At MIT, a grad student depends on OneNote

Applies to
Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 Service Pack 1 or later

"OneNote allows me to better manage my notes and design ideas for research projects. It's quickly replacing the spiral notebooks I've used for years and is becoming my primary design notebook."

Pat Willoughby is a fourth-year mechanical engineering graduate student in the Precision Engineering Research Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Pat's progress toward his PhD includes class work as well as involvement in a variety of research projects with other students and researchers. The ability to gather and share ideas and information is crucial to Pat's success as an engineering student.

 Note   Some of the features or functionality described in this topic are available only if you have installed Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 Service Pack 1. To learn more about the service pack and how to download it, see Service pack features in OneNote 2003.

Research and study before OneNote

Before Pat started to use Microsoft Office OneNote 2003, he kept track of his research and class notes in spiral notebooks. In those notebooks, he stored notes, calculations, and diagrams going back to his undergraduate days. While paper provided the flexibility to brainstorm and capture ideas, it also presented problems — such as the difficulty of searching through years of information for a specific equation. And in order to share his notes with other students and instructors, Pat often experienced the hassles of scanning and e-mailing or making paper copies of his notes.

Aware of the shortcomings of paper notes, Pat began to experiment with OneNote. Now he uses OneNote on a Tablet PC for several important tasks in his work as a PhD candidate, researcher, and engineer. These tasks include: gathering research, brainstorming and creating design documents, taking lecture notes, and recording experiment data in the lab.

He organizes notes for these activities into folders and sections. For example, Pat has a folder called Research that contains one section for research specific to his PhD topic and another section for other projects with which he is involved. Research and initial ideas for design documents are stored in these sections. Pat has created other sections, outside the Research folder, for his actual class work. These include Lectures and Labs. The following illustration shows how Pat's notebook is organized.

Pat's notebook organization

OneNote: the researcher's assistant

Research is easier, because OneNote allows Pat to store links to Web sites as well as document files that contain important research information and experiment data. Each page of his notebook contains many jumping-off points to research on various topics. Because all of this information is automatically linked to Pat's note pages, he doesn't have to do much to organize or consolidate his research: It's all right there and accessible from his notebook. The following image shows a page from Pat's OneNote Research folder with links to Web sites and .pdf files that contain research information.

Links to Web pages and documents stored in OneNote

On his Tablet PC, this information becomes portable, so Pat can refer to pages and pages of research and data during lab experiments and meetings. He can also share any of his lecture notes or research with other students and colleagues by sending .one files in e-mail or by sharing the files at a network location.

Brainstorming with OneNote

After conducting his research, Pat begins the conceptual phase of development. He brainstorms design document ideas — complete with sketches, diagrams, data and other essential notes — directly in OneNote. When it's time to create a more formal document, Pat can transfer his ideas to Microsoft Office Word 2003 by using the Send To Microsoft Office Word command. He can then put any necessary finishing touches on the document in Word before he presents it to his peers or professors.

About using OneNote as his primary design notebook, Pat remarks, "When I first started using OneNote, I realized it could become a replacement for the engineer's notebook. The problem with paper notebooks — where engineers traditionally keep calculations, diagrams, pictures, and so on — is that the information is difficult to organize and access. Storing all this information inside OneNote makes it easy to search through documents and keep track of solid models — all in one place."

Taking lecture notes with OneNote

In the notebook section titled Lectures, Pat stores notes on a separate page for each lecture. The following image shows the Lectures section of his notebook.

Notes organized into folders, sections, and pages

Pat labels each page with the number of the class. He takes notes on concepts or theorems covered during the lecture. He uses subpages to record example equations that express these theorems. Later, he can use the examples to study for tests or prepare for presentations.

Searching through lecture notes for information

One of OneNote's many useful features is the ability to conduct keyword searches that return information from handwritten notes. Even if Pat doesn't remember the date or didn't write down the class name or lecture topic, he can search through his OneNote pages for a specific word and find the page where he took notes on the topic he's looking for.

The following image is an example of a page from Pat's lecture notes where he has conducted a search for the word "cylinder" to find notes on the stress distribution of a cylinder.

Page of lecture notes taken in OneNote with search term highlighted in yellow

The search results are highlighted in yellow. To find the same information in a paper notebook would involve flipping and scanning through pages and pages of information.

Pat says, "Quite often in my graduate studies, I need to refer to formulas and other information I took notes on as an undergrad. If I had OneNote back in those days, recalling this information would be much easier now. It's a real pain going through four years of notebooks to find one formula from a sophomore class. Searching through OneNote would be infinitely easier."

Tracking experiments with OneNote

During lab experiments, Pat uses OneNote to take notes that include measurements of conditions and results. He keeps these notes in the Labs section of his notebook. Pat says, "OneNote is becoming a constant companion to lab experiments."

While full experiment results and records are recorded in Microsoft Office Excel worksheets, OneNote provides a flexible work space for real-time note taking during labs. Pat can also summarize and comment on data and then quickly share those notes with other students. To do this, he inserts a document — in this case the Excel worksheet where final results are recorded — as picture into OneNote. He can then comment directly on the worksheet by annotating it on the OneNote page before he shares those notes with his peers.


Because of the flexibility that OneNote provides for gathering, searching through, and sharing information, it has become an essential tool for Pat in his graduate studies. OneNote has helped Pat become more organized by allowing him to consolidate and search through handwritten and text notes as well as information that he has gathered during research. This consolidation makes it easy for Pat to find information in his notes and then share that information with others, improving the collaborative work that is essential to successful graduate-level engineering projects.

en-us Office at School Ideas, articles, and resources for teachers, students, and parents. Download free templates, clip art and more. Office at School Students

Applies to:
OneNote 2003