Office Hours: Synchronizing voice and video in OneNote

Eliot and Rhys Graff July 23, 2007

Eliot Graff

In this week's Office Hours column, Eliot Graff explains why (and how) audio and video recordings in OneNote can give your notes a depth and richness that paper and ink just can't replicate.

Applies to
Microsoft Office OneNote 2007
Microsoft Office OneNote 2003

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Maybe it's the bottled water I've been drinking lately, but it sure seems to be getting harder and harder to remember details from meetings and presentations. That's one of the reasons I've begun to rely more and more on Microsoft Office OneNote. Whatever I write or type gets organized by notebook and then by section, in ways that make sense to me. And if I forget exactly where I've added a note, I can search through my entire notebook — even my handwritten notes — in a matter of seconds.

But there are times when I either can't read my own handwriting or my notes just omit something I knew I was going to want to remember. That's when I break out what is for me the most powerful feature in OneNote: Audio recording.

The audio recording feature in OneNote enables me to collect any audio stream and have it associated with any particular page. That way, I can play back the sounds from a class or lecture and fill in those blanks in my notes. Even more impressive, though, is that OneNote collects a stream of time stamps while the audio is recording, and the application synchronizes that with any jottings or images that I add to my notes. This means that when I go back to a page with audio associated with it, I can find a part that I want more information about, click a little icon, and I get the playback of whatever was going on when I wrote that particular note.

This is super helpful in all sorts of different situations. Whether in a class, at a meeting, attending a performance, or anywhere else where you might want to replay the sound — or the video, too (but I'll just stick to sound here) — I can quite easily capture that extra information. I can also make my own verbal recordings to augment my fieldwork or diagrams. Usually, there's no need for extra equipment. Most laptops manufactured today have built-in array microphones. I only have to click a button and I'm off.

And it's just that easy. First, I have to have access to the audio and recording toolbar. In OneNote 2003, the recording tools are part of the standard toolbar. In OneNote 2007, the audio and video recording tools have their own toolbar. I click the View menu, and then click Audio and Video Toolbar, if it is not already selected.

OneNote 2007 Audio and Video toolbar

One click of the microphone icon and OneNote begins recording. The toolbar contains the standard play, stop, and pause controls, as well as a timer that shows how long the recording is and where in the recording I am. For instance, when I created the previous image, I was at the beginning of a two-and-a-half minute recording. Once the recording begins, I just take notes as I normally do. When I am finished with any audio input, I click Stop. Voilà, my notes are synchronized with the input.

To replay the audio specific to my notes, I bring the cursor over the note and then click the play icon that OneNote displays.

OneNote "Play" icon

OneNote starts playing the audio that occurred a few seconds before I made that mark. That way, I am sure to hear the part I need. Whether I start playback at the beginning or in the middle, OneNote highlights my notes associated with a segment as the audio continues, as in the next image.

Highlighted notes as they correspond to the audio stream

The highlighting dances down — and up — the page, following my notes. But why should I be selfish? I can share the audio and video recordings that I make with other people, even if they don't have OneNote. Sending audio and video files in an e-mail message is pretty straightforward — it's much easier than the number of steps makes it look:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options.
  2. In the Category list in the Options dialog box, click Sending E-mail.
  3. Select Attach embedded files to the e-mail message as separate files, and then click OK.
  4. Click the tab of the page that contains the audio or video files you want to send.
  5. On the File menu, point to Send Page To, and then click Mail Recipient (as Attachment).
  6. Fill out the e-mail, and then click Send.

You'll notice that the e-mail file has three attachments:

  1. There is the audio (or video) file
  2. The OneNote file
  3. An HTML version of the page (in case the recipient doesn't have OneNote)

Here's one more tip: I tell the people to whom I send these files to save the .wma or .wmv files to the same location as the OneNote file. That way they will be able to play the audio or video right from the page. I could also send just the audio or video recording by sending only the .wma or .wmv file, but where would the fun be in that?

Audio and video recordings truly are useful note-taking tools. I've used them in all sorts of situations, including meetings, lectures, and demonstrations. Having an audio recording to back up my notes has helped me numerous times. It gives my notes a depth and richness that paper and ink just can't replicate. Now, where was this technology when I was in graduate school?

About the author

Eliot Graff is a former English professor who now earns his keep as a programmer writer and developer experience guru in the Windows division. He's been working on Tablet and Touch technology since before the first release of Tablet PCs, and is an advisor to the Organization for Pen Technology in Education (OPTE). You can sometimes find him kayaking along Lake Union in Seattle, often with his son, Rhys.


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Applies to:
OneNote 2007, OneNote 2003