A Student’s Survival Guide: OneNote

by Reads (19,014)

by Shaun Mahal

The second part of "A Student’s Survival Guide to Tablet Computing" discusses the uses of OneNote and some tips on maximizing your tablets effectiveness. OneNote is a great program for any user who takes a lot of notes or even draws diagrams. Besides the OneNote tutorial, check out the tips and tricks section to get the best battery life and most performance from your tablet as well.

Like any PC, especially for students, a good office suite is essential. Office 2007 Professional is nice and OpenOffice is an excellent alternative for open-source-minded folks. In addition to the standard office suite, I make extensive use of another Microsoft offering: Microsoft OneNote 2007. Although not included in most standard issues of MS Office, this gem is definitely worth its price. 


OneNote is the one program I would recommend to any tablet user to make the most of their device. Although somewhat difficult to describe, a simple example will explain its usefulness:

Walking into class, I start OneNote and open my “Classes” virtual notebook. From here, I go to my class’ section of tabs, in this case the “EC 101” group of tabs. This opens up a virtual notebook subdivided into as many tabs as the user desires. In my case, one section each for Lecture Notes, Discussion Notes, Homework/Notes on Readings, Questions, Resources, and a To-Do list for this class. I choose the “Lecture Notes” tab, where I can see all of my notes I have taken, separated by pages for each lecture session. They can, of course, be broken up by any other metric (one may find it useful to divide it according to topic). I create a new page for each lecture and OneNote really makes a difference when I can “print” the online lecture slides onto the page I’ve just created.

Opening OneNote

Selecting the class & inserting slides

Slides have been inserted

Ready to ink!


With this feature, I can take notes on these slides just as easily as I could if I had printed them on paper. In addition, I can add extra space in-between slides should I need it. I can also insert a screenshot from any document, website or PDF directly where I want it in my notes. OneNote allows the user to take anything visible on any source and create a copy directly into OneNote that can then be treated as an object to write or type on. Alternatively, the user can copy only the text from a picture, say a chart, but this also allows the user to make the text from the picture searchable thereby making notes much easier to accurately search.

If I decide that I would like to hear an important lecture again, I can have OneNote create an audio recording of the lecture and index it to my notes. Later, I can listen to the lecture and see a moving highlight of what notes I was taking during that section of the lecture. I can also start at a specific line of notes and play the lecture from that point forward.

In an unexpected move from Microsoft the program is actually easy-to-use, somewhat intuitive and reliable. Synthesizing these features allows me to quickly create a rich notebook on the fly with everything I’d like to see when studying. I don’t need to go back later and reconcile my handwritten notes with the slides and then find the supplemental information from a website and compare to my book. I can have them all included in my notes, ready for easy review. Additionally, a handy search feature means I can search everything in my notebook, for example: all of my notes – typed, handwritten, pictures and graphics for a specific word or phrase.

Tablet Tips and Tricks: Maximize your effectiveness

Battery and Performance

Like any laptop, weight, dimensions, battery life and performance all play an important role in how likely you are to fully utilize your machine. There are simple ways to improve battery life and maximize performance, useful for any PC, but especially pertinent to tablets. One way is to pump more power into your PC via extended batteries or AC power. By tweaking my tablet with the tips below, I’m generally able to use my tablet during two to three 90 minute lectures without having to recharge. The other is to limit the amount of resources your tablet has to expend while you’re using it. Consider these battery saving tips: 

  • Invest in your battery: Although an extended battery might be pricier up front, being able to fly from Boston to Los Angeles (on power saver mode, running Word and OneNote, antennas disabled and screen dimmed) and still have 45 minutes of battery is great justification.
  • Dim your screen: Although a bright screen is necessary in some cases (eg. outdoor use), dimming your screen to a comfortable level is one of the easiest ways to improve your battery life.
  • Mute your mic: Laptops are increasingly coming with built-in-microphones, useful for recording audio, VoIP and instant messaging. Having them always on however means your soundcard is being unnecessarily used. To avoid this, mute your mic and speakers and enjoy a few extra minutes of battery.
  • Explore native battery/performance settings: Your OS will have built in battery settings and likely, your hardware manufacturer may also offer some settings. Your OS settings will offer a range of options, but you may have better luck with unit-specific manufacturer settings as they may be customized for that specific model.
  • Antenna aces: If it’s not necessary, disable your wireless and/or Bluetooth antennas. This will improve your battery life, and in many cases will curb your temptation to check email, read up on gossip or sports and IM while in lecture or at work.
  • Screensaver settings: Consider adjusting your screensaver/power saver settings to turn off your screen when not in use (2 minutes in my case).
  • Limit your applications: The more applications you run the more resources your computer will have to devote to managing them and making sure they all run optimally. Don’t shy away from opening something you need, but consider if you really need all 20 IE windows open (hint: use FireFox! I know IE has the same features, but still.)

Sit, stay, good battery! With PC’s constantly monitoring shock levels to pause spinning hard drives, if you can limit your movements your tablet will devote fewer resources to protecting itself and perform better. Everyone has their own methods and tips for saving battery life and maximizing performance, I just wanted to share my tips and OneNote experience for those users who may need some advice.

Coming Up: Equipment and Accessories

In the final "A Student’s Survival Guide to Tablet Computing" article, Shaun Mahal will be discussing the right equipment and accessories needed for daily use, as well as some buying tips. He discusses the best bag for your tablet, what you need for proper back up and sharing capabilities and more, so stay tuned next week for the final "A Student’s Survival Guide" article.



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