I’m currently doing a Masters in Law at the University of Edinburgh — it’s a distance-learning, 100% online course over 20 months. During the summer break, I also started a new job which meant I was given a brand new Macbook Pro to work on. As I got my head around OSX for the first time, I enjoyed using it and found my Surface Pro 2 gathering dust. As such, I sold it and found myself entering my second semester in September with just a Macbook Pro, an iPad Mini, a Windows 10 desktop and a brand-new set of highlighters.

What a mistake.

As about 90% of my mandatory reading was online via PDFs, I’d got into the habit of simply printing them into OneNote, where my notebook sections are organised by module. I’d always found reading on a regular computer screen and highlighting with a mouse was totally untenable for anything more than a tiny selection of text. Next, I’d tried my iPad Mini and while it was a great reading device, highlighting text with my fingers was unwieldy and inaccurate. So I went old-school: I’d manually print out and highlight my reading every week and type up rough notes afterwards.

As I’d done my first semester with a OneNote/Surface Pro already, I’d not quite appreciated just how much reading I did each week. Here is a reference photo of about 60% of the reading I was required to do, printed at least 2 or 4-pages per sheet (single-sided):

DSC_0004-01

I went through at least 750 physical pages of A4, then factor in the printing I didn’t do and the research required for mid-term and final essays and I was looking at close to 2,000 pages per semester. With such a high quantity, it was inevitable that any manual notes I typed up suffered from quality!

As the end of the semester approached, I simply could not manage my studies in an efficient and productive manner, so bought a Surface Pro 4 before my final essays were due.

For me, OneNote is a Surface Pro and a Surface Pro is OneNote — they are so intrinsically linked together, I can’t imagine one without the other. I need OneNote to provide reliable synchronisation between my devices as well as a simple place to store all my required reading, but I need a Surface Pro so I can read, highlight and take notes in a similar fashion to physical paper:

OneNote Highlights

My handwritten notes are (generally) recognised and the OCR picks up most text within the printouts—making retrieving information when writing (or citing!) so much easier to rediscover.

One little trick I also found was that printing my own essays into OneNote and proof-reading there made for a much more thorough experience. Too often, reading through in Word meant I read what I’d wanted to say or was reticent to make large structural changes until I’d read everything else—Catch 22. With OneNote, I could mark-up, draw, cross-out and highlight to my heart’s content:

OneNote ProofreadThere is very little technology in life I find myself absolutely wedded to—I’ve got iOS, OSX, Win10, Windows Phone and Android devices, as well as a huge number of different cloud services that I’ve tried—I’m ever the technological pragmatist. But Microsoft really has a winning combination here: with OneNote definitely the star and the Surface Pro 4 providing an incredible inking experience.

It is genuinely technology I struggle to work without.

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