25+ Microsoft OneNote Tips & Tricks You Need to Know

2021-09-01

OneNote is a digital virtual notebook that allows real-time collaboration with your colleagues. It is automatically backed up to Microsoft Office 365 cloud.

There are OneNote apps for every device covering Windows PC, Apple Mac, iPhone, and Android.

OneNote can be used to capture and store anything. You can enter your own notes, add and audio or video recording, add a quick sketch, or insert pictures. You can also add a file of any type, or add an Excel spreadsheet.

OneNote is extremely versatile in what it can do. You can add check boxes to your notes, so that you can keep track of tasks that have been done, and what is still to do.

You can add an Outlook meeting appointment in the calendar to a page in OneNote, add your notes on the meeting, and share your notes with everyone in the meeting.

Because storage is in the Microsoft cloud, you can switch devices at any time and work on the move.

Microsoft cloud storage also provides very high security. Your data is less likely to be hacked, and is extremely safe. Only the colleagues that you have shared it with can see it.

Tips shown are running on a Windows 10 device, and may be different on other devices.

Show the Full Ribbon

When you open a new notebook, the ribbon might be collapsed.

This is a great way of increasing the size of the user input pane, but it does not show you all groups and options within the ribbon.

You can only see the ribbon tab headings, and you only see the ribbon groups when you click on a particular tab.

Click on any tab in the ribbon headings and the full ribbon will appear.

Right click anywhere on the full ribbon and choose Collapse the Ribbon. This acts as a toggle to collapse or show the full ribbon.

There is also a useful Show Ribbon setting toggle so you can set the ribbon to always show.

Click on the small down chevron icon on the very right of the ribbon and set this to Always show Ribbon.

Useful Shortcut Keys

In some ways, OneNote has some similarities to Microsoft Word. If you are familiar with Word, the you will find that some of the Word shortcuts are transferable to OneNote.

Using shortcut keys can save time. You do not have to look through the ribbon to find the correct button.

CTRL+C This will copy the selected text onto the clipboard. It is the same command as using the Copy button on the Clipboard group of the Home tab of the ribbon.

CTRL+V This will paste the copied text from the clipboard into the area that your cursor is focused on. It is the same command as using the Paste button on the Clipboard group of the Home tab of the ribbon.

CTRL+X This will cut the selected text from the document and onto the clipboard. It is the same command as using the Cut button on the Clipboard group of the Home tab of the ribbon.

CTRL+B This will embolden the selected text in the document. It works as a toggle in that if you select the bold text and use the shortcut again, then the text will return to normal. It is the same command as using the Bold button on the Font group of the Home tab of the ribbon.

CTRL+I This will italicise the selected text in the document. It works as a toggle in that if you select the italic text and use the shortcut again, then the text will return to normal. It is the same command as using the Italic button on the Font group of the Home tab of the ribbon.

CTRL+Z This will undo the last action. For example, if you typed some text or did an action on the document, CTRL+Z will undo it.

Show all OneNote Shortcuts

Every button or icon on the ribbon has a shortcut associated with it. You can view these by pressing ALT. This will show the top-level shortcuts for the ribbon tabs.

Press the letter key for a tab. For example, press N for Insert, and you will see all the shortcut keys displayed on each group of the ribbon.

For example, to insert a picture, you can use ALT + N + P.

Use Quick Notes

A Quick Note is like a yellow sticky note. You may want to jot down a thought or a reminder to do something.

You can add a quick note by clicking on the New Quick Note button in the Window group on the View tab of the ribbon.

You can resize the quick note box by dragging the arrow handles on the border of the box. You can drag the quick note anywhere on the section by clicking on the title bar of the quick note and dragging it to a new position.

They also come with a full set of ribbon command. Click on the three dots in the middle of the title bar to expand the full set of commands available inside your quick note.

Quick notes are stored in the Unfiled Notes section of your default Notebook. You can find notes by clicking on the down arrow to the right of your Notebook name tab, and clicking on Quick Notes.

Using the Search Facility

You can easily forget in OneNote where you stored everything. You can use the built-in search facility to find specific text.

The search facility is on the right-hand side of the note window.

Enter your search text in the search box, and a pane will open showing where your search text has been found.

Press ESC to close the search results pane.

Formatting Your Text

You can format your text in the same way as you would in Microsoft Word. Select the text to be formatted by dragging the cursor across it.

A pop-up box will appear allowing various formatting options. You can use the options to change the font, font size, font color, background color and more.

Adding a Checkbox to Text

If your section of your notebook is a to-do list, you can put a checkbox against each task, so that they can be marked as complete as time progresses.

Select the text for the text box first. You can then either use CTRL+1 or click on To Do (CTRL+1) in the Tags group of the Home tab on the ribbon.

This will display a check box in front of your text. Click on it to check or uncheck it.

Reorder To Do Items

When you create a list of to do items, you might later need to re-order them.

This is easy to do as you can drag and drop each checkbox item using the

Share your Notebook and Collaborate with Colleagues

It is very useful for teams to be able to collaborate in real time from anywhere.

You can keep a project organized, share action points and comments from meetings, and share notes about clients.

You can share your notebook by clicking in File on the ribbon tab.

  1. Click on Share in the left-hand pane of the window, and you will see all the Share options.
  2. Choose Share with People.
  3. Enter the name or email address of the person that you want to share the notebooks with. The person needs to be in your Outlook contacts list. In the drop-down box to the right, you can select whether they can edit or just view your notebook. You can add a personal note to tell them about your notebook and what it does.
  4. Click on the Share button and an email invitation will be sent to them.

Now you will all be able to collaborate on the shared notebook.

Make a Quick Drawing or Graphic

You can draw directly or place a graphic shape onto a notes page. By clicking on the Draw tab on the ribbon, you have a large number of options for drawing or placing shapes on your note.

Click on the Color & Thickness button in the Tools group, and you can choose how thick you want the drawing pen to be and select the color.

You can now draw a line using your cursor. When you have completed your drawing, click the Type button in the Tools group of the ribbon and the cursor will revert to normal.

To remove a drawing line, click on the line itself, and a pop-up menu will appear. Click on the Delete button.

Using Tags

Tags can be used to prioritize and categorize important notes within your notebook. 

You can tag a single line of text or an entire paragraph. You can add multiple tags to the text. For example, you can add both an Important tag and a Question tag to one line of text.

To add a tag, first select the text for the tag. Click on the Home tab in the ribbon, and then use the list box in the Tags group to add the desired tag to your text.

To remove the tag, right-click on it and click Remove Tag.

To find tags, go to the Home tab and click on Find Tags in the Tags group, and a navigation pane will open to the right of the section showing all the tags found.

Email your Notes

OneNote can easily email your notes to various recipients.

In the Home tab, click on Email Page in the Email group. Wait a few seconds and a OneNote email window will be displayed, showing the contents of the section in your notebook.

You can tailor the recipients and contents of the email as if you were in Outlook. 

This functionality saves a lot of time. You do not have to select your text and copy it, and then open a new email in Outlook and paste the note into it.

Create an Outlook Task in OneNote

You can create a task that shows in both OneNote and Outlook. First, select the text that you want to be in your task. Click on Outlook Tasks in the Tags group of the Home tab on the ribbon.

This will show a dropdown allowing you to create a new task in the future.

Once a task has been created you can click on Open Task in Outlook and you can edit the task dates and content.

A flag appears next to your task in OneNote and the task is added into Outlook.

You can find your tasks by clicking on Find Tags in the Tags group of the Home tab. A summary pane of all tags will be displayed on the right-hand side of the window.

If you delete the task in Outlook, the task flag will be deleted, but the text will remain in OneNote.

Use Templates

OneNote has a large library of built-in templates that you can use as pages in your notebook.

Click the Insert tab on the ribbon, and then click on Page Templates in the Pages group of the ribbon.

This will allow you to select a Project Overview template, or click on Page Templates and this will open up a navigation pane on the right-hand side of the window, allowing you to choose from many other variations of templates.

Using templates saves you a huge amount of time and setting up text.

Translating

If you work in a global organization, it is a good idea and a courtesy to translate notes into the native language of colleagues that you may be sharing your notebook with.

First, select all the text that you want to translate (CTRL+A will select all the text).

Click on the Translate button in the Language group of the Review tab on the ribbon. This will display a translate navigation pane to the right of the window.

Scroll down to see the destination language. You can use the dropdown to choose many different languages.

Scroll down further and click on the Insert button, and your text will change to your chosen language.

Spell Check

Any mis-spelt words will be highlighted with a red wiggly line underneath, so that they can be corrected.

However, you can use the spell check facility. Click on Spelling in the Spelling group of the Review tab on the ribbon.

This will spellcheck your entire note, and will display options for any mis-spelt words that are found. The results are shown in a navigation pane to the right of the window.

You can add a word to the dictionary and you can also choose another dictionary for spellchecking.

For example, if your text is in French and the dictionary is English, then every word will appear to be spelt incorrectly.

Use the Thesaurus

You may wish to use a word with a similar meaning to the word that you have entered. You may have used this word already within your text and do not wish to repeat it.

Select the word and then click on Thesaurus in the Spelling group of the Review tab on the ribbon. 

This will display a navigation pane to the right of the window, showing a list of alternate words that you can use.

Click on the word in the list that you want to use, and then click on the dropdown arrow to the right of that word. Click on Insert in the drop down, and the new word will replace the old selected word.

Copy Text from Picture

A little known but very stunning feature on OneNote is the ability to be able to copy text from an image in OneNote.

A stock image has been inserted into OneNote. This is a picture of a menu at a restaurant.

Right click on the picture and select Copy Text from Picture in the pop-up menu. This will copy all available text onto the clipboard. Unfortunately, there is no indication that it has completed the copy.

Click on a new area of your note and use Ctrl + V to paste the text in.

This function uses surprisingly good OCR (optical Character Recognition) to distinguish any text within the image.

Capture Audio and Video into OneNote

You can insert audio or video into OneNote without having to use another application to record it.

You can do this by using Record Audio button or Record Video button on the Recording group of the Insert tab on the ribbon.

This will allow you to make a recording, and will display a sub ribbon menu for playing back the recording.

Embed an Excel Spreadsheet into OneNote

You can embed a new Excel spreadsheet or an existing Excel spreadsheet into OneNote.

Click on the Spreadsheet button in the Files group of the Insert tab on the ribbon.

Click on New Excel Spreadsheet in the drop-down menu and a skeleton spreadsheet will be added. Right click on this skeleton, and click on Edit.

This will take you into Excel where you can then enter your data onto the spreadsheet in the normal manner. Close the Excel window, save the spreadsheet when requested, and return to OneNote.

At this point you will only see the original skeleton spreadsheet. Right click again on the skeleton and click on Refresh in the pop-up menu.

Changes made in OneNote will not appear in the original Excel file, and changes made in the original file will not reflect through to OneNote.

Use Screen Clipping to Add a Screen Image

You can grab a screenshot of any open application in one easy action.

First of all, click on the application that you wish to take a screenshot from, for example a web browser.

Move to OneNote. Do not go to any other applications.

In OneNote, click on Screen Clipping in the Images group of the Insert tab of the ribbon.

This will take you to the previous application window. Drag the cross cursor to form a box of what you want to clip from the screen.

Your clipped source data will then appear on OneNote.

Add a Link to a Website

You can add a hyperlink to a website into your notes.

CTRL + K is a shortcut to the Link pop-up window. You can also use the Link button in the Links group on the Insert tab on the ribbon.

Just enter the text for the display name and the actual web address, and then click OK.

The link will then appear in your notes.

If you have the URL address in a browser, you can use Copy and Paste to put the link directly into your notes.

This can also be used to create bookmark links to various locations inside the OneNote notebook. This is a great way to create a linked table of contents.

Add a File Attachment

Click on File Attachment in the Files group of the Insert tab on the ribbon.

This will display a standard browser for you to select your file.

The file will show in your note as an icon according to the type of file that it is. It will also show the file name, and if you hover your cursor over it, it will display further information about the file.

Double click on the file icon to open it. If it is an image, you will be given a choice of which application to open it in.

Deleting Objects

You can easily end up with a number of objects on your note section, such as file icons, spreadsheets, or audio / video recordings.

At some point in time, you may want to tidy everything up and delete some of these, which could be no longer relevant.

To do this click above the left-hand corner of the icon / object and drag a box over the area that you wish to delete. Click on the Delete key on your keyboard and that area will be cleared.

If you have deleted too much, use the Undo facility in the Home tab of the ribbon.

Show History

OneNote keeps an audit trail of all changes that occur, and you can view this.

Click on Recent Edits in the Authors group of the History tab on the ribbon.

This will show a dropdown menu allowing to select a time period going as far back as 6 months.

Click on the time period required and a navigation pane will be displayed to the right of the window. This will allow you to examine all changes that have been made to your notes.

This is very useful if you are allowing multiple colleagues edit access to OneNote.

Password Protect OneNote

You can add extra security to OneNote by adding a password.

Click on Password in the Section group of the Review tab on the ribbon.

This will open a navigation pane on the right side of the window, where you can enter your password, and confirm it. The password gets encrypted and if you forget it, it cannot be recovered.

Click on Lock All to lock all the sections in OneNote.

Conclusion

OneNote is an extremely useful tool within the Office 365 suite.

It is almost like a Swiss Army Knife as it combines the best aspects of Excel, Word and PowerPoint with a huge number of options as to what you can do with it.

It is excellent for collaboration with your colleagues, and can be used virtually anywhere and on any device.

Many of the tips shown on here will save you time, and also allow you to do some quite amazing things such as grabbing text from an image.

About the Author

Richard Shepherd

Richard Shepherd

Richard Shepherd has had 25 years experience of working with Microsoft Excel. He has used Excel to provide solutions and create applications for major banks and financial institutions. He has written several books on Excel and Access published by McGraw-Hill in the USA.

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