I’ve recently been exploring OneNote in more depth, intending to move from being a 10-year casual user to a power user. I know that Microsoft has put a huge amount of work into OneNote and I want to find out what I can use.
One recently added feature is the way in which files can be inserted in OneNote. This interested me in particular because I would like to use OneNote to be able to access files I need for my teaching. My principle requirement was to be able to create Sections and Pages on a particular topic and, along with other materials such as images and screenshots, add links to documents I had in my OneDrive.
So, I used: Insert > File, and selected a file. I was then presented with the following options:
It seemed logical to see how each of these option worked in detail so I searched the internet. I could not find a single detailed description, except one here. Nothing by Microsoft or at Microsoft forums. (The link above, while very good, had one error which the author has subsequently corrected.)
So I decided to create my own description of the options for my reference and possibly for others as well.
Option 1: Upload to OneDrive and insert link
How it works
- copies the file to a location on your OneDrive, “Files > OneNote Uploads”
- puts a link to this document (in the new location) on your OneNote page.
- puts a read-only version of the file on your OneNote page.
Later, if you click the link mentioned in (2.) above:
- OneNote opens a browser tab with an icon representing the file.
- You then click the icon to open another tab, this time with the document ready to edit in Word online.
If you then edit the document the read-only version will be updated, not automatically but when the page is refreshed. (e.g. by selecting another page and then returning to it.)
Option 2: Insert as Attachment
How it works
- puts a copy of your file on your computer at C:Users>(name)>AppData>Local>Packages>MicrosoftOffice.OneNote_8wekyb3d8bbwe>LocalState>EmbeddedFileFolder>0-4.
- It puts an icon on the page which, when clicked, opens the document (in the new location) in Microsoft Word.
Note that the document will also be available on other devices. If you click the OneNote link on another devices, a further copy of the document will be added to the corresponding location (C:Users>(name)>AppData> … etc). If edited, the new form of the document will be available on the original computer. Of course, if the other device is not connected to the internet, there will be conflicting versions…
Option 3: Insert as Printout
How it works
Intially OneNote puts the following on the page:
- A pdf containing the document.
- A Word icon which, when opened, will enable editing of the document.
- A “printout” of the document.
- (At this time, I do not know where the copy of the document is stored, but assume it is in the OneNote file itself.)
Please note that, if the document is updated, neither the pdf nor the printout will be updated. This makes it possibly the most misleading option because there is now an inconsistency between the 3 representations (pdf, word link and printout) on the page.
Firstly, it should be noted that none of the above options updates the original document. I had assumed that at least one of the methods would or should, but experimentation has proved this is not to be the case. So:
- The original file is now completely separate from the links in OneNote.
- If the original file is updated in its original location, the files which have been embedded into OneNote recognise this. They will remain unchanged.
- If the file is updated from any of the links in OneNote it will not update the original file.
- For each one of the 3 options a different file, in a different location, is created by OneNote. And updating one does not update the other.
The implications of this situation are as follows.
- You lose the ability to use your OneDrive file organisation, with folders and subfolders. Using OneNote to access files effectively creates another file organisation system dependent on OneNote. This is a backward step for some users, in my opinion.
- You run the risk of not remembering which option you chose to embed the file or possibly choosing more than one method inadvertently. This may lead to confusion with different versions having different updates.
- If you wish to use the file in some way such as email a copy to somebody, add it to an off-site backup etc, you may encounter problems. Which version do you use? How do you detach a version modified in OneNote from OneNote?
Overall, this feature of OneNote seems problematic.
The failure to include an option to link the file to its original position in the OneDrive folder structure is surprising. I’m sure that many users would expect this to be the way it worked and will find complications down the track.
I am also surprised that Microsoft did not choose to fully document the complex aspects of these methods of “embedding” a document in OneNote. It has taken me a substantial amount of time to find out how each works and the results are not exactly what I would have expected.