The Super-Easy Guide on How to Use OneNote

When Post-It Notes came out, many people considered them one of the greatest inventions for the office of all-time. They stuck to just about anything, keeping reminders of important tasks front and center.

Throw in multiple sizes and colors, and it’s easy to understand why a few of your co-workers chose to plaster every available open space in the cubicle with them. (No judgment if you still have Post-In Notes plastered everywhere … but you may want to rethink keeping those that were originally hung in 2011.)

Post-It Notes are still fun, but there is a far more efficient option. Microsoft OneNote gives you the option to take notes digitally on your favorite device, organizing them and sharing them as desired. We will help you learn how to use OneNote with our comprehensive guide.

What Devices Can Use OneNote

You are able to use OneNote on almost any device, including a traditional computer or a mobile device using operating systems including:

  • Android: for tablets, smartphones, and wearables.
  • Apple: for Mac computer, iPad tablets, iPhone smartphones, and Apple watches.
  • Windows: for desktop computers, smartphones, and tablets.

It also works inside a web browser. OneNote ships with Windows 10 and with Microsoft 365, or you can download it separately.

If you are using OneNote on more than one device, the app has the ability to share your notes across all devices, so they’re always up to date. You’ll only need to have a OneDrive account to enable sharing. You also can share your notes with other people.

Understand that OneNote’s versions are slightly different with different devices, which can be a little frustrating on occasion, but the differences are minimal. Depending on how you use OneNote, you may not even notice the differences.

How to Create a Notebook

When trying to learn how to use OneNote, the key is understanding notebooks. Whenever you create typed notes, written notes, attached audio and video files, and other aspects of taking notes, these items will end up in a notebook. The notebook allows you to organize your items in OneNote.

Setting up multiple notebooks makes it easier to organize and keep data related to multiple projects separate, meaning you’ll want to be able to figure out how to create notebooks.

Creating Your First Notebook

When you set up OneNote for the first time, the app will create your first notebook automatically. You have the option of adding more notebooks in the future, but the first notebook is a piece of cake.

Adding More Notebooks

When you’re ready to add more notebooks, follow these directions.

1. Start a New Notebook

Click on your name in the upper left corner of the OneNote window. Then click on Add Notebook.

You also can open a new notebook by clicking on the File menu, followed by the New command.

2. Add a Name for the Notebook

Type the name for the notebook in the Notebook Name text box.

When naming your notebooks, you’ll want to be as specific and descriptive as possible, so it’s easy for you to tell them apart.

3. Select a Folder

To keep your notebooks organized, you can save them in any folder you choose. Click on Create in a Different Folder to change the folder. In the window that pops up, you can use an existing folder or create a new folder, if desired.

Finally, click on the Create Notebook button to make the notebook.

Creating Your First Note

To create your first note in OneNote, you can click anywhere on the screen of the notebook. When the cursor appears on the screen, you can start typing to create a note.

You can add extra notes on the same page. Just click anywhere on the page and start typing again to add another note window.

As you’re typing inside a note window, you can hit the Enter key to create a new line. Hit Enter again to create a blank line. You also can format the text by right-clicking inside the note window.

You also have the option for taking handwritten notes if you’re using a touchscreen tablet or smartphone. You could use a stylus or a finger to draw on the screen.

Advanced Note Features

Once you have the basics of creating notes inside the Notebook down, you then can apply some special features to make it easier to keep your notes organized and readable.

Moving Notes

To move a note to a new location on the page, move your cursor over the note. The app will highlight the note window. Click and hold on the gray bar at the top of the note window and drag it to the new location.

Resizing Note Windows

With a note window highlighted, you can resize the window, causing your text to wrap differently inside the window.

Move your cursor over the note window, and the app should highlight it. With the cursor over the right border of the window, click and hold on the border. Then drag the border to the new location, making the note window wider or narrower. As you change the width of the note window, the lower border of the note window will resize itself to accommodate the new positioning of the text.

Organizing Within a Notebook

When you create a new notebook, you have multiple layers you can use in the notebook, helping you organize things in a manner that makes sense to you. Think of it like an outline with different hierarchical levels for organizing your data.

  • Note: which is the lowest level of organization.
  • Page: which is the middle level of organization, where you can add notes to the pages.
  • Section: which is the highest level of organization, where you can add pages to the sections.

You can have multiple sections in each notebook, multiple pages in each section, and multiple notes on each page.

To add a page, click on Add Page in the upper right corner of the notebook window. To add a section, click on the tab with the plus sign along the top of the notebook window. Create descriptive names as you add each element.

Sharing Notebooks

You can share the data on your notebooks in a few different ways when using OneNote.

Sharing an Entire Notebook

Open the notebook that you want to share with others. Click the Share button in the upper right corner of the notebook window. If you do not see a Share button, click the File menu, followed by Share.

In the popup Share window, type the email addresses of the people with whom you want to share the notebook.

You then can click on the drop down menu to select the permissions those people will have regarding the notebook. If you want to let people edit the notebook, click the Can Edit selection. If you only want them to be able to see the information without editing it, click the Can View selection.

Then click Share, and your recipients will receive an email message, telling them how to gain access to the notebook.

Changing Permissions

If you want to change the editing or viewing permissions for someone with whom you’ve shared a notebook, open the Share window. Click on Share With People. You will see a list of those with whom you’ve shared the file.

Right-click on a recipient’s name. Then change the permissions by left-clicking on either Can Edit or Can View.

Share a Screenshot of a Page

After opening the Share window, as described above, you can choose Send a Copy, which will send a screenshot of the page as it’s currently configured to your recipients, rather than a link to the actual notebook. By sending a screenshot, any editing changes you make later to the notebook will not show up in what you’ve sent to your recipients.

Deleting Notes and Other Elements

It may be beneficial to be able to delete notes, pages, sections, or notebooks as you’re working. Understand that once you delete something, you cannot recover it a day or two later. If this concerns you, make sure you have made frequent backups of the folders where you’re storing your notebooks, so you can retrieve them later in case of an accidental deletion.

Delete Notes

You have a few options to delete the notes on the screen.

  • Backspace the text in the note, deleting it; once all the text is deleted, the note will disappear.
  • Click on the gray border at the top of the note window to highlight the window and then press the delete key on the keyboard.
  • Right-click on the gray border at the top of the note window and then left-click Delete or the red X.

If you realize immediately that you made an error and would like to restore the note, you can use the Ctrl-Z keystroke combination to undo the deletion, as long as you have not already typed some new text or taken some other actions.

Delete Pages

To delete an entire page, look through the list of pages on the right side of the screen. Right-click on the page you want to remove, and then left-click on Delete.

Delete Sections

To delete a section, look through the list of sections across the top of the screen. (They look like tabs on a folder.) Right-click on the tab of the section you want to remove, and then left-click on Delete.

Delete Notebooks

You have a couple of options to delete a notebook.

Deleting It Locally

Open the document folder in which you are storing the notebooks from OneNote. Find the icon for the notebook that you want to delete.

Highlight it and press the delete key on the keyboard. Additionally, you can right-click on the icon, and then left-click on Delete.

If you are using Windows, you will need to empty your Recycle Bin to permanently delete the notebook immediately.

Deleting It From OneDrive

If you have been storing notebooks on OneDrive, you will need to delete it from this cloud storage location too.

Open OneDrive and find the folder in which you have been storing your notebooks. Click Manage, followed by Delete to remove it from OneDrive.

After doing that, you’ll need to open OneNote. Right-click on the notebook name that you just deleted, and then left-click on Close This Notebook. This step ensures that others will not be able to try to access the deleted notebook. If you shared the notebook with others, they may still see the name on their device, even after you deleted it on your device.

Synching Notes and Going Mobile

If you want to sync your OneDrive notes between your devices, this can be an easy process, but you need to have OneNote prepared for synching.

Start by making sure you are using OneDrive on your computer and on the mobile device. With the latest version of OneNote, the app will automatically sync your notebooks with OneDrive. If you’re using an older version of OneNote, you may have to set up synching yourself.

Click the File menu in OneNote, followed by Share. In the Share window, click Move Notebook. This will move a copy of the notebook onto OneDrive.

Then sign into OneDrive with your mobile device. Find the name of the notebook and open it on your mobile device to see it.

Syncing Notes Manually

Under most settings with OneNote, as you add notes in your notebook, the app will automatically copy them into OneDrive. However, you may experience delays if your Internet connection is not fast or has spotty reliability.

You can create the sync manually too. Open the OneNote app on your mobile device and touch Notebooks, which usually is in the lower left corner of the screen. Tap on the three vertically stacked dots, and then tap Settings. In the Settings window, tap on Sync All, and this will force the app to synchronize now.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira