Making OneNote and Word partners in writing

Word isn’t Scrivener and never will be. One important function it’s missing is the ability to tag, label and comprehensively annotate individual elements of a manuscript in fine detail. As we’ve discussed before you can make margin comments – and for some projects they will be good enough. But what if you need more?

Then you have to turn to the companion app in Office for Windows, OneNote. This is often ignored because people simply don’t understand what it’s for. It’s a notebook app basically, a place for storing photos, pdfs, note, reminders… pretty much anything you like. Preferably in the cloud on Microsoft’s free Skydrive service where they will be synced to all you PCs, tablets and even phones.

OneNote has a special mode for working alongside the other Office apps. You click this little icon — the sidebar one, fourth along — at the top of the window.


Then the page you’re working on turns into a sidebar at the edge of the screen like this — Word on the left, the OneNote bar on the right.


When you’re in this mode anything you type in OneNote will link to the point where you are working in Word. For visual simplicity I put these notes in separate paragraphs for each one. Then you can click on the Word icon and go to that point immediately. You can also see a preview of the text in Word by hovering your mouse over the link, as I’ve done above,  and insert photos and other reference material attached to a point in the text, as you can see at the top of this post.

I find this really useful for making more substantial notes on a document as I work on it, not just brief comments. There are lots of useful tags you can put into the page too if you need them.


And you can invent your own tags if you want.

When I work in Scrivener I keep research and note material separate from the manuscript. Scrivener can handle these things very well, but I just prefer to have fiction and fact kept apart. You could, of course, simply set up a separate Scrivener file for handling these things too.

If you’re an Office user  this is a pretty cool alternative, and one most people simply don’t know about.

Impressed? I am. But here’s the really amazing thing. Remember, we’re saving both Word files and the OneNote notebook in the cloud on Skydrive. So the references that OneNote keeps to the different parts of your document are based on cloud addresses, not local files.

So what? Imagine you work on these annotations on your desktop PC then head off on a trip and need to continue using them. Open OneNote on your laptop and the Word file for your book, pull up the editing page, hit a link and…. You will go to the correct place, just as you would at home on the PC where you first made the notes on a completely different machine. (I’ve only tried this once and OneNote first opened the web page for the Word file on Skydrive and then went to the document itself so you may need to be online to get this to work).

In short you have connected annotations regardless of the machine you’re using at the time .

I’m sure there’s a lot more that can be done here. But as usual I have a strict rule: find out what you need, make sure it works, and stop there. I don’t want to become an expert in Word, OneNote or Scrivener. I just want to get them to do what I need.

This certainly fits the bill for me.

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