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):
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:
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:
There 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.