Note-taking with OneNote

By JaredD | OneNote

Feb 08
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Storyteller Ulrika Hedlund brings note-taking with OneNote advice in an inspiring package in her video. She has 15 years of experience handwriting digital notes in personal and professional settings.

Ulrika Hedlund - Learn OneNote Conference Speaker

Princeton's Pam A. Mueller and UCLA's Daniel M. Oppenheimer's three studies show that students typing notes as opposed to taking notes longhand results in shallower processing and performing worse on conceptual questions. With this type of data, and other studies focusing on the lack of focus allowed with typing notes, it is clear handwriting notes is better than typing.

Fortunately, OneNote allows handwriting. Stop and appreciate how awesome technology is these days. We live in an amazing time in history.

Device Options for OneNote Note-taking

iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

Not a bad option, but not my recommendation. Ulrika chooses to use it, and I won't argue with her.

Despite among the best camera experience in real world application, the iPad OneNote app on Apple has a few key characteristics missing. It cannot record audio of a meeting and allow for handwriting of notes, something a windows OneNote version can do. It does not have the "insert space" option yet, something that is useful for note-taking. Beyond the small differences in features between the versions of OneNote, the iPad device is simply not geared to run Microsoft products as well as Windows devices. The gap is narrowing (and unavoidable when it comes to cell phones), but I advise against dividing. Go with one of the Windows devices.

On the less expensive spectrum, moving in the direction of one of these five options below will give you all the features in OneNote for Windows 10 and as well as an opportunity to get the most feature rich OneNote desktop version (2016 at the time of this writing).

Ulrika suggests these devices below, and purchasing via the links will lead to a small commission paid to the Class and Office site.

These options are legitimate and a step above the iPad Pro when it comes to OneNote functions and overall Office365 features, but I recommend and use a Surface device.

My wife is on the Surface Laptop, and I'm on the Surface Pro. Shop the Surface devices on the Windows store via the link below.

I like the Surface Pro 4 for its mobility and its power to be used as my one tablet, laptop, desktop all in one. 

Ulrika's video focuses on the iPad and Surface Pro. We'll discuss some of the highlights of her note-taking tips as it relates to the Surface Pro.


Powered by battery, the Surface stylus is better than the Apple Pencil as you'll get plenty of use (I haven't changed my battery once in 1.5 years) without having to plug it in awkwardly like on the iPad.

Sync your stylus to the Surface Pro by going to the settings and selecting Bluetooth and other devices and hold down on top of the Surface pen to pair.

After pairing, navigate to the Settings and select Windows Ink to decide what will happen when you click on the top of the pen. Ulrika has one option to open OneNote and one option to click for opening OneNote 2016. Visit here for pen pairing and option details. Once set, you can quickly go from a locked screen to a OneNote page to take notes by clicking the appropriate pattern. A little practice, and you'll be able to whip up you're notes as easy as flipping to a new page in a notepad.

A nice tutorial Ulrika shares in her video is adjusting the pen sensitivity. She recommends setting the sensitivity to the highest setting possible as this is the best for notes. But it is worth mentioning that changing this setting to less than the highest will be better for drawing. When writing you want the pen width to be consistent. When drawing you want responsiveness so you can more fluidly add thick or narrow lines. Of course, you can change the thickness of the pen but it won't be easy to draw this way and will definitely be unnatural when compared with a pen and paper type movement.

Ulrika likes a 1mm pencil setting in blue or black.

I prefer a 1mm pen setting in blue or rainbow color.

Multimedia Notes

I've heard from a few OneNote experts: do not get fancy with tags when taking handwritten notes. You will slow yourself down and get caught up in being feature focused and not real world focused. We have to be able to use our technology to help us, not trap us in a box.

But there are ways to use multimedia to your advantage. Two of my favorite ways are shared by Ulrika.

Take pictures of the whiteboard and insert into your notes. On the Surface Pro, go to Insert -> Pictures -> From Camera. Point and snap your picture or pictures. Once done, you can crop, select if whiteboard, photo or document (for best quality settings), crop and insert all on your OneNote page. This is the best way to get a storyboard from the wall, a slide for marking up or a handout page into your notes.

Record the person speaking by using the audio option on the Insert tab. You will want to ask for permission first, but this is a great option for students and staff to review a presentation. Go next level and record your speaker phone or Teams audio during your next meeting. This is when you will want a Surface or Windows device vs. a iPad to take notes and record audio at the same time.

Cleaning Up Notes

My former employer did not adopt to OneNote as much as I'd like, and that kept me from using OneNote to record meeting notes. I was wrong. Ulrika showed me why.

OneNote 2016 and OneNote allow for meeting details to be synced with Outlook so you have the participants and meeting notes on your OneNote page. But the missing piece is after the meeting is complete, share your notes on a Windows device and OneNote 2016 by clicking File -  Send so the notes from the OneNote page are inside the content of the email. Now the recipient doesn't need to use OneNote to review, and you don't have to share your OneNote if you don’t' want to. You can edit the notes before sending off.

While I recommend your handwritten notes not use tags, when reviewing your notes it is a good time to add tags if you choose. One good tag to add is a custom tag for each team member tasks. Hypothetical employee Todd needs to create a logo for your next project. Create a custom tag with a checkbox and description Todd: Project Website - logo. Now you can follow up with him on your next meeting on this and all his and other staff member tasks. Delete the custom templates after the project is complete or leave.

In OneNote 2016, use the lasso select tool to grab your handwritten notes and right click and convert to text. It won't be 100% accurate, especially if your handwriting looks like my chicken scratch, but it gives you a jump start. I recommend converting all your handwritten notes to text before sharing with others so there is no confusion as to what you wrote.

This post is written by Jared DeCamp.

To learn more about Ulrika Hedlund, speaker at the 2017 Learn OneNote Conference, visit one of the links to her work below.

Want more on taking notes in meetings? Comment below with your biggest challenge. Ten different people comment and I'll hold a free webinar to answer all your questions and give away my best strategies for note-taking.

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(1) comment

Grant Taylor February 12, 2018

In what world do iPad Pro’s or surface pro’s sit in education, not coming out of the pockets of most parents thats for sure. Basic ipad 2017’s with a 70 cent Chinese stylus and a clip on bluetooth keyboard for under $550NZ cant be beat. The flow and design of the iOS version mimics that of the Web, Mac and windows store version, while Office 2016 on Windows might be pumped with features unobtainable in other versions especially web, the are hardly missed, Office 2016 Windows suffers from a ghastly unintuitive outdated UI, that has students glazing over and teachers reaching for their personal ipads and Android tablets, maybe a foot in the right place would get some of the feature requests dating back some 3 years a wriggle on, lets start with picture cropping and element grouping, or even paying attention to cropped out data in PDF’s..

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