Using OneNote for Web research
Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 Service Pack 1 or later
By Ben M. Schorr, Microsoft Office OneNote MVP
OneNote is a great tool for collecting and organizing research to create reports, proposals, and presentations. Folders, sections, and pages make it easy to categorize, store, and revisit information and to organize and reorganize it at will. You can drag information, including text, URLs, and graphics, from the Web into your notebook. The audio recording and research features of OneNote provide you with additional tools for collecting information. In effect, your notebook can become your own personal repository for all sorts of research results, and you can quickly search through it to find just the facts and details you're looking for.
Before I started to use OneNote for my research, I printed pages from the Web and later tried to read through them all, highlighting the important parts. Not only did I waste a lot of paper, I spent a lot of time typing the pertinent information into Microsoft Word documents. And my desk was a mess of papers and reference books! Adding Web sites to the Favorites menu in Microsoft Internet Explorer didn't help, because I often couldn't remember the significance of a site without the help of a lengthier description.
OneNote lets me drag only the relevant bits of information from the Web into my notes, and because OneNote automatically adds a link to the original source, I can always refer back to the Web site later if I want more information or to accurately cite the source. Currently, I'm using OneNote to gather information for a research project about the battleship USS Missouri, where I volunteer as a tour guide in my spare time. I hope the process that I'm using to gather and arrange my research notes will give you ideas for organizing your own research project in OneNote.
Organizing research with sections and pages
I start by identifying my main research topic and subtopics. For the main topic, I create a new notebook section and title it "USS Missouri." I want a place just for collecting general information about the ship and links from the Web, so I title the first page "General Resources." Then I create separate pages for each of the subtopics I know I want to research: "Iwo Jima," "Okinawa," and "Surrender Ceremony."
On the General Resources page, I outline some of the information that I already know but want to document, including the ship's physical specifications and a historical overview. Then it's time to start gathering in-depth information from other sources — namely, the Web.
Gathering research from the Web with side notes
Side notes are great for gathering information from the Web. A side note is a miniature OneNote window that stays open on top of other windows on your screen, so you can easily copy and paste, drag information, or capture a screen clipping into your notebook and organize it into the proper sections and pages later.
However, if you're like me and you want to organize your information up front by pulling information from the Web straight into the pages you've created, try opening your notebook to the page where you want to collect information, or creating a new page. Then minimize the window by dragging a corner of the page until the window gets so small that it turns into a side note. Any information you drag into this side note is saved on that particular page in your notebook, and the side note window stays on top as you browse.
See how my "Tokyo Bay Formal Surrender" page is minimized into a side note. It floats on top of an open browser window as I drag information into it.
Keeping track of important pages
I begin my Web research by searching for interesting sites about the USS Missouri — for example, the Web site of the USS Missouri Memorial Association. Because it's full of great information, I know I'll want to keep it handy, so I drag the name of the site onto my General Resources page. This automatically creates a link in OneNote to the page from which the text was copied. The illustration shows my General Resources page with my typed notes, as well as text and graphics I've dragged from the Web and their corresponding links.
Another Web site I visit is so full of information that I drag some of the text into OneNote. That text will later be available to me in my notes along with the link to the site for more information.
After I conclude my searches for general information, I'm ready to research my specific subtopics.
Organizing information in an outline with note flags
First, I create a rough timeline, in outline format, of each battle. Then I look for general information pages about the battles. Later, I can dig deeper into specifics. I use note flags to keep track of the specific information I'll need when I fill in the gaps.
I use the Question note flag to mark gaps in my information as I take notes. For example, if I need to know how many pens General MacArthur used during the surrender ceremony, I mark the note with the Question note flag. Similarly, I use the Important note flag to mark crucial details that I want to be able to find again easily. To keep track of specific facts — or information that is interesting but perhaps not directly related to what I am working on — I create custom note flags. I use my custom "Sister Ships" flag to mark information about other Iowa-class battleships. The note flag makes it easy to find that information if I want to refer to it later for other reasons.
Using the Note Flags Summary task pane, I can search for all of the note flags in the USS Missouri section. The illustration shows how my flagged notes are displayed in the task pane.
I can complete my research by going down the list of Question note flags and searching on the Web for the information I need to cover those gaps. Conveniently, clicking an item in the task pane list takes me to its specific location in my notes.
Using audio or video to conduct a research interview
As useful as the Web can be for research, there's no substitute for firsthand testimony. Before I started my Web research, I had the rare opportunity to speak with one of the crew members who was aboard the ship in 1945. I wanted to capture his words exactly, and the audio recording feature in OneNote was the perfect tool. Using OneNote, I recorded the entire interview while I typed notes. Having these notes and the recording of the actual conversation will allow me to easily search for specific details in his interview when I compose the final report.
The video recording feature in OneNote is another useful way to record interviews and other information. Video can be captured and stored directly in OneNote from any connected digital video camera that is supported by Microsoft Windows. Just like with audio recordings, you can type notes on a page in OneNote as you capture video, and then later you can use these typed notes to search for details about the video recording.
Using the Research task pane to find information
The Research task pane puts online reference materials right at your fingertips. It provides access to several information Web sites and services, including a dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia. When I come across an unfamiliar military term, such as "barbette," "bosun," or "quarterdeck," I just enter the word in the Search for box, and then select which resource I want to use for my search.
After I gather all of the information I need and create a single, coherent outline of my research, I forward the compiled research to our ship's curator. OneNote makes that easy. Using Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003, I can send the curator my outline in an e-mail message, without the added step of transferring it to another program — even if he doesn't have OneNote installed! My notes are sent as an HTML-based message complete with all text, graphics, and links.
Send the outline to Microsoft Office Word 2003 to create the final report
After discussing the research with our curator, I can start my report. With my outline already complete, I can easily send the outline from OneNote to Word, and the outline automatically transfers to Word and opens in a new document.
OneNote provides a single place for me to collect my notes and thoughts and organize them into a final product. Because I don't have to print pages from the Web or copy notes from paper notebooks, I save time and paper as I do my research and easily transform that research into a more formal document. I can then work my way through the outline by replacing my notes format with a more flowing narrative.