How to take handwritten notes on Surface
November 11, 2019 10:07 AM   Subscribe

I am going back to school and I have a Surface. I understand that I can take handwritten notes on the tablet and I am very excited. What app do you recommend? It looks like there is a lot you can do in OneNote. How do I get started? How can I get organized with OneNote?

I would love to learn how to convert my handwritten notes to text, and tips to do this because it is not working so well. I am not sure how to edit when the conversation is off.
I saw a few videos on youtube by millennials. They write by hand and then they apply formating so that the notes on easier to read. However, they go so fast in their videos, I am not sure how they are applying the formatting.
Any resources you recommend so that I can learn how to do the formatting?
Are there any good videos out there for getting started with OneNote and formatting?
posted by Boyd to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I love Onenote for this! I'm a teacher, so my Onenote use case is kind of backwards from yours. But the organizational hierarchy in general is Notebook>Section group>Section>Page. I use Course>Period>Chapter>Day as my levels.

There are actually two versions of onenote - the "windows store" (UWP) version (usually preinstalled) and the "office" version (have to install separately.) They can read and write the same notebooks but each has commands in a different place. You may want to try both and see what clicks best for you. (also, tutorials you look up may only be for one version or the other.)

I don't have any experience with the handwriting-to-text features, they always seem to mangle my math so I avoid them.
posted by Wulfhere at 10:25 AM on November 11, 2019

I also use OneNote, though I'm not a student. I like writing by hand, but I never convert handwriting into text because I don't have a need, so I can't speak to that part. I do make sure my note titles are always type text, not handwritten. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by formatting. Like highlighting and changing things on a page? Or getting your notebooks organized hierarchically?

As you've seen, there are lots of videos out there on how to use digital note-taking tools. A general organization/school strategies youtuber I like is Thomas Frank. I show a couple of his videos to freshmen I teach. If you feel any youtube video is going too fast for you to see, you can slow them down (or speed up) by clicking the settings gear icon in the bottom right corner of the video. Then choose playback speed, and you can play around with speeds.

If you're thinking mostly about taking notes as a student, from a learning perspective it would probably be good for you to focus on just getting everything down while in class (either with a keyboard or handwritten) and don't really worry about formatting, spelling, etc in class. Just get it on the page. Use study and review time outside of class to emphasize, format, fill in, answer questions, etc. on your notes.

There are also videos/sites on note taking strategies, but generally from a learning point of view you need a way to actively review notes, not just "re-read". One method is called Cornell Notes (there are others--find one that works for you). Once you find one you want to use and land on the note taking app you want to use, I would suggestion googling that method + NoteTakingApp (e.g., Cornell Notes OneNote) because there are lots of videos out there on how to format pages for certain types of notetaking.

I use OneNote on iPad Pro + Apple Pencil, so it's not the exact same, but the tools you would probably use most are lasso (you can grab a block of text or an image you've drawn and move it around on the page). I also like to have my go to "pens" set up in OneNote--I have a standard color, an "attention" color (like red), and a highlighter. I can switch to those quickly with one tap. Also learn how to use the eraser (with the apple pencil I can double tap the pencil to switch to eraser--not sure if there's a similar function for Surface). Sometimes I also take pictures of things (like a piece of paper being passed around) and insert those right in my notes. So learning the camera/insert function would probably also help.

I would suggest watching a couple of videos and actually practice taking notes about the video--just as something to play with and as a way to learn where things are, how your mind naturally organizes things, etc.
posted by kochenta at 11:07 AM on November 11, 2019

This page describes the process:

Convert handwriting to text

OneNote includes a handy conversion tool so you can change handwritten text into typed text. This is useful if you want to share your handwritten notes in a more legible format with other people.

To convert handwriting to text, do the following:

On the Draw tab, choose the Lasso Select button.

On the page, drag a selection over the handwriting you want to convert.

On the Draw tab, choose Ink to Text.
posted by soelo at 11:27 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

OneNote is amazing. I recently bought an old surface pro for school, and I pretty much exclusively use it. It has books which can then be broken into tabs, and each tab can have multiple pages. I use books for semester, tabs for classes, pages for units. OneNote is very good about just.... keeping things where you put them. There are no pre-determined lines, no snapping to a grid, etc. It works just like paper, wherever i put my pen, it writes.

It's also very intuitive when typing. If i type a word or phrase, and hit "tab", it automatically makes a table with the phrase as the first cell. I keep hitting tab until i have enough columns, and hitting enter creates a new row. To exit the table, hit enter twice. The only formatting I feel like I ever need are: titles, bulleted or numbered lists, tables, and then bold/italicize/underline.

Here is an example of a particularly well taken page of my notes. Ignore the illustrations, they're copied from my electronic textbook. The thing that makes notes readable, memorable, and usable isn't necessarily a bunch of formatting - it's consistency. How you group information is very important. My note-taking skills are from my years doing graphic design, there it was called "information architecture", the most important point was information hierarchy. Anyway, all of the formatting is done without my hands ever leaving the keyboard. Stopping to use the mouse only slows you down. ctl+alt+1 gives me my section heading, ctl+alt+2 gives me my subsection heading. ctl+b makes things bold/stops being bold. ctl+. starts a bulleted list.

Why do you feel like you need to convert your handwriting to type? I don't. I type most of my notes, because i type much faster than I write, but it's different for everyone, i suppose. But the combined time of write+convert+format can't be much quicker than doing it in the moment. "I am not sure how to edit when the conversation is off." What does this mean? Are you saying after a lecture is finished, you don't know how to go back and make sense of what you've written?
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:28 PM on November 11, 2019

One more thing to note- even if you don’t convert your handwriting is still searchable as text in OneNote

Nthing OneNote as a great tool BTW. I live in it at work- you can also photograph physical notes or whiteboard images and add them as notes to get everything in one place.
posted by q*ben at 3:19 PM on November 12, 2019

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