Does this situation sound familiar? You've been told, or read, or heard, or found out something very important, and jotted it down on a piece of paper so you'll have it to hand when you need it. Perhaps you're not sure you can entirely trust your memory, so writing it all down is a much better idea, particularly if there are quite a few key details to note. And then, the time comes to make use of your findings, and - the note's gone. You've lost the paper somewhere. At best, you'll have to go back and start again; at worst, you might have mislaid something that you'll never be able to recover.

Wouldn't it be a whole lot better if all the information you gather could be stored safely together, ready for use whenever you need it? And better still if you could find just the right note immediately, without having to rummage through a wad of paper?

Well, okay, perhaps you have a system. Perhaps you are sufficiently thorough and organised that your notes are always at your fingertips, filed according to clear categories. For the rest of us, however, it would clearly be an improvement to have a repository for notes that's as easily searchable, sortable and accessible as documents on your hard drive or texts on the internet (and even if you have a perfect system, you still won't be able to search the content of notes without reading them all, will you?). You can probably tell where this is leading - and yes, there is just such a solution. It's called OneNote, it's part of Microsoft Office, and it can do remarkable things with all the vague scraps of information you throw at it.

An all-purpose digital notebook

If you are in any way organised, then you're probably used to keeping written notes in some kind of notebook, ring binder or folder, perhaps with little tabs to separate different categories. And this, essentially is what OneNote is, a digital notebook - but one with a much larger scope, versatility and usability. As you'd expect, it can be extended almost without limit, capable of supporting any number of notes with countless categories, so you can turn straight to the notes you want. Plus, of course, it has that search tool, so you can find exactly what you need.

But OneNote isn't just a handy place to keep notes. You might imagine that it simply replaces handwritten note with a typed note, and yes, it can do that. However, as we said it can work with all the information you send in its direction: typed notes, handwritten notes that are scanned in, handwriting on a tablet computer, clippings from websites and audio and video recordings. Everything can be stored, slotted straight into your digital notebook and sorted and searched at your will - and yes, you can even search those notes you've scribbled down on paper or a tablet; OneNote's character recognition tool allows any note to be read and manipulated just like a neatly typed piece of text.

Whatever kind of information you need, and wherever you might find it, if you've a way to record it then OneNote can store it for you, and have it ready for use whenever you require it.

Making use of your notes

Another situation that may sound familiar: you've jotted down the key information in a notebook, and now you need to make use of it, maybe to write a Word document, create a PowerPoint presentation, enter information in an Excel spreadsheet or Access database, or develop a brochure or pamphlet in Publisher. Do you have somewhere to put your notebook? Are you trying to make room for it beside your right elbow? Lean it against the side of your monitor? Perhaps you have a clip to attach it to the side of your screen, or then again, perhaps you're just resting it on your lap. Finding a place to put your notebook while you use the computer simultaneously can be a real nuisance.

And it would be a real nuisance if you had those Office applications open, and kept having to flick between that and the OneNote screen. Fortunately, however, there's no flicking necessary: the OneNote window can be simply docked onto the side of your screen, allowing you to find the necessary notes and have them right there in front of you, ready to be worked with. Everything about OneNote is designed to make it easy to transfer notes, recordings and snippets of information into a finished piece of work as simply as possible - and to be used as effectively as can be with all other Office applications.

But what if your notes are stored on your computer, and you need them elsewhere? Perhaps you're working on a project with a colleague, you're both using their computer, and you need your notes. Not a problem: login to the OneNote web app, and you can both access your notes through your colleague's browser - or, alternatively, the mobile app allows you to have your digital notebook with you wherever you go.

Knowing what to put into your Office documents - content for your presentation, research for a Word document, vital information for a database, or whatever you need - can make all the difference to their effectiveness. With OneNote, you can be confident of always having the information you need at your fingertips (it may be worth considering a short training course to make the most of OneNote, and of how it works in tandem with other Office programs), and with that confidence, your finished work can be better than ever.