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How to use Google's AI-powered NotebookLM to organize your research

Google's NotebookLM can collect and collate your notes, documents, research, and sources to help you make sense of it all.
Written by Lance Whitney, Contributor
Google's NotebookLM
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

Gathering and managing research for any type of project can be a daunting task as you have to try to organize the different kinds of information you collect. One tool that aims to ease the process is Google's NotebookLM. Using AI, NotebookLM will collate the various sources of information you add, summarize the key details, and even answer any questions you ask about the research you've gathered.

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Available to anyone through Google's experimental Labs service, NotebookLM acts as part note taker, part collaborator, part data collector, and part librarian. The tool works by prompting you to create a virtual notebook designed to hold all the text, documents, and other research that you compose or collect. The goal is to provide easy access to all of the information you need as you write your paper, conduct your research, or develop your project.

For now, NotebookLM is available only in the US for people 18 and over. Here's how it works.

How to use NotebookLM

1. Browse to the NotebookLM site

First, open the NotebookLM website in your favorite browser. You can use Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, or another program. Click the button to try NotebookLM and sign into your Google account if prompted.

Browse to the NotebookLM site
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

2. View the Welcome page

View the Welcome page to learn how to create a notebook and access sample notebooks.

View the Welcome page
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

3. Check out sample notebooks

Before you create your first notebook, review the sample notebooks to learn how they're put together. Click each of the sample ones at the bottom -- Introduction to NotebookLM, Invention Of The Lightbulb, Mugifier Documents, and Westward Mushrooms. 

See how the notes and sources are collected and organized and how the tool suggests potential questions to ask. Be sure to read the Introduction to NotebookLM notebook to learn how to effectively use the tool itself.

Check out sample notebooks
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

4. Start your first notebook

After viewing the sample notebooks, return to the Home screen. Click the button for New Notebook, name your project, and then click Save.

Start your first notebook
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

5. Add your first source

Your first task is to add a source that you want to use for your project or research. You can upload a Google Docs file or a PDF or copy and paste text. Let's try a Google Doc first. Click the Add Source button in the left pane and then select Drive from the popup window.

Add your first source
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

6. Upload a document from Google Drive

At Google Drive, navigate to the folder containing the document you want to upload and then select it. You can select more than one document. Then click Insert.

Upload a document from Google Drive
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

7. Upload a PDF

Next, you can upload a PDF to add to your notebook. Click the Add Source button, select PDF from the window, and then click the file you want to upload.

Upload a PDF
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

8. Add text

Next, you can add copied text. Open the document or other file that contains the text you wish to use. Select and copy the text. Click the Add Source button in your notebook and select Copied Text. Paste the text in the window and then click Insert.

Add text
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

9. Add notes to your notebook

At any point, you can add one or more notes to your notebook. The notes can describe the project or research you're conducting, the contents of the notebook, or questions you might want to ask about the sources and information you've gathered. 

To create a note, click the Add Note button in the upper right, click anywhere in the New Note window, and then type your note. When done, click anywhere outside of the note to save it.

Add notes to your notebook
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

10. Add more sources and notes

Continue setting up more sources and notes until you've added all the research and information you need. Click on a specific source to view it in a large pane. A source guide provides a summary of the information along with its key topics.

Add more sources and notes
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

11. Ask a suggested question

At this point, you may want to start asking questions to flesh out specific details in the source information. The AI built into the NotebookLM technology suggests questions based on its analysis of the sources. Click one of the suggested questions to generate an answer. You can then select any follow-up questions.

Ask a suggested question
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

12. Ask suggested questions about a specific source

To ask suggested questions about one of the sources, click that source to open it in the larger pane. The suggested questions that appear are devoted to that specific source. Click the question you want to ask.

Ask suggested questions about a specific source
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

13. Ask your own questions

Beyond using the suggested questions, you can naturally ask your own questions. At the prompt, type the question you wish to ask and wait for the reply.

Ask your own questions
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET

14. Share your notebook

Finally, you can share the notebook with someone else. Click the Share icon in the upper right and enter the name or Gmail address of the recipient. Click the drop-down box next to the person's name and decide if you want them to be able to edit the notebook or only view it. When ready, click Send to send them the link to your notebook.

Share your notebook
screenshot by Lance Whitney/ZDNET
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