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Getting Started with Microsoft OneNote

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 7/31/2010

Microsoft OneNote has been available with certain editions of Office for several years now. However, many users are getting their first look with Office 2010 because OneNote now comes standard in the non-student versions.

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    Parts of OneNote

    The first step to being able to use OneNote as a powerful note-taking and data organization system is understanding all of OneNote's parts.

    Like all Microsoft Office 2010 applications, OneNote 2010 benefits from the new Office Ribbon user interface. In fact, OneNote may be the biggest beneficiary from the switch to the Office Ribbon as the OneNote 2007 version was cluttered with numerous toolbars in order to provide easy access to all of the OneNote functions.

    Microsoft OneNote is designed as an electronic notebook. As such, most of the OneNote parts are a reflection of this metaphor. Once you get used to thinking of each OneNote section as a part of a notebook, understanding how OneNote notebooks, sections, groups, and pages all work together is pretty easy.


    The first level of organization is, naturally, the notebook. By default, OneNote is installed with Notebooks displayed along the left hand side of the screen in a toolbar. Consider this part of OneNote your shelf of 3-ring binders or other notebooks. Each notebook has a little down carat symbol that allows you to see inside of that notebook, sort of like a table of contents.

    New users of OneNote have a tendency to create too many notebooks. Resist that urge until you are more familiar with how OneNote works, because there is plenty of easy to use organization available inside of each notebook. Use broad themes for notebooks. Things such as Business, Personal, Household, and so on are good starting places. Leave categories like Meeting Notes and such for inside of notebooks.

    By default, the inside of each notebook contains Sections and Pages. Users can also add Section Groups for more organization if needed. In the notebook metaphor, a Section might be those tabbed sections that come inside of 5-Subject notebooks, or the little tab dividers one puts in a 3-ring binder to divide a notebook into sections. Likewise, sections are shown in the OneNote interface as tabs along the top. Changing sections is as easy as selecting a new tab.

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    Other Parts of Microsoft OneNote

    Inside of each notebook section are pages. In a regular notebook, pages are turned by flipping the paper over from right to left. In OneNote, pages are turned similarly by clicking the tabs along the right side of the notebook display. Pages are highlighted when selected. The name of the page may be entered either by right clicking the tab, or by filling in the default Title box at the top of the page.

    Just like a regular notebook page, users can type, draw, or paste things onto the page at any location. There is no need to fill in the page from top to bottom or left to right, or to pre-establish margins. A box is created automatically around any entry and that box can be resized easily (unlike a regular notebook).

    With each notebook piece of the metaphor in place, navigating around OneNote is easy. Just select the notebook you want, then flip to the right section, and turn to the correct page. Of course, unlike paper Notebooks, OneNote also offers a search function that allows you to find what you are looking for even easier.

    Try Microsoft OneNote 2010 and soon you will be using it as your best note-taking software as well as to organize everything from recipes to research notes, and everything in between.