OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics

November 1, 2016 by

Call me a little old-fashioned but I love taking notes with a pen and paper. I can jot down an idea or plan a meeting agenda using a physical notebook far quicker than opening and saving a Word document. There is something comforting in the act of writing, a sense of permanency in recording your ideas. I have several notebooks and many illegible post-it notes on my desk as a result!


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My attachment to writing notes made me a little skeptical of Microsoft’s OneNote when I first started using the application a few months ago. However, I am becoming a convert – even more so after researching this article. I am going to share a few ideas and tips to help you leverage OneNote to track ideas and work collaboratively.


What is OneNote?

OneNote is a digital note-taking application and productivity tool. Use the app to take notes, record audio, capture screenshots, and so on. Notebooks may be shared with others (even if they do not use OneNote), which makes collaborative project management easier.  The app is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Chrome, and Android. Integrating with the rest of Office, OneNote automatically saves and synchronizes your notes.

OneNote 2016, 2013, and 2010 are part of the Office suite and are available as a free download here.


Let’s take a look at some of the features of OneNote.


5 Key Features of OneNote

1. Getting Started

OneNote uses a similar structure to physical notebooks with individual notebooks, sections, and pages (notes). Sections are displayed as tabs at the top of the notebook with pages stored in each section.

It is very easy to create new notebooks and you can create as many as you need. Simply open OneNote, select ‘My Notebook’ and choose ‘Add Notebook’.


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics


Add the name of the notebook and location before saving:


Source: Microsoft


Next, invite any contributors to the notebook. Just keep your notes in a shared location, such as OneDrive or SharePoint.


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics

Source: Microsoft


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

Your notebook is now ready to use.


2. Add Sections

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


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics


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


3. Create Pages

There are a few ways to create pages in the notebook. In this screenshot, I have just added a new section, ‘Ideas’, to my notebook. The first page is currently blank. I can create the page very easily by typing in the title.




You can also add, move, rename and delete pages using the page list on the left-hand side.


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics


4. Add Content

There are several ways to add content to your notebook, including options to type, handwrite, record audio and video, capture screenshots, embed files, perform math and copy text from a picture or a file.

Make your content easy to read using the format options on the Home tab:


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics



Enrich your content by embedding files, incorporating Excel spreadsheets, adding pictures and links using the Insert tab. This tab also includes options for recording video and audio:


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics


Prior to writing this article, I was not aware of the ‘Page Templates’ option, which contains a great range of templates to get started. Templates include project outlines, to-do lists, and meeting agendas.


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics


If your organization uses particular templates for meeting minutes or reports, save the format as a template to re-use later.


OneNote also offers the following tabs:

  • Draw: Use for drawing and sketching notes
  • History: Track access and edit history
  • Review: Check your spelling and grammar, and set a password to protect the file
  • View: Use View to set up the page for your preferences including background color, grid lines, and size.


5. Quick ways to add content

There are two additional tools to quickly add content to your notebook: Quick Notes and OneNote Clipper.

According to Microsoft, 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 101: Getting Started with the Basics


OneNote Clipper is a useful browser extension that quickly captures any webpage in OneNote. Clip the entire page or just a section as needed and save to the relevant notebook. Edit and annotate the image as needed.


OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics


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 2016, 2013 and 2010.

Incorporating OneNote into my own 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 and working with Outlook.


Image credit 


Grace Windsor

Grace is a content creator within the marketing team at BrightWork. She loves creating actionable content in different formats to help others achieve more project success. Grace spent far too long at university studying English literature, which instilled a life-long love of learning and upskilling.

In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.
Grace Windsor

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