my browser but OneNote always opens IE. I have checked everything I can think of – Default Browser, File Assoiciations etc. This is very frustrating.

    Any ideas?

  30. RichardC says:

    I re-installed the latest Maxthon and the problem is fixed.


    Love OneNote BTW.

  31. mike goodrich says:


    I’m not sure if you will even see this comment, but I just wanted to drop a line and tell you how much I am enjoying OneNote.

    This has become a very useful replacement for my old Word daily journals and other articles.

    The super-quick search really sold me!

    I also really like the way I can link larger Word articles and just go get ’em via OneNote.

    There was a bit of a learning curve for me, but that’s typical.  It often takes me a little while to "catch on" to a new system, but then once it "clicks" I’m off and running.

    OneNote made the "off and running" part really rapid and even fun!

    Thanks for your work on this project.

    mike goodrich