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If you are like me then you would have made the shift from written notes to electronic notes or ‘e-notes’ a long time ago. But I am still the minority, out of the sixty people on my course I can safely say less than a fifth of the people make electronic notes but for me they are the clear winner.

The two main contenders in the world of note making software are Microsoft’s OneNote and the increasingly popular Evernote. Both of them have similar features: you can handwrite or type notes, both allow for syncing to the cloud for in order to keep all your devices updated and both have note sharing capabilities so it is even easier to share notes with other people.

My note software of choice is OneNote, for me it is the better software but I will come to that later. The deciding reason that made me consider using note taking software was simple, organisation. You can be the perfect student but if you have poor organisation you will not get far in the world of academia.

At first I was sceptical as the only electronic notes I had ever made before was with Microsoft Word and for organisation it simply consisted of  ‘folder1’ and ‘folder 2’, not exactly suitable for university. The key ‘feature’ I looked for when choosing which note making software to use was simplicity. I use an iPad for university for that very reason, they are simple and get the job done, no prior knowledge of IT needed. So, it was even more important that the app I was going to use on my iPad was easy to use but still diverse. My ‘criteria’ were as follows: firstly it couldn’t just be plain text I was making notes in, I needed an application which allowed me to insert pictures, hyperlinks and even handwriting at times; secondly, I needed my notes everywhere, by this I mean that I wanted an app that synced my notes with other devices, so I could make my notes in my lecture and by the time I had walked home they would be on my laptop waiting for me to edit, revise from and print off.

Both Evernote and OneNote are full to the brim with features and at first it can be daunting when their websites have these vast lists of why they are the superior service, but I have whittled down the key similarities and differences between the two;

1/ Both organise your notes into folders which in turn can have various sub folders. The main difference here is the way that they are organised; both apps use a similar system, you have notebooks which inside them have various subfolders and in those subfolders are ‘pages’ where you write your notes down. Notebooks are groups of individual notes. Potentially, you could have one universal notebook and use that for everything, but I have tried and tested that method and it doesn’t work. Most people create different notebooks for different topics, that is to say that you could have a folder (known as ‘stacks’ in Evernote) called ‘English’ and within that two notebooks called ‘literature’ and ‘language’.

But, the apps differ slightly in that Evernote organises its notebooks as ‘stacks’, these stacks are collections of notebooks. For example, you could have a stack called “Uni” that has separate notebooks for each topic. It is easier to think of these stacks and notebooks as a traditional filing cabinet. Stacks would be the individual drawers and notebooks would be the different sets of paper stapled together in the drawers and then pages are the pieces of paper themselves.
Here is an example of organisation in Evernote…

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In this image, ‘Notebooks’ at the top would count as the stack, ‘Personal’ as the note book, and ‘Home Renovation Inspirations’ as a page (note a ‘page’ is not limited to a single page in length)

OneNote’s design is similar but it based upon the idea of a ring binder. Notebooks are selected from a drop down menu (which can be pinned to the side of the screen permanently). Once you have accessed a notebook, similar to most internet browsers you see nowadays, there are ‘tabs’ across the top, much in the style of a ring binder, each of the tabs is a different section of the notebook and then finally once a tab is selected on the far right of the screen is a list comprising the different pages within that section of the notebook.

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This is a screenshot from the OneNote app on my computer. ‘English Past Present and Future’ is the notebook I have selected by clicking on the drop down menu and selecting it, and as you can see within that are the different coloured tabs at the top, e.g. I had selected ‘TB2 LecSem4’ and within that as seen on the far right are the different pages of notes, once again note a ‘page’ is not limited to a single page in length.

2/ Both apps have a huge range of text formatting options, (talking about the iPad versions) on OneNote it is the typical Microsoft Office style ribbon which allows you to do anything you can do on Microsoft Word. Evernote is similar to this and gives you a banner at the bottom of the screen which has similar features but I dare say it is lacking in comparison to the plethora of features that are made available to you with the Microsoft Office style ribbon with OneNote.

3/ Multimedia note taking is another feature which many may see as a deciding factor as in a modern technological age more than just the ability to write plain text is needed. This is where there is a back and forth between the two applications. Evernote allows brilliantly innovative features such as their ‘web clipper’ feature which allows you to select a webpage and save a simplified or full version of it to an Evernote notebook, this comes in handy especially for design related courses. Both apps allow you to insert audio, pictures and drawings as standard but one, for me, huge advantage of OneNote over Evernote is the ability to put content anywhere on the page. This means that when you want to draw a diagram or insert an image it doesn’t have to be in line with all your other text it can alongside it, something I have found to be incredibly useful for when I am studying a complicated theory and I can have a diagram or picture alongside it to help me understand better.

As I mentioned earlier, for me there is a clear winner. Microsoft OneNote offers a much wider range of features and also I feel the whole OneNote experiences much smoother and seamless than Evernote. By this I mean Evernote has lots of aspects it needs to iron out whereas OneNote is already a sleek and refined service.
Electronic notes are something that have definitely revolutionised the way that I learn and revise, they allow for better sharing and improve organisation and for me are definitely the superior note making option.

Keywords

Here is a list of the words that I’ve used that may be new for you, or you just want a clear definition for

Application – an application is a program or piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose. Lots of applications have computer counterparts; for example both OneNote and Evernote are available on various devices such as iPads or computers

Cloud or the cloud – this refers to cloud computing. The word cloud or the cloud is used as a metaphor for “the Internet,” so the phrase cloud computing means “a type of Internet-based computing,” as opposed to computing just done on the device cloud computing means your materials are shared across the internet with any other device that has the application you are using

Syncing – syncing or to synchronise means for something to happen simultaneously. That means that when you click sync on your device (most applications do this automatically when any new additions are made) your data will be sent to all your other devices with the same software. So for example if you are using OneNote for your iPad, if you tap sync when you get home your new additions will be on your other devices

Page – a page is simply any notes you make, it is not limited to a page in length it can be as long as you want it to be

Notebook – a notebook or notebooks is a folder consisting of various pages of notes you may have written

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