Nonprofit Accounting Basics

Microsoft OneNote: Tips for Notetaking and Collaboration

Note: Articles published before January 1, 2017 may be out of date.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

Apr 14, 2021

Much of our work involves taking notes, collecting content, and sharing information as part of day-to-day business activities and meetings. The Microsoft OneNote desktop app can become one of your favorite time-management tools. This how-to article will help you use the Microsoft OneNote desktop app (formerly OneNote 2016) at basic through intermediate level.

The Microsoft OneNote desktop app allows you to create notebooks, sections, and pages where your notes are placed. You can print, export, and email the note pages to colleagues, invite them to share and simultaneously edit notebook content, or share the notebook in a Microsoft Teams channel. You can insert file attachments, printouts, and email. 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.  If that sounds amazing and useful, it is.

Another version of OneNote, named OneNote for Windows 10, is also available and contains similar features with a different arrangement of the user interface. Once you start using OneNote, you will benefit from installing the mobile version for Android or iOS. 

1. Begin by creating a notebook. Select File, New, Save to OneDrive, 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. It is normally saved in OneDrive which also allows you to easily share it in a channel in Microsoft Teams. 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. You can switch between multiple notebooks and add content without having to worry about saving your latest changes. OneNote does all the saving and synchronizing for you. When you reopen a notebook on multiple devices using OneNote, your latest changes will be there.

The OneNote Desktop 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. There are page templates you can use and create if needed. 


3. Use tags and search.

It is a best practice to add tags to help you find notes by category or urgency. 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. If enabled, audio search works with both audio clips and the audio portion of video clips that you record or import in the OneNote desktop app.

Use instant search to search all open notebooks:

  1. To start an instant search across open notebooks, 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.

You can upload and synchronize OneNote notebooks using Microsoft OneDrive.  You have access to all notebook content saved on OneDrive from almost any device and you can share and synchronize the contents of notebooks.  You can even invite others to share and add content to your shared notebook from within a private Chat or a Team Channel in Microsoft Teams.

The following procedures will help you share a notebook.

To invite others to share a new or existing notebook stored in OneDrive:

  1. Select File, select New, enter a notebook name, select your OneDrive account, and select the Create Notebook button.
  2. Once your new or existing notebook is open, select File, select Share, enter an email address and a message, select can edit or can view, and select the Share button. OneDrive 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 notebook.

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.

To invite others to share your notebook stored in a Channel in Microsoft Teams:

  1. Select the Channel in a Team in Microsoft Teams.
  2. Click the + symbol to the right of the existing channel tabs to add a new tab.
  3. Select OneNote.
  4. Browse to choose your OneNote notebook. Select the notebook and select Save.
  5. The notebook now is shared with every Team member for simultaneous editing.

If a Team member wants to sync the shared notebook back to their OneDrive so they can work on the notebook outside of the Team channel using OneNote (the desktop app), while editing the notebook in Teams they should click Open in Desktop App. This step sets up a copy of the notebook in their OneDrive and it automatically syncs to the Teams notebook.  Then they can work on the notebook in either the Teams channel or the OneNote desktop app.

5. More OneNote Tips and Best Practices

Switch Between Open Notebooks

To switch between open notebooks:

  • Click the Notebook drop down and select the notebook name from the list of open notebooks.
  • Your selected notebook will become the active notebook.

Add a Web Page or a document printout using Send to OneNote

To add content from a web page or a document to a notebook page:

  • Right-click on a web page and select Print.  For a document select File, Print. In the Print dialog box, choose the printer named OneNote (desktop).  OneNote will open behind your application. You will see a dialog box prompt asking you to identify which notebook page is the destination for the web content.  Expand the parts of the listed notebooks until you select the page.  Select OK

Add Outlook email content using Send to OneNote

To add content from an Outlook email to a notebook page:

  • Right-click an email message in Outlook desktop and select OneNote.  You will see a dialog box prompt asking you to identify which notebook page is the destination for the web content.  Expand the parts of the listed notebooks until you select the page.  Select OK. OneNote will open. The email attachments, if any, will be embedded in the OneNote note with the email content.

Add Content from a Web Page with a Hyperlink to the Source Page

To add content from a web page with a hyperlink to the source page:

  1. Select content on a web page and copy.
  2. Switch to a OneNote page and paste.  The hyperlink to the source page is part of the pasted content.

Add Lists

To type a bulleted list on a page:

  1. On the HOME tab, in the Basic Text group, select Bullets. To choose a specific bulleting style, select the small arrow next to the button instead and select the style you want.
  2. Type the first item to start the list, and then press ENTER to begin a new line. Repeat this step for any additional list items.
  3. To end the list, press the ENTER key twice.

To automatically begin a bulleted list, type an asterisk (*) on a new line in your notes, and then press the SPACEBAR.

To type a numbered list on a page, follow the same steps using the Numbering tool.

Work with Audio recording in OneNote

Recording audio and video are popular and easy to use features in OneNote. If you type on a page while you are recording audio, a play symbol appears near the text and you can start the playback at that point in time. You can use the following general procedures to record audio.

Record an Audio File

To record an audio file:

  1. In OneNote, select a location on the page where you want to place the recording.
  2. On the INSERT tab, in the Recording group, select the Record Audio tool.
  3. On the AUDIO & VIDEO RECORDING tab, you can control the recording.
  4. To pause or stop the recording, use the controls on this tab.
  5. To play a recording, double-click the media icon on the page.  To play the recording from the point in time when you typed text on the page, click the play object located to the left of the text you typed.

How to Add Quick Notes and Linked Notes

Quick notes and linked notes are features in OneNote that will enhance your note taking options. The following procedures will help you get started with quick notes and linked notes.

Add a Quick Note

To add a quick note while working in OneNote:

  1. Select the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+N and a quick note will appear.
  2. Type your note in the small note window. You can format the text by using the commands on the Mini toolbar that appears.
  3. Repeat the previous steps for any additional quick notes that you want to create.

A quick note is not attached to a particular page in a OneNote notebook. The quick notes are a separate section in OneNote.  To access your quick notes, in OneNote click the Notebook drop down and select Quick Notes at the bottom of the list.  All of the notes will be located in Quick Notes and you can cut and paste or copy and paste the quick note content to a particular notebook and page.

Add a Linked Note

To add a linked note:

  1. On the VIEW tab in the Views group, select Dock to Desktop.
  2. The current OneNote page will be docked to the side of the Windows desktop.
  3. Any notes that you take in the docked OneNote window will be linked to their context which could be a Word document, Excel file, or PowerPoint file.
  4. If you copy and paste content from a webpage, a hyperlink of the web address will be part of the note.
  5. When finished with a linked note session, maximize or close the note window.

Add a Link from a Note to another Note or Notebook Page

To add a link from a note to another note or notebook page:

  1. Highlight text or a paragraph.
  2. Right-click and select Link to Pages or Copy Link to Paragraph.
  3. On another page, select the Insert tab in the Links group, select the Link tool.
  4. Paste the link in the Address box and enter the Text to display.
  5. Select OK.

Clicking the link will return to the paragraph where the link was made.

How to Work with Excel Spreadsheets and Embedded Files

The following procedures will help you work with Excel files within a notebook and also embed other file types into a notebook.

Create an Embedded Excel File in a Notebook

To create an embedded Excel file in a notebook:

  1. On the INSERT tab, in the Files group, select Spreadsheet and then select either Existing Excel Spreadsheet or New Excel Spreadsheet.
  2. If a warning about opening file attachments is displayed, acknowledge it by selecting OK.
  3. When the existing or new file type is inserted, OneNote will not only display a file icon for it, but also show a dynamic preview of the file on your notes page. If the information in the embedded file is changed or updated, the preview in OneNote will dynamically reflect these changes.

Add an Embedded File as an Attachment in a Notebook

To add an embedded file as an attachment in a notebook:

  1. On the INSERT tab, in the Files group, select the File Attachment tool.
  2. In the Choose a file or a set of files to insert dialog box, navigate to the location of the file to be attached and select it. Multiple files can be selected with the CTRL key.
  3. Select Insert.
  4. A copy of the selected file or files is inserted on the current page. An icon for each file appears that you can double-click to open or view the file.

Print a File to OneNote to Read or Review with a Stylus

To print a file to OneNote:

  1. On the INSERT tab, in the Files group, select the File Printout tool.
  2. In the Choose Document to Insert dialog box, navigate to the location of the file that you want to insert, and then select it.
  3. Depending on the type of file you are selecting, OneNote will attempt to launch the source program for the selected file and then digitally print its contents to the current page in your notebook.

Use Drawing Tools for Note Taking

To use drawing tools for note taking:

  1. On the DRAW tab, in the Tools group, the Type tool is active by default.
  2. To draw, select one of the color pen tools.
  3. When the pen is active you can draw with the mouse or use a pen or stylus directly on the screen.
  4. To end pen mode, select the Type tool so that it becomes the active tool.

Modify Pen Options to Create Custom Pens

To modify pen options to create custom pens:

  1. On the DRAW tab, in the Tools group, select the Color & Thickness tool.
  2. Select the properties of the pen.
  3. Select OK and a new pen is added to the Ink Styles box of pens and highlighters.
  4. You can remove the custom pen or highlighter by right-clicking on the pen or highlighter and selecting Remove Pen from this List.

A OneNote notebook is a great place to collect notes, research, review, share, and access a variety of content. For more information on how to use a OneNote notebook, visit this link at the Microsoft website: