How to Use Microsoft OneNote

Note-taking is an important activity for a lot of people. It’s impossible to remember everything important, so jotting it down helps you keep track of to-do lists, project schedules, and more.

If you’re interested in moving your notes to the digital realm, there’s no better tool than Microsoft OneNote. Let’s take a look at how to use OneNote and the many ways it can help you keep track of your life.

Install OneNote

OneNote is part of Microsoft Office, so you may already have it on your work computer. To check, open the Start Menu in the bottom-left corner of your screen and type OneNote. If any OneNote entries come up, click them to start the program. In the Windows 10 screenshot below, the Desktop app is the full version of OneNote. The other entry is one of Microsoft’s new Modern apps, and doesn’t have all of OneNote’s features.

If you don’t have it installed yet, it’s also available completely free from Microsoft. Visit the OneNote download page to find the version for your platform. You can download the desktop program for Windows or Mac, or use the lighter web version of OneNote if you don’t want to install anything.

To use OneNote, you’ll need to sign into a Microsoft account. If you use Outlook for work, you can use those credentials to sign into OneNote with your company account. Else, you can sign into a personal Microsoft account or create a new one.

OneNote Navigation

Once you’re in OneNote, you’ll see a screen like this:

Let’s review the main navigation methods in OneNote.

  1. Your notebooks. Here you can see the notebook that you currently have open. Click its name to expand the list and create a new one.
  2. Sections. The tabs along the top allow you to create sections inside a notebook. Sections let you divide a notebook into logical partitions. You can also create section groups here.
  3. Pages. Here you can see existing pages in a section and create new ones. Pages are the lowest level of navigation. You can give every page a title (shown by a line at the top of the page) so you can easily see what each page is about.
  4. Search. If you don’t remember exactly where you wrote something, you can search for it here. OneNote’s search is powerful and can even search the text inside images.
  5. Note area. The giant space in the middle of your screen is where you take notes. Click anywhere and start typing — it just works.

What Can I Put in OneNote?

While you can enter text anywhere in OneNote, it really shines when you add more content. Here’s a sampling:

  • If you have a touchscreen computer, you can write in OneNote by hand. Select the Draw tab at the top of OneNote, choose a pen, and then draw with your stylus or finger. You can also use these pens to draw with a mouse if you like.
  • Add website links to OneNote and it will automatically format them as hyperlinks. That way, when you click on them, they’ll instantly take you to the website.
  • When you have files related to a subject, you can include them in OneNote. Just go to Insert > File Attachment or drag and drop a file into OneNote to add a copy of the file to the page.
  • Add images by copying and pasting them from the web, or dragging and dropping them from your PC. You can also go to Insert > Screen Clipping to take a screenshot, or Insert > Online Pictures to get pictures from Bing.
  • Use Insert > Table to easily draw a new table to hold information.
  • OneNote is great at math. Type out a basic arithmetic statement ending with an equal sign, like 12*52=, and OneNote will automatically enter the solution when you press space. For more complex equations, go to Insert > Equation. You can add common formulas, or use the new options at the top of the screen to write your own.
  • On the Home tab, under Tags, you’ll find many ways to tag your notes so they’re easier to find later. The To Do Tag lets you create checkboxes that you can tick off as you complete tasks. Expand the box and you can add tags like Idea, Call back, or Important. Particularly handy is Outlook Tasks, which lets you add a new reminder to Outlook right from OneNote.

OneNote Tips

We’ll wrap up with a few tips for getting the most out of OneNote.

  • The strip of menus along the top of the screen (called the Ribbon) is similar to what you’re used to from Word and Excel. The Basic Text section of the Home tab lets you change the color, size, and font of text. You’ll find all kinds of Shapes on the Draw tab, as well as the Ink to Text and Ink to Math buttons that can convert handwriting to text.
  • Click the name of your current notebook, then Add Notebook to create a new one. Saving your notebook in Microsoft OneDrive lets you access it from any device that you’re signed into. Thus, you can install OneNote on your phone to get your notes anywhere.
  • Visit File > Share and you can send your notebook to others. OneNote even lets you collaborate in real time with coworkers. If you visit the File > Export section, you can save a OneNote page or section as a Word document or PDF to share it with people who don’t use OneNote.
  • Don’t forget about searching. It can help you find pretty much anything, even in a sea of notes.
  • Unlike Word, OneNote regularly saves your work automatically. You don’t have to worry about saving before you exit the program. Also, OneNote automatically expands pages as you work.

How Will You Use OneNote?

That’s all you need to know to get started with OneNote. Once you have a few notebooks ready and know what you can add to them, the only limit is what you can think to add. You might want to keep a separate notebook for each of your duties, create sections for each new month, or use some other form of organization.

There’s really no wrong way to use OneNote. As long as it works for you, you’ll have success!

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