Over the years, I have had several awesome teachers and professors who have helped me learn how to write essays and research papers for my classes quickly and efficiently. Because of them, I have earned consistently high scores on all of my writing assignments and papers in all of my classes, including my college classes, and frequently get asked for writing advice from my friends and other students in my classes. As part of my Writing Success series, here is how I outline research papers with OneNote, a free Microsoft Office program that allows me to organize my notes so that I can easily find information and create a detailed outline.
Why use Microsoft Office OneNote?
I love to use OneNote for lots of different things in the classroom, so for me, it feels natural to outline research papers with OneNote too. Some of the reasons I prefer to use OneNote over other applications include:
- I can keep all of my notes organized in one place, instead of having them scattered across several documents or having one giant Word document that is more frustrating to organize
- The OneNote app is available for free across all of my devices (Windows computer, iPad/iOS, and Android), so I can take notes from any device and have them synchronized
- I can attach printouts, audio recordings, images, and other information directly inside the notebook so I can save additional information if needed
- OneNote integrates with Immersive Reader so I can easily have my notes read to me or displayed in a simplified layout
- It’s easy to customize OneNote pages so they work well for whatever type of document I’m creating
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Creating a new notebook or section
If I already have an existing notebook for whatever class I am writing a paper for, I will add two new sections for each paper- one for the notes and one for the outline. If I don’t have an existing notebook for the class, I will create a new notebook with the class name and assignment name, then create new sections for the notes, outline, and any other information that may be helpful.
To create a new notebook in OneNote:
- Use the Ctrl-O shortcut in Windows, or go to the list of Notebooks within the iOS or Android app and tap “+ Notebook”
- Type a name for the notebook- for a paper I wrote on leadership in an industrial/organizational psychology class I took freshman year, I called the notebook “PSYC 333 Leadership Paper”
- Tap or click on the “Create” button
To create a new section within a notebook in OneNote:
- Open the Notebook
- Press the “Add Section” button
- Name your new section
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How I set up pages in OneNote for each source
Within the Notes section, I create a new page for each source I am using for the paper- most of my upper-level college papers require at least eight sources, and my latest paper included a total of thirteen. I copy the title of each source and paste it as the title of the page, and then copy and paste a copy of the citation for the page so I can easily find it later when it comes time to add them to my paper.
Other things I do to set up OneNote for taking notes include:
- Using a default font size of 28 for all of my notes, which I set up within OneNote settings
- Taking notes using a bulleted list
- Changing the page color within the View tab so that the bright white doesn’t hurt my eyes
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Outline research papers with OneNote
After I have taken all of my notes from different sources, it’s time to outline research papers with OneNote! Typically, I like to outline research papers the same way I write blog posts- I give each paragraph a formal or informal title, such as “how sight loss ties in with mental health” and assign each paragraph as a page in the Outline section of my notebook. For shorter papers, students may prefer to keep their outline as one page in their notebook, but I’ve found that having each paragraph as one page in the notebook works well for me.
Adding custom tags to organize sources
One of the things that help me stay organized is creating custom tags to organize my sources so that I know what notes came from each source. I do this by creating a custom tag in the To-Do section of the Home ribbon, and naming it a shortened version of each source title, or the source number (e.g Source 1). After I give it a name, I like to choose a custom icon such as a colored square or fun symbol that is easy for me to distinguish with my low vision. When I copy notes from each of my sources, I add the tag to the notes by clicking the To-Do section and selecting the appropriate tag (FYI- this entire process is accessible with screen reader and screen magnification tools as well).
Copying and pasting notes
Since I take notes in complete sentences, it’s fairly easy for me to create an outline for research papers in OneNote, since all I have to do is copy and paste lines of my notes into each paragraph. After copy and pasting a line into the document, I will add a tag on the outline page, and go back to the notes page and highlight the line so that I know it has already been used in one of the sections (some of my friends will delete their lines instead). For most of my college papers, I try to include at least 8 lines of notes per section.
After I finish my outline, I typically take a break and then come back and start writing my paper, which is fairly easy since I’ve already done most of the work with the outline. I talk about how I create citations in my post on “How I Create Citations For Research Papers,” which is linked below.
I am grateful to have had so many amazing teachers and professors over the years who helped me to further develop my writing skills and become a better writer. I hope this post on how I outline research papers with OneNote is helpful for others as well!