Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft OneNote is a note-taking and information management application that is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite of applications. Users can store text and images in free-form documents that can be kept private or shared with others. Notes are organized into separate metaphorical notebooks, sections, and pages. Multiple notebooks can be created to represent different topics or projects, such as having two notebooks to separate work and personal notes.

OneNote is available as a native application for Windows, macOS operating systems and most mobile devices. The Windows version does permit more features than does Mac, such as the ability to insert media content, but OneNote is still usable on Apple devices. It’s also available as a cloud-based web application through Office 365, so it can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection.

What are the benefits of Microsoft OneNote?

Users familiar with the Microsoft 365 suite will find OneNote’s interface similar and easy to navigate. Microsoft has designed OneNote for flexibility and deeply integrates the app’s features across the entire Office Suite.

OneNote is a useful tool for digital schoolwork and for educators because of its notebook format. Students and professionals can use OneNote to store related notes, save web pages that they’ll need to return to, and manage all research for a given project within a shareable, searchable electronic notebook that can store images, links to other documents, and hand-drawn items.

OneNote features include:

  • Real-time collaboration: OneNote is cloud-based, meaning notes can be shared with others for real-time viewing and editing. Notes are automatically saved, and the application keeps track of past revisions and file changes.
  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR): OneNote uses OCR technology to automatically import text from images or handwritten notes.
  • Secured information: Password protection can be enabled on note sections. 3DES encryption standard secures the information.
  • Multimedia: OneNote features the ability to add images, audio, and video to notes. In addition, the application recognizes spoken words, so users can easily search through recordings.
  • Integration: OneNote syncs with all other Microsoft applications such as Outlook. Plugins can be added to increase functionality such as Zapier, Salesforce, Trello, and Slack.
  • Clipping: OneNote Web Clipper is a browser extension for clipping pieces of web content. While it offers fewer features than other web clipping tools and sometimes shows errors and inconsistencies in showing pages or playing multimedia content, OneNote is a quick tool for saving Internet content for Microsoft users who do a lot of web clipping.
  • History: OneNote shows other users’ collaboration details in Microsoft Office Suite, tracking their edits and changes.
  • Searching: By using the search bar at the top of a notebook, users can type keywords and view where they appear within a document.

How OneNote works within Microsoft Office and Microsoft business suite

As one of Microsoft Office’s products, OneNote was designed to work with Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook. Notebooks serve as a hub in which other Office documents and assets can live. Some examples include:

  • In OneNote, when users create a table, they have the option to convert it to an Excel sheet. Once the table has been converted to a sheet, changes within that Excel sheet will also show inside the table embedded in OneNote.
  • Users can imbed PowerPoints within OneNote; the slides become pages in a section of a notebook, which users can scroll through.
  • In some versions of OneNote (the most recent is 2016), users can create Linked Notes from an Internet Explorer web page, Word, or PowerPoint. As long as one of the previous three apps is open, users can make a page of notes for that location in the other application. Then they’ll have that note in OneNote and can go to the web page or document when they need to access it.

Cortana users were once able to create notes by activating the virtual assistant with a voice command. It’s now unclear whether Cortana still offers this feature; Microsoft’s website has not been recently updated to clarify how Cortana and OneNote work together. The Cortana mobile app will be fully removed in 2021, and then OneNote will no longer be accessible through voice commands to the application.

OneNote benefits from the security that Microsoft gives all its business-level applications. While using OneNote, users can choose to secure sections of their notebooks with a 128-bit encrypted password.

OneNote VS. Microsoft Word

While it seems like the two applications are similar and users could use one or the other, OneNote and Word were designed for different purposes. Microsoft Word is a word processor that creates a single, text-based document that is processed (formatted, manipulated, saved, printed, shared). Examples of documents include letters, books, greeting cards, brochures, and posters.

OneNote is used chiefly as an ongoing multimedia notebook and for collaborating on ideas. Both applications can be used in conjunction with each other.

OneNote is designed to contain different sections with a variety of content, including multimedia. OneNote’s notebook is divided into as many parts as a user wants. Word users can also insert multimedia content, but it all sits in one streamlined document.

OneNote’s default type holder is a text box, while Word’s is the main box within the document (though users can manually create and move text boxes).

OneNote has a handwriting conversion tool (Ink to Text). Microsoft Word does not have its own native handwriting conversion tool.

Word offers a table of contents in which users can link to later headers in the document.

OneNote is designed to take and store notes from different web content, while Word is intended to compile a full written work.

Top note-taking software besides OneNote

Evernote is a very popular note-taking application whose main highlight is extensive web clipping capabilities. The app has a web browser extension and allows users to clip just article content or a full web page, including ads. Evernote permits users to edit content in captured clips. It has fewer features than OneNote.

Notion is a web-based note taking platform that doesn’t work offline. It’s designed more like a database than a notepad or notebook; each page is connected to items in tables, which provide a large amount of storage space. Notion is often used for large-scale projects that require heavy research. It also offers many template options. It’s a web-based note taking platform that doesn’t work offline.

Apple Notes is an iOS app, available free through iCloud, Apple’s cloud storage platform. However, iCloud users can log in using a browser on a Windows computer to view their Notes stored online. Notes taken on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac will be saved to the user’s iCloud account.

Standard Notes is available for all major operating systems and offers multiple text editors for paying customers. It also stands out for its security—Standard Notes uses encryption for all notes. Access is restricted to the account creator and user only.

Google Keep is a relatively simple and uncomplicated note-taking app compared to others on this list. Keep is free for Google users through their Gmail accounts and is designed to look like randomly placed sticky notes. Keep works well with other Google applications, including AI tool Google Assistant.

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Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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