Note-taking on a laptop

Making the perfect GDL notes using OneNote

Many GDL students aspire to make the perfect set of notes. Read on to find out how you can use OneNote to achieve this.

The OneNote app

OneNote is a free app from Microsoft designed to improve your note taking experience. It allows you to organise your notes into different categories and notebooks, each containing multiple sections. It’s simple to use and very easy to organise. Go ahead and download it here.*

One thing you’ll notice immediately is that unlike other programs, OneNote does not confine notes to a conventional A4 page. Instead, the page size is infinite, giving you the freedom to write and organise your notes as you please.

Here are some of my top tips to using OneNote effectively to create the perfect GDL notes.

Learn how to use sections, pages, subpages and headings

Sections, pages and subpages were invaluable to me when writing my GDL notes. At BPP I was helpfully given structured study notes as part of my materials pack. These notes were helpfully organised into numbered sections and paragraphs which I used to organise my notes.

OneNote notes screen of GDL notes


The left-most column is where you’ll find your colour-coded sections. As you can see above, I used a different section for each module on the GDL. Use sections in the same way that you would organise your hard copy notes into folders.

Pages and Subpages

Within each section, I created a page for each topic within a module. As you can see above, each topic was numbered according to each lecture/chapter in the study notes.

Within each topic, I also made subpages for different subtopics. This helps to organise broad ideas within a topic. It’s also particularly useful for organising your notes so that each subpage corresponds to a step in a process.

I also made a separate page for each lecture and tutorial within a topic. This allows your lecture and tutorial notes to be kept separate from your bank of ordered notes.

You can see from the picture below, that you can use the insert printout function to print lecture slides onto the page. When in lectures, I simply wrote notes in a text box beside each slide.

OneNote insert printout into GDL notes


Headings are the perfect way to organise a page of notes. Having each heading numbered logically, you can more easily see how your notes structured.

OneNote heading Styles

OneNote contains in-built styles for different heading hierarchies. This is a super useful feature for building a hierarchical note structure. In addition to headings, I’d recommending using indentation to further organise your points.

Use bold/italics/underlining/colours

If you set up a method early on to format your cases and statutory references, this helps greatly when skimming through notes. All of my statutory references were in bold and cases in bold + italics.

Once you set up a good system, stick to it and your notes will end up looking amazing.

Know your keyboard shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts will allow you to navigate and write notes far more efficiently. Lecturers often speak faster than we can format our notes. However, with a few keyboard shortcuts, you’ll be able format and note-take on the go.

Here are a couple of my most used shortcuts, but you can see a full list here.

Ctrl + T Create a new section
Ctrl + NCreates a new page
Ctrl + PgUp/PgDownNavigate one page up/down
Alt + Left/RightBack/forwards one page
Ctrl + .Format into bullet points
Ctrl + /Format into a numbered/ordered list
Alt + Shift + Left/RightIndent line left/right
Alt + Shift + Up/DownMove line up/down
Ctrl + 1Add a checkbox to the current line
Ctrl + 2Star the current line
Ctrl + Alt + HHighlight the current selection
Ctrl + Alt + 1/2/3Format line as Heading 1/2/3
Ctrl + Shift + NRevert current line to normal formatting

Make use of tables

Lots of information in law can be nicely laid out using tables. Fortunately, OneNote makes it simple to create tables. Simply start typing what you’d like in the first cell and then press Tab. This instantly puts what you typed into a cell and moves onto a new cell. Press enter to create a new row and keep going! Right-clicking on a table allows you to add/remove rows/columns as appropriate.

Draw diagrams

OneNote handwritten diagrams in GDL notes

Sometimes, you may want the freedom to handwrite something in your notes. If you have a touchscreen laptop, you can use your finger or pen input to draw directly onto your notes.

OneNote features multiple pens/pencils/highlighters to help you format your handwritten diagrams/notes. The lasso tool lets you select different brush strokes and copy/move them to other locations in your notes, giving you an extra layer of flexibility.

If you’re in the market for a touchscreen laptop, check out the Microsoft Surface products, Lenovo Yoga and HP x360 devices.

Sync across all your devices

The beauty of OneNote is that you can carry all your notes wherever you go. The mobile app is perfect for browsing and making small edits to your notes. Go download it here for Android and iOS.

Print as pdf

Finally, if you ever want a hard copy of your notes, you have the option of printing your notes. This is great to have once you’ve selected which topics you’ll focus your revision on. If you memorise things better using paper, this is perfect for you.

Go and make some notes!

This post is just small taste of what Microsoft OneNote has to offer. There are many more features, but these are the ones I found most useful. Before long, you’ll soon have a set of GDL notes which will make revision a whole lot easier.

As always, keep working hard and good luck with your note-taking!

*Be aware that there is a more feature-packed version (OneNote 2016) with Office 365 subscriptions. However, Microsoft has said that it will be performing minimal updates to it and will be focussing on the OneNote app.

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