OneNote 101: Getting Started with the Basics

Shubhangi Pandey
By | Updated November 8, 2023 | 14 min read

Key Take Aways

  • OneNote’s versatility suits various applications, from academic note-taking to professional project management.
  • Its cross-platform availability ensures you can access your data anytime, anywhere.
  • Advanced features like OneNote Clipper and Page Templates offer added convenience and efficiency.

Project management on Microsoft 365

Watch a demo of BrightWork 365 project and portfolio management templates for Microsoft 365, Power Platform, and Teams.

Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful project – especially when your team is dispersed across various locations and time zones. 

While numerous tools are available for project management and communication, Microsoft OneNote is a versatile and feature-rich solution.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through OneNote’s essential features and functionalities, setting you on the path to seamless collaboration and time-saving efficiencies. 

Whether you’re new to OneNote or looking to leverage its advanced features for project management, this article will become your go-to resource!

Why Choose OneNote?

OneNote is not just another digital notebook – it’s a powerful productivity tool designed to streamline your workflow and enhance team collaboration. 

With features ranging from multimedia content integration to cross-platform availability, OneNote offers a one-stop solution for all your note-taking and organizational needs.



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



What’s Ahead?

  • Introduction to OneNote’s core features
  • Comparative analysis of OneNote versions
  • Tips for efficient note management
  • Advanced sharing options for team collaboration


Stay tuned for our next article, where we’ll delve deeper into using OneNote for  project management


What is OneNote?

OneNote is more than just a free digital note-taking application – it’s a comprehensive productivity tool designed to enhance your workflow and organization.

With OneNote, you can jot down handwritten or digital notes and enrich them with multimedia content like online videos, audio files, and even Screen Clipping.

It’s like having an electronic notebook that you can carry everywhere but with the added benefits of search tools, to-do lists, and collaboration features. 

Whether you’re a student looking to organize your school notes, a professional managing loads of tasks, or someone who wants to keep their shopping list in check – OneNote has something for everyone.

Platform Availability

Onenote is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Chrome, and Android devices and as a web app. It even offers a lightweight version for Chrome users and a web app for those who prefer working directly from their browsers. 

It ensures you can access your notes, multimedia content, and to-do lists from virtually any device, making it a universal note-taking app.

Syncing Across Devices

One of the standout features of OneNote is its seamless syncing capability. While each version – for Windows, Mac, or mobile – may offer slightly different features or user interfaces, the core functionality remains consistent.

It means you can start taking notes on your desktop app, add them from your mobile version while commuting, and then finalize your thoughts on your Mac at home.

All these changes will be automatically updated and synced across all your devices, ensuring you always have the most current notebook at your fingertips.

Working Offline

OneNote’s convenience continues even when you’re offline. Except for the web app version, all other platforms allow you to work offline, making it an ideal tool when you don’t have an internet connection.

Whether in a remote location, on a flight, or simply experiencing connectivity issues, you can continue to take notes, edit existing ones, or even organize your topical sections. Once you’re back online, OneNote will automatically sync all your offline work, ensuring you never miss a beat.

OneNote Versions: A Comparative Analysis

For Windows users, OneNote offers two distinct versions: the classic OneNote and OneNote for Windows. While both versions provide the essential features of digital note-taking, they differ in some key areas.

The classic OneNote is rich in feature enhancements and offers a more extensive range of format options, making it ideal for power users who require advanced capabilities.

On the other hand, OneNote for Windows offers a more streamlined, user-friendly interface, focusing on essential features and ease of use, making it perfect for first-time users or those who prefer a simplified experience.


OneNote Desktop App



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 (i.e. Word).

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

Microsoft 365 users can find OneNote in the app 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.

If you’re interested in leveraging Microsoft Teams for your projects, check out our guide on Microsoft Teams for project management.

OneNote for Windows

This free, pre-installed app for Windows 10 is downloadable from the Microsoft App Store. Sections and pages appear on the left. It’s designed for quick note-taking and easy navigation, making it a convenient option for those who want a straightforward digital notebook experience.

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.

Lightweight vs Full-Featured

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

While the lightweight version focuses on essential features and ease of use, the full-featured OneNote offers a broader range of capabilities, including advanced format options and multimedia content integration.

What are the Main Elements of OneNote?

OneNote’s organizational structure mimics the familiarity of a physical notebook but with the added benefits of digital functionality. It is divided into three key areas: Notebooks, Sections, and Pages.

  1. A Notebook is similar to a physical notebook. It is used to group related information, for example, a notebook per project. It allows you to keep all relevant data, from meeting notes to to-do lists, in one consolidated place.
  2. Sections are used to group information within the notebook, for example, an area for weekly team meetings and a quote for stakeholder feedback. It helps further categorize your notes, making it easier to locate specific information when needed.
  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. It means you can integrate text, images, and even online videos on a single page, offering a rich note-taking experience.




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


5 Ways to Get Started with OneNote

Getting started with OneNote is a breeze, thanks to its intuitive design and user-friendly features. Here are five essential steps to help you make the most of this versatile digital notebook application.

1. Create a Notebook

Whether you’re using the classic OneNote or OneNote for Windows 10, creating a new notebook is your first step in organizing your digital notes. Click on the notebook you’re currently using to open a list of recently accessed notebooks. Then, select the ‘Add Notebook’ option.


OneNote Add Notebook

Before saving your new notebook, you must choose a storage location, ensuring your notes are securely saved.


OneNote for Windows 10:

OneNote Windows 10 Add Notebook


2. Organize Your Notebook with Sections

In OneNote, you can add sections to your notebook using the ‘add button’ on the navigation tab. These sections serve as topical divisions within your digital notebook, making finding and managing your content more accessible.


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


Right-click on the section tab if you need to rename, delete, or move the section.

OneNote for Windows

Look for the add button on the left-hand side to create a new section. You can rename the section as needed by right-clicking on it.


OneNote Windows 10 Add Section


You can drag and drop Sections in both versions to reorder content.

3. Create Pages

Whether using OneNote or OneNote for Windows 10, adding a page is identical to creating a section. Once your pages are set up, you can add, move, rename, and delete them. You can also enhance navigation by creating subpages.

How do you create subpages? Right-click on the selected page and choose the ‘make subpage’ option.

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 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 following 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 your notebook’s ‘QuickNotes’ section.

OneNote Clipper

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

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

OneNote Web Clipping Tool


OneNote Templates

OneNote’s ‘Page Templates’ offer a quick and efficient way to structure your content. To get started, choose from various templates, including project outlines, to-do lists, and meeting agendas.

Page Templates in OneNote are more than just a design – they’re a powerful feature that can significantly speed up your workflow. 

Whether drafting article content or planning a class project, templates provide a uniform appearance and structure to your digital notes.

5. Share Your Work

OneNote offers real-time collaboration, making it an invaluable resource for distributed project teams. Contributors can edit and update the notebook simultaneously, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

OneNote: Sharing Made Simple

Before sharing your notebook, ensure it’s stored in OneDrive for secure access.

Navigate to the ‘File’ tab and select ‘Share’ to explore various sharing options.

You can set permissions, share via email or link, and even extend access to meeting attendees.

To manage or revoke access, right-click on the individual’s name and update their permissions.

OneNote for Windows 10: Advanced Sharing Features

Share an entire notebook and control access with advanced settings like expiration dates and passwords. 

If your notebook is stored in your OneDrive account, you can also share a static snapshot of any single page, offering flexibility in collaborating with others.


Unlocking the Full Potential of OneNote for Enhanced Productivity and Collaboration

As we’ve explored in this guide, OneNote is much more than a digital notebook. It’s a robust platform to facilitate productivity and enhance team collaboration. 

From multimedia content integration to real-time sharing capabilities, OneNote offers many features tailored to meet diverse needs. If you’re looking for more specialized solutions, consider our PPM software.

Key Takeaways:

  • OneNote’s versatility suits various applications, from academic note-taking to professional project management. 
  • Its cross-platform availability ensures you can access your data anytime, anywhere.
  • Advanced features like OneNote Clipper and Page Templates offer added convenience and efficiency.


To better understand what makes a project unique, read our article on the characteristics of a project.

Further Learning:

Microsoft provides many free training resources for those looking to expand their OneNote skills, including video tutorials and ebooks.

Our upcoming article will focus on leveraging OneNote for project management, covering topics like task list management and advanced note organization techniques. 


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

Project management on Microsoft 365

Watch a demo of BrightWork 365 project and portfolio management templates for Microsoft 365, Power Platform, and Teams.

Shubhangi Pandey
Shubhangi Pandey

BrightWork Content Marketer

Shubhangi is a product marketing enthusiast, who enjoys testing and sharing the BrightWork 365 project portfolio management solution capabilities with Microsoft 365 users. You can see her take on the experience of the template-driven BrightWork 365 solution, its unique project management success approach, and other personalized services across the site and social channels. Beyond BrightWork, Shubhangi loves to hunt for the newest Chai Latte-serving café, where she can read and write for hours.

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