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How (and why) to use Google Drive as a powerful note-taking tool

Derek Walter | Feb. 4, 2015
There's an abundance of perfectly good note-taking software available for organization addicts, with tools like Evernote and OneNote typically topping the list. The field gets even more crowded if you expand to mobile app stores, which are loaded with specialized tools that promise to save all your ideas from those lengthy brainstorming sessions, meetings, or classroom lectures.

Use those tables

For some notes you may want more than just the usual blank slate. Fortunately, you can tweak documents to make them function better for notes.

Inserting a table works best. Add a table (Insert > Table) with a couple of rows for a quick and dirty way to split up the page. This works great for a number of use cases, but especially for classroom note-taking or whenever you need to place text next to graphics.

There isn't a native capability for splitting your doc up into columns, so a table works best for this kind of situation. You can also add in a horizontal line from the Insert menu if you want to split off one section from another.

Search smarter in Google Drive

Google's search is usually best in class, but sometimes you'll need some additional tools to hone in on what you're trying to find. Drive has several parameters that can refine your search, which is especially useful if the only thing coming to mind is a common term that could be in a large number of files you have saved.

You can specify what type of file you're trying to find — perhaps you want an image you scanned or a doc. If someone else started the file, you can look for one where they're the owner, saving you from too many search results that point you in the wrong direction.

Drive also supports powerful search modifiers similar to the ones you can use in the Google Search, which can help you narrow your queries down to incredibly granular levels. Check out the "Advanced Search Options" section of Google Drive's search help page for a full list. 

Put your camera to work

It's easy to add images to Drive; just snap a picture with the Drive iOS or Android app or use your computer's webcam on the desktop. From there you can add the picture to a specific file or anywhere else in your Google Drive.

Like Evernote, Google Drive employs optical character recognition to let you search for text inside of the first 100 pages of a text-based PDF, the first 10 pages of an image-based PDF, or JPG, PNG, or GIF images up to 2MB in size. Be sure to orient pictures left-to-right (like you were reading a book) and take photos with as high a resolution as possible to get the best results.

Power up with the Research Tool

The Google Docs Research Tool is excellent for use with articles or research papers — and note-taking, as it turns out. For example, if there's a phrase you want to know more about, just highlight it and select the research tool.

 

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