How SkyDrive And OneNote Web App Can Help Your Online Research

Ryan Dube 17-05-2012

online research methodsThrough 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 Organize Everything In One Place & Link To Files On Your Computer With KeyNote NF [Windows] One of the most difficult aspects of having so many projects going at once - between being a writer, blog owner, engineer and programmer - is keeping everything sorted and organized. The one thing that... Read More 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

Here at MUO, we’ve been following SkyDrive pretty closely, with Dave’s recent announcement of SkyDrive desktop and mobile 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.


online research methods

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.

online research


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.

online research

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.


online research

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.

online research methodology

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.


online research methodology

Just fill in the cells. Don’t forget, you can still highlight any of the text inside those cells, insert pictures, anything you like.

online research methodology

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.

online research methods

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.

How SkyDrive And OneNote Web App Can Help Your Online Research onenote9

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

Related topics: Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage, Microsoft OneNote, Microsoft SkyDrive.

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  1. Rick Harris
    November 7, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    One of the great features of OneNote is the ability to easily link to other notes/notebooks/sections/local resources/web/etc.--essentially it's an out-of-the-box-functional Wiki platform. Great for quick reference pieces--easy to maintain, keep up to date, etc. And, accessible from virtually anywhere via the web or mobile device. (Unfortunately editing via mobile device doesn't allow for much more than rudimentary note entering. IE you can't link, format, etc. via mobile platform.)

  2. Giang
    October 15, 2012 at 4:37 am


  3. Jeremy Flynn
    August 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I have been using OneNote for awhile, and while I feel that, yes, it offers some extremely incredible is just too much. Like most Microsoft products, the interface, and the generous amount of functionality actually becomes a hindrance to me. Too many options causes simple note taking too take too long. For the past few months, I have instead been using Springpad. It is by far the best note taking/ information organizing apps I have found.

    Now...I still do use OneNote for offline note taking regarding work projects and such. But for online research? Springpad all the way.

  4. Time Sheep
    August 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I've used OneNote for a few years now, however I take notes for Math and Physics, where I make good use of the equations function. This function is unavailable in the web-app. You can't even see the equations. I'm quite disappointed because of that.
    However the desktop program itself is brilliant, I never managed to find anything better than it.

  5. Quoc Do
    July 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for your review of SkyDrive. I love OneNote. And now, I love SkyDrive. I am using both Google Docs and Dropbox as my online storage solution. However, SkyDrive = Google Docs + Dropbox. It is the best way to fit my online storage demand. Thanks again. :)

  6. cyberwill
    June 25, 2012 at 12:41 am

    So very helpful for capture.. but how do you find that needle in the haystack that you have created? I do not see a search function.. and the document search doesn't find content inside the note file? any suggestions

    • Ryan Dube
      July 1, 2012 at 4:39 am

      Hi cyberwill - I'm surprised the document search didn't find any results for you, although I admit I haven't tested the document search in SkyDrive. I know that if you can get them into the desktop OneNote application you could obviously search all notes, but I think in this Online version the search features may be a bit limited, as you've found.

      • Suzi
        July 24, 2012 at 12:43 am

        I love One Note!
        Been using it for years and can't find anything else to replace it for sorting and storing lots of research. I also use it to post an article straight to my blog.
        And I check MakeUseOf regularly to see any updates on it.
        So thanks for your info,

  7. Mitch N
    June 11, 2012 at 12:06 am

    I love one note on my PC but we've spent months trying to make it work on the network so everyone can share files. One note experts from Microsoft have been unable to make it work though their liturature says it should work. If anyone knows a solution that might work at my office for my 4 fellow workers and I and can possibly be accessed from outside our office, please let me know. The Microsoft experts are clueless as far as I can tell.

    • Rick Harris
      November 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Which version are you using? I had troubles as well until moving to the Office 2010 version at which point everything magically began working. Assuming you have 2010 version, there are at least two easy ways to share OneNote files/project:

      1 - easiest is to share via SkyDrive. Just go to the File tab, click on "invite people to this notebook" for the notebook you want to share, and share, and then follow your nose through the options. Easiest is to just email an invite, which will then walk the recipient through the process to get access. (There is also an option to share via Network or SharePoint but I've not had need to try.) The limitation to this method is that every user must have access to the 2010 version or be limited to the web-app.

      2 - you can also share/collaborate with others through Dropbox. If you create the original OneNote notebook on your PC and save the files in a dropbox folder you can then share that folder with whoever you are collaborating with. This is a way to work around limitations of older versions of OneNote--but the file must be created as/remain compatible with the oldest version in use. For instance, my intern created a OneNote notebook on her 2007 version, and saved the files to a Dropbox folder that I shared with her earlier. I just had to open OneNote and choose "open" from the File Tab, and then Browse to that location in Dropbox. We've both been contributing, editing, etc. to this shared notebook for months now with no problems. But, if I convert to the 2010 version she likely wouldn't be able to work with it any longer.

      Both of these methods, by the way will provide ability to access outside the office as well. The 1st method may be somewhat more flexible as you'd be able to get to it anywhere you had access to a browser/internet via the web-app version.

      Good luck,

  8. jasray
    May 18, 2012 at 1:30 am

    Funny, I teach English and find nothing absurdly wrong with the writing.

    Anyway, I would love to have my students using this type of tool; in fact, as educators we are "required" to teach the proper use of technology. Our IT Department doesn't think so. Our network is so locked down students are lucky to open a Word document. To open web storage with access to One Note would be heresy in the highest degree. What makes it all worse is Administration supports the lock down.

    • Ryan Dube
      May 18, 2012 at 3:11 am

      Jasray - thanks. Malexder is the first person in the 6 years I've been writing for MUO that has written anything negative about my writing (about the writing, not about the content), I suppose such a comment was bound to eventually roll in at least once. :-)

      I know what you mean regarding IT lockdown. The last company I worked for had the most atrocious lock-down policies, where it made it pretty much impossible to even be productive and get work done. I think it comes down to the culture of the IT department. There are workplaces out there where IT strikes a healthy balance between productivity and security.

      I think schools are especially hard because there are so many teens hoping to hack their way through whatever firewalls are in place...

  9. Malexder
    May 17, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Too bad in all your research you didn't find tips on how to be a decent writer.

    • Ryan Dube
      May 18, 2012 at 1:04 am

      How kind of you. Maybe you could provide a link to all of your own publications so that I can learn how to write better from your far superior examples.