Through the years, I’ve done a lot of research both offline and online. There are two big problems with doing that much research. The first is that you tend to accumulate a lot of information of various forms. The second problem is that unless you have a smart way to organize all of that information – which can take the form of pictures, web links, text and more – you’re apt to lose track of where you put things.
I remember when I first got started with investigating stories, I once had about 15 text files just filled with all sorts of random notes and links. After a while it was really hard to find information that I knew had I socked away somewhere, buried inside one of those many text files.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few little tricks to better organize, and some simple rules to keep things within arm’s reach. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t something I figured out early. I mean, I sometimes still revert back to my old ways and use PC apps like KeyNote to store information. Still, I always turn back to online solutions because the information can be accessed from anywhere. And there’s no shortage of options, like FetchNotes or Moredays and all sorts of others.
However, one solution that I’ve discovered serves me the best out of all of them is the relatively new Microsoft SkyDrive offering of Office Web Apps.
SkyDrive Office Web Apps
However, what I was really excited to learn was that SkyDrive provides you with a free OneNote web app that you can use to do just about everything you do with your desktop OneNote application. When it comes to creating a digital “file cabinet” where you can store away every form of information you discover during your research, this is it.
SkyDrive itself is actually the filing cabinet, as you can see above, but if you’ll notice there is a row of web apps that are available, where you can instantly create a Word document, Excel file, Powerpoint presentation or a OneNote file.
I’m going to focus on the OneNote web app because it is the best solution for organizing all of your online research, right when you discover it. Best of all you can access all of your files, links and notes no matter where you log into the Internet. So click the OneNote link and create a new research folder.
SkyDrive will open the OneNote web app, and in this view you are looking at a single file that will contain the entire collection of information that you want to stuff into it. Picture the title of the file, in my case it’s “TI_Research” as the label on the master file.
Inside this file, you’re going to create all sort of tabs, or “sections”, to organize all of the information contained therein. First I’m going to record an important phone call where I established three critical leads.
Then, I created another section for background information on a potential scam artist that I’ve been tracking. You can insert files intermixed with your text notes by just highlighting the text that you want to convert to a link and then click on the “link” icon.
You can also embed photos into the notes as well. I use this all the time when I’m building a background profile on someone that I’m investigating. that usually includes, at the very least, a profile photo inserted right at the top of the section.
OneNote also lets you embed a simple table into your page. I use this to organize my research to-do list, but you can be as creative as you like as to how you might use a table to organize your information. Just highlight the number of columns and rows that you want for the table and it’ll instantly show up on your note page.
Just fill in the cells. Don’t forget, you can still highlight any of the text inside those cells, insert pictures, anything you like.
When you go back to your SkyDrive account, you’ll see the new “research” file show up as a single file. That’s what I love about this setup – all of that information that you’ve gathered including all of your notes, pictures, links, and tables are just rolled up and stored inside that single file. It’s like having a huge file cabinet filled with as many research files as you like.
If you want to open those files using OneNote, you’ll see options on the right side of SkyDrive that you can click “Open in OneNote” or “Download” with which you can download the file to your PC to open and edit it locally. There really wouldn’t be a reason to do so, but the option is there. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a current version of OneNote with the functionality to sync with the web app. Older versions can’t do that.
Also, there’s nothing to say that OneNote has to be your only tool for organizing research. You also have access to the Word, Excel and PowerPoint web apps. If you are collaborating with a group of researchers, you could always throw together a PowerPoint presentation for them, and then share it out to everyone on your team to let them know about your research progress.
I know these days there’s a stigma against Microsoft products. There’s nothing to say that you couldn’t use Google Docs to do the same sort of research organization, but few other web apps offer the sort of intuitive organization that OneNote offers. The fact that it’s now offered as a web app, and bundled with web version of other office products on SkyDrive is just the icing on the cake.
Do you use OneNote or any of the Office web apps? What’s your view of the online Microsoft offering? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Image Credits: Laptop Mouse and Computer at ShutterStock