OneNote from the beginning

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OneNote has been around since 2003 and is available to many Office users as part of their Office suite or subscription.  Why not try OneNote, it’s worth a look since it can be very useful.

What is OneNote

We’ll skip past the Microsoft hype and tell you that OneNote is a place for notes of all sorts.

It’s a digital scrapbook for all those bits of information; text, images, audio and video that we accumulate but have no specific place to save.  It’s often information that isn’t structured enough for Word or Excel, let alone a formal Access database.

OneNote is more like a paper notebook that some people carry around to scribble ideas, copy details, draw sketches etc.    In past centuries, people would keep a Commonplace book which would have snippets of text, sketches and other information they’d copy in.

You can do all that in OneNote and a lot more.

OneNote was originally intended for students to make notes during lectures, studying etc.  Microsoft also promotes OneNote’s sharing features for corporate users.

Individuals can use OneNote on many devices, Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android tablets and phones, Windows devices and web browser.

Put in OneNote anything you like.  Rough notes for that book you’d like to write, travel ideas or plans for the next outing … anything that you’re interested in can have a place in OneNote.

We’re going to focus here on the OneNote basics and some nifty tricks.

Next time we’ll look at using the same notebooks on many devices (desktop, laptop and mobile devices) and sharing them with others.

Getting OneNote

Microsoft gives away OneNote for free.  You can download the Windows or Mac desktop software from

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There are also mobile apps available for Apple, Android and Windows devices.  Windows 8 has a touch screen / Metro / Modern app version of OneNote.

Most Office users will already have OneNote desktop software for Windows or Mac.  OneNote comes with Office suites/bundles and is automatically installed.

Starting OneNote

Start OneNote and it’ll create a notebook for you with some pages explaining OneNote basics.

Most people just start using that notebook.  The in-built pages can be deleted or moved once you’ve finished with them.

Of course, you can make your own notebooks from File | New and eventually people do that as they find more ways to use OneNote.

OneNote structure

While OneNote is very flexible, especially with pages, there’s an overall structure from Notebooks to Sections, Pages, sub-pages and containers.


OneNote is based on a series of notebooks.   You can make notebooks for any topic you like.  One for personal or diverse notes.  Others for work, a hobby, subjects you’re studying, special projects like moving house or travel.  Microsoft loves to push OneNote as a place for recipes.

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Within each notebook is a series of sections across tabbed headings.  Double-click on any section tab to rename it.

Start with one notebook and a section.  As you add notes and find more uses for OneNote you can easily rearrange the pages and sections.


Each section has one or more pages.  Those pages are listed on the right.  You can rename a page by changing the heading.  Click on the date/time to change them.

Pages can have sub-pages and sub-sub-pages. In other words, two sub-levels of pages.

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Pages have no practical limits in terms of size.  They can be as large and wide as you need.


OneNote pages have note containers, somewhat hidden boxes that enclose each element you type or copy into the page.

There’s a grey bar at the top you can drag to move the container.  On the right is a resizing handle to change the horizontal size.  You’re not limited to those areas, hovering the mouse around any edge will change the mouse pointer and let you move/resize.

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Whole containers can be copied and pasted.

To merge two containers into a single one, select the first container (use the grey top bar), hold down the SHIFT key while dragging the container into another container.

The handle on the left is a paragraph marker.  Drag that marker to move an entire paragraph or table row; handy for rearranging notes.

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