Hand writing recognition with the Microsoft Surface

With the increase use and development of tablets, hand recognition software has also further developed in recent years. Recognition of handwriting has got to a point where even poor hand writing is recognise by software tools. When our hand writing is converted to text it can be searched, spoken out or imported easily into other programs.


I have taken a recent look at the handwriting features within OneNote 2013 using a Windows Surface Pro tablet. OneNote is an application that helps to organize your notes and information. OneNote 2013 is part of the Office 2013 suite with tools to convert handwriting into text. The OneNote app that comes bundled with Windows 8 lacks some handwriting recognition features.
There are two ways to convert your hand writing to text. You can use the handwriting recognition keyboard that can be found at the bottom right of the screen. This is good for small amounts of handwriting, up to about 5 words at a time. Or, you can also use “Ink to Text” button within the Draw tab of OneNote’s ribbon. This second way is more efficient if you are considering doing a lot of handwriting into your notes. It allows you to keep on handwriting until you are ready to convert into text. This feature is only available within the OneNote that comes as part of the Office suite i.e. OneNote 2010 or OneNote 2013.

Optional Text to Speech

To give the additional feature of text to speech I also installed TextHelp’s Read and Write Gold. Selecting the play button on Read and Write program will speak out any selected handwriting. You can use alternative free apps to do a similar task of text to speech but the Read and Write program provides a useful toolbar at the top of the screen. You also don’t have to copy and paste between programs.
In the video below, I give a short demonstration of the handwriting recognition tool within OneNote 2013. As it can be seen in the video the recognition works well, but it’s not perfect. However these tools could be an alternative to those have not developed any typing skills such as the older population.

Video Demo

Shortcuts to help

Below are a few keyboard shortcuts to help quickly select and convert your handwriting notes.

After you handwrite your note, you need to select the note that you want to convert to text. This can done by holding a button down on the pen while drawing a circle around your note. However this could be difficult for some users so the alternative is to use the Lasso.
To select the Lasso press Alt, D, L

When the note has been circled or selected it is then converted using the Ink to Text button on the ribbon.

To convert selected text press Alt, D, X

To set up the pen again for writing you need to select a pen from the pen list.

To bring up the pen list: Alt, D, P

To make the pen choice easier to access, create a favourite pen. To do this Press and Hold on the pen of choice until a menu appears. Then select Add to favourite Pens. This can then be moved up to the top of your favourites by a Press and Hold again on your favourite pen from the favourite pen list. This then gives the option to move the pen up the list. If the pen is at the top of the list then use the following shortcut.
To select the favourite pen for writing: Alt, D, P, Enter.

Using a program like Auto Hotkey these shortcuts could be further made easier to access by placing the whole shortcuts under the one key press, such as, with one of the function keys.

Note you can also use the other more general windows shortcuts such as Copy, Cut, Paste etc.

Menu size

If you find the general sizing of menu items too small, then you have the option on the Windows Surface to increasing the general size of things from within Display settings.

To do this from the Home screen, in the search box type Display settings. If you now select Display Settings you should see the option “More Options”. Here you can change the size of items on the screen. Select Larger.

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