In my post on EverNote vs. OneNote, I mentioned handwriting recognition as one of the shortcomings in OneNote. I also mentioned that the implementation in EverNote is a bit disappointing as well because it uses a “shotgun” word approach. By that I mean that EverNote sets up an XML database of sorts where many possible words (most of them completely wrong) are attached to each handwritten word. If you search on any of those words, it will come up as a hit on that part of the image. You may be initially impressed when it magically finds the correct word when you search on that word, but the excitement fades when you realize lots of other words that aren’t even close will match as well. As I mentioned before, I do give the EverNote team a lot of credit for even attempting this, it’s just not quite good enough yet to be useful.

Having said that, the EverNote implementation did give me an interesting idea. Even though I capture a good percentage of my notes electronically using the DROE Tool, I still find it impossible to move away from handwritten notes entirely. There are too many situations where I either don’t have my laptop, or it’s not convenient or polite to use it. (I’m also too cheap to invest in a fancy image capture pen or tablet PC.) So here is my poor man’s solution…

I scan my hand-written Daily Record of Events (DROE) pages into a PDF file using the office copier. I then print these to OneNote, and I store them in my DROE Archive (@DONE section) as described in my post on “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“. I then add a brief keywords section to the top of each OneNote page as shown below.

I do this by opening Notepad in a separate window, scanning through the DROE notes from the past week, and just typing keywords into Notepad as I encounter them. The order does not matter, and you can skip any articles such as “the” and “a”. The list need not form any sort of logical sentence. The reason for Notepad was that I want a separate window off to the side for typing while I scroll through the DROE page in OneNote. Once I make it to the bottom of the DROE page, I copy the list of keywords from Notepad, paste them at the top of the OneNote page, and dismiss the Notepad window. Voilà, your hand-written DROE page is now searchable! You’ll get hits either form Windows Desktop Search (WDS) or from the OneNote search function.

A few tips… Do not scan more than a week’s worth of handwritten notes into any given OneNote page. Separate them out. The reason for this is that once your search hits on a keyword at the top of the page, you need to be able to scroll down and find it. The shorter the section, the more precise your search results will be. I would also not recommend going too short — no less than one week of handwritten notes in a single OneNote page. The reason for this is that the overhead of creating the keywords becomes too great and you’ll tend to skip that step during your weekly review.