OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics

OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics

October 22, 2020 by

Communication is essential to successful projects, especially if your team is working remotely in different locations and time zones.


Project and portfolio management on your Microsoft 365 cloud with BrightWork 365 [Read more]


Meetings, decisions, tasks, and so on should be documented and shared with the team to keep everyone in the loop.

Before you reach for Word, try Microsoft OneNote instead. A note-taking app, OneNote is packed with features to improve collaboration and save time!

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of OneNote so you can get up and running quickly. In the next article, we’ll take a closer look at using OneNote for project management.


What is OneNote?

OneNote is a free digital note-taking application and productivity tool. Use the app to take notes, record audio, capture screenshots, and so on.

Onenote is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Chrome, and Android devices and as a web app.

Although each version has slightly different functionality, syncing across devices and versions is seamless.

Except for the web app, users can work offline and sync their work later on.

Windows users can use OneNote or OneNote for Windows.





Previously known as OneNote 2016/2013, this desktop app is available as standard with Office 2019 and as part of Microsoft 365 subscriptions that include client apps (Word etc).

During Ignite 2019, Microsoft reversed its decision to drop OneNote in favor of OneNote for Windows 10.

Microsft 365 users can find OneNote in the apps launcher.

A OneNote Notebook is included by default with new SharePoint Online sites, Office 365 groups, and a team in Microsoft Teams.

With this version, sections appear along the top of the notebook, with pages listed on the right-hand side.


OneNote for Windows

This is a free, pre-installed app for Windows 10 and can also be downloaded from the Microsoft App store. Sections and pages appear on the left.

OneNote Windows 10 App


Think of this application as a lightweight version of OneNote. OneNote and OneNote for Windows can be used side-by-side on the same desktop.


Elements of OneNote

OneNote is divided into three key areas: Notebooks, Sections, and Pages.

  1. A Notebook is similar to a physical notebook and is used to group related information, for example, a notebook per project.
  2. Sections are used to group information together within the Notebook, for example, a section for weekly team meetings and a section for stakeholder feedback.
  3. Add content to Pages within each section. Unlike a physical notebook, you can add different types of content in any layout you like to the same page.




The ribbon will vary by version, with OneNote offering more functionality than OneNote for Windows.

Let’s see how to create and use a Notebook using OneNote and OneNote for Windows 10.



5 Ways to Get Started with OneNote

1. Create a Notebook

Open the relevant version of OneNote and click on the name of the notebook you are currently using.

This opens a list of recently accessed notebooks and the option to ‘Add Notebook’.


OneNote Add Notebook


When using OneNote, you will need to select a location before saving.


OneNote for Windows 10:


OneNote Windows 10 Add Notebook



2. Add Sections


Add sections to your notebook using the ‘add button’ on the navigation tab.


Name the section. If you need to rename, delete or move the section, just right-click on the section tab.


OneNote for Windows

Add sections to your notebook using the add button, found on the left-hand side. Name and re-name the section as needed.


OneNote Windows 10 Add Section


In both versions, you can drag and drop Sections to re-order content as needed.


3. Create Pages

Whether you are using OneNote or OneNote for Windows, the process for adding a page is identical to creating a section.

With pages in place, add, move, rename, and delete pages as needed. You can also group content by creating subpages, which improves navigation.

Simply right-click on the selected page and select ‘make subpage’.



4. Add Content

Depending on your version, there are several ways to add content to your notebook:

  • Type or write using a stylus
  • Record audio and video
  • Capture screenshots
  • Embed files
  • Copy text from a picture or a file.


Let’s take a look at the various options in OneNote, many of which are not included in OneNote for Windows 10.


Add and Format Content

Firstly, make your content easy to read using the format options on the Home tab on the ribbon.



We’ll review tags and tasks in the next article.

Next, enrich your content with the Insert tab. Embed files, incorporate  Excel spreadsheets, add pictures, or record video and audio.

OneNote Insert Tab


These features are particularly useful for remote teams working in different time zones. Team members can add more context to project tasks and easily share feedback with their colleagues.

OneNote also offers the following tabs for managing content:

  • Draw: Use for drawing and sketching notes.
  • History: Track access, view recent edits, and restore deleted files.
  • Review: Check your spelling and grammar, and set a password to protect the file. Users can also translate content into any language supported by Microsoft Translator, a useful capability for distributed teams.
  • View: Use View to set up the page for your preferences including background color, grid lines, and size. Create a docked window to use the page side-by-side with another document or web browser.


If you are using OneNote to document meetings, add key information such as time, participants, and the content of the invitation to a page with ‘Meeting Details’. This is a quick way to record the context of the meeting for later reference.

You’ll find ‘Meeting Details’ under the ‘Home’ tab in OneNote or the ‘Insert’ tab in OneNote for Windows 10.


Quick Notes

Quick Notes are similar to sticky notes. Use this feature to jot ideas and sort later.

When OneNote is running, use the ‘Quick Note’ option on the View tab to add your note.

If OneNote is not open, use the keyboard shortcut ‘Windows + N’ to open a new note window. Enter and format the content as needed; the note will be added to the ‘QuickNotes’ section of your notebook.


OneNote Clipper

OneNote Clipper is a browser extension that quickly captures any webpage in OneNote.

Clip the entire page, copy as an article, bookmark a web page, or take a screenshot of a section The note is saved to the relevant notebook for later reference.

OneNote Web Clipping Tool


OneNote Templates

‘Page Templates’ are a handy way to structure content quickly in OneNote. Options include project outlines, to-do lists, and meeting agendas.



5. Share Your Work

Contributors can edit and update the notebook in real-time, which is a fantastic resource for distributed project teams


Before sharing a Notebook, the file should be stored in OneDrive.

Access ‘Share’ options under ‘File’. Here, you can set permissions (edit or view), share via email or link, or share with meeting attendees.

In this area, you’ll see who has access to your Notebook. To stop sharing the content, right-click on the relevant individual.

Update their permissions or remove the user completely.


OneNote for Windows 10

Share an entire notebook with other people and allow each invited notebook participant to view or fully edit your notes.

You can control access to the content by setting an expiration date on the link or by adding a password.

If your notebook is stored in your personal OneDrive account, you can also share a static snapshot of any single page of notes.




As you may have guessed by now, OneNote is a powerful productivity and collaboration tool with numerous options.

For more training resources, see Microsoft’s library of free videos and ebooks for OneNote.

Incorporating OneNote into my routine has saved time, made collaboration easier, and notably, improved how I track research and ideas.

In the next article, I will explore the benefits of OneNote for project management in more detail, including managing task lists.


Image credit


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Grace Windsor
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