Nonprofit Accounting Basics

Microsoft OneNote: Digital Notetaking

Note: Articles published before January 1, 2017 may be out of date. We are in the process of updating this content.


If your work involves taking notes as part of a research process or part of your day-to-day activities and meetings, then the Microsoft OneNote software program can be a wonderful time-management tool.

The Microsoft OneNote program allows you to create notebooks, sections, and pages where your notes are placed. You can print, export, and email these note pages to colleagues or invite them to share and simultaneously edit notebook content. You can record audio and video. And you can easily search across notebooks to find the notes and audio or video content you have saved in any notebook.

This article will show you how to begin using the OneNote program. OneNote 2010 and 2013 use the same notebook file format. OneNote 2007 uses an earlier file format and offers fewer features. This article focuses on OneNote 2010 or 2013.

1. Begin by creating a notebook. Select File, New, and enter a notebook name.

The notebook is the key object in Microsoft OneNote and is composed of pages, subpages, sections, views, and a variety of content. Adding a note to a page is as easy as placing your cursor on a page and starting to type. OneNote automatically saves your work in your notebooks. You can switch between multiple notebooks and add content without having to worry about saving your latest changes. OneNote does all the saving for you. When you reopen a notebook, your latest changes will be there.

The OneNote Workspace

The OneNote Workspace

2. Add content to and organize your OneNote notebook including Excel spreadsheets, audio, video, files, Outlook email and internet browser screen captures.

When you type on a page, a small gray frame or note container appears around the text. Whenever you move the mouse pointer over notes you’ve previously typed, you will see the note container. Each object placed into a page of a notebook, such as an attached file or a Microsoft Excel table, is placed within a container. You can drag content from any note container into another to combine the notes they contain. 

3. Use tags and search.

It is common to add tags to help you find notes by category. The following procedures will help you get started with tags.

To add a tag:

  1. Place the cursor at the beginning of the line of text you want to tag.
  2. On the HOME tab in the Tags group, select the Tags drop-down arrow and select the tag that you want to apply.

To find tags:

  1. On the HOME tab in the Tags group, select the Find Tags tool.
  2. In the Tags Summary task pane that opens on the right, select any tag to open the page containing the note associated with the tag.
  3. If too many results are displayed, select the Search drop-down list at the bottom of the Tags Summary task pane to narrow the search scope.
  4. Select Refresh Results.

OneNote has an OCR (optical character recognition) feature which allows you to search text within notes and text within graphics. Text can also be searched within audio files to find the timed location of a certain spoken topic. Audio search works with both audio clips and the audio portion of video clips that you record or import.

Use instant search to search all open notebooks:

  1. To start an instant search, press CTRL+E to open the main search window.
  2. In the Search box type a word or phrase.
  3. You can change the search scope by selecting Change.
  4. In the results list, select the result you want and OneNote will jump to the note.
  5. When finished, press Esc or select the X in the upper-right corner of the search pane.

4. Share and collaborate with notebooks in the cloud.

SkyDrive is a cloud solution or file hosting service that allows you to upload and synchronize files to a cloud storage and then access the files from a local device or web browser. You have access to everything on your SkyDrive wherever you are: on a phone, tablet, PC, or Mac. When you create a OneNote notebook on SkyDrive, you can access the notebook from any device and you can easily share and synchronize the contents of the notebook.

You can also invite others to share and add content to your notebook. The following procedures will help you share a notebook.

To invite others to share your notebook:

  1. Select FILE, select New, enter a notebook name, select your SkyDrive account, and select the Create Notebook button.
  2. Select FILE, select Share, enter an email address and a message, and select the Share button. SkyDrive will then send a sharing notification.
  3. The recipient selects the link to the notebook in the email message and the notebook opens. Content added to the notebook will appear in the shared notebooks.

When the notebook opens, it is viewed in the browser using the OneNote web app. If edit permissions have been given, the window displays choices for Edit in Browser or Open in OneNote. Selecting either of these buttons will allow editing and synchronizing of the notebook.

After a notebook is shared and synchronized, you can see the editor’s changes and the date and time the changes were made.

5. Translate your handwriting into text.

If you make handwritten notes using a stylus on a page in OneNote, you can click the Ink to Text tool on the ribbon Draw tab and OneNote will change the handwriting into text.