Microsoft OneNote: How to use

This guide has been created to support staff in using Microsoft OneNote.  This guide will cover the essential features and functionalities of OneNote, supporting staff and students to harness its full potential for capturing, organising, and sharing ideas and notes.  From navigating the interface to structuring Notebooks with sections and section groups, this guide will help get started with this tool.  Additionally, it explores advanced features and offers general guidance such as tagging, formatting pages for effective note-taking, and dictating notes.  This guide will equip both staff and students with the knowledge and skills needed to unlock the power of Microsoft OneNote.

OneNote allows you to organise content in notebooks, each comprised of multiple sections that can contain pages.  An organised OneNote makes it easier to find, review, and add notes.


  1. OneNote Interface
  2. Sections and Section Groups
  3. Structuring a OneNote Notebook
  4. OneNote Tags
  5. Formatting a OneNote page for Note Taking
  6. Creating and Editing Notes
  7. Dictating notes in OneNote
  8. Contact us
OneNote Interface

OneNote has a simple hierarchical structure, at the top level are notebooks, which can be divided into sections, each section can then have pages added.

Image showing the various parts of a OneNote Notebook.

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Sections & Section Groups

*Hint As well as creating new sections, it is possible to also create Section Groups by right-clicking on any of the pre-existing groups or the area they inhabit and selecting New Section Group.  A section group differs from a standard group in that it allows the further organisation of sections, it allows you to group multiple related sections.

Image showing a Section Group on a OneNote Notebook.

To move a pre-existing section into a section group, simply drag and drop.  New groups can also be created inside the section group.  To leave the section group, navigate to the parent section group by clicking the arrow to the right of the section name.

Image showing the icon to click to navigate back out of a OneNote Notebook Section Group.

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Ways to Structure a OneNote Notebook

To get set up for your OneNote for a single unit, you could use any of the following structuring techniques.

  1. Create a section for each week and name them by week number or by actual date. These will be colour-coded to help you visually distinguish each one.
  2. For the weekly lessons, set up a page for each or break them down into the lab/seminar subpage components so notes are further organised and simpler to access.
  3. If working through textbooks, set up a section for each textbook and create a page for each of their chapters.
  4. If a module is organised by topic, create a section for each topic.
  5. As there is no practical limit to page sizes in OneNote, you could just endlessly update one page with related information. (This technique is not recommended as the setup will become ‘messy’ and defeats the objectives listed above for using Microsoft OneNote.)

You can also move, delete, or rename notebooks, sections, or pages whenever you want.

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OneNote Tags

OneNote also has built-in tags that can be used to support staff and students in their studying.

Image showing a list of the tags available in OneNote.

Some of the most useful and commonly used tags include:

Image showing the OneNote "Definition" tag. Use the Definition tag to highlight key terminology
Image showing the OneNote "Question" tag. Use the Question tag to flag items for review later
Image showing the OneNote "Remember for later" tag. Use the Remember for Later tag to highlight important facts
Image showing the OneNote "Important" tag.  Use the Important tag to flat the cornerstone facts.
Image showing the OneNote "To Do" tag.  Use the To Do tag to jot down items you may want to review or address later.

Each of these tabs has an associated keyboard shortcut which can be viewed by hovering the mouse over the tag icon.

Image showing the keyboard shortcuts that are available for tags.

OneNote can search for tags of specific types (such as To Do or Important etc.) so using tags within a notebook is another technique through which information can be categorised and searched.

For example, if a student has added tags to their notes in a OneNote notebook, they could carry out a tag search.  For example, for all the definition tags.  The results of this search will be compiled into a one-page (or more depending on returned search results) list of all the tagged definitions.  Use the Create Summary Page button to list all matching tag search results on a single page.

Image showing the results of searching for a specific tag type in OneNote Notebook.

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Formatting a OneNote Page for Notetaking

OneNote pages differ from Microsoft Word documents, they follow a less structured approach, which means any part of the page can be selected and content added. This can aid in the speed at which notes can be captured; however, if not structured and organised (maybe after a lecture), the collage of random notes won’t be very helpful when information needs to be found.

Image showing a piece of work that has been worked on by a number of staff and stuents.

There is an option to add pages that include ruled lines (click the View Tab > Rule Lines > Narrow Ruled). Using the ‘narrow ruled’ option is advantageous as these guidelines match up with the default font size in OneNote).  As these lines are not a permanent part of your document, if you copy and paste from a page, they won’t show up in the destination.

Image showing how to add rule lines in a Notebook.

You can also switch the background of each page with a variety of page colours to choose from which may help students to alleviate visual stress and improve symptoms commonly related to dyslexia, such as a low reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension.

Image showing how to add a background colour in a Notebook.

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Creating and Editing Notes

OneNote includes drawing tools and a variety of input support.  When adding content, each gets a layer of its own and can be moved or deleted without impacting other content.  For example, a section of highlighted text will not bleed through a page or obscure text in OneNote.  Like all Microsoft Office applications using the Undo function, everything can be undone.

OneNote also tracks when content is added, users can click into a text box (right-click and select the last option in the context menu) this will display the author’s name alongside the date and time the text box was created.

Image showing how to view the author and date/time content is added to a OneNote Notebook.

OneNote also includes tools for translation and language setting. There is also a Smart Lookup tool for defining terms which open in right-hand panels.

OneNote includes a variety of built-in math tools. For example, OneNote will automatically solve an equation once the equals symbol has been added (by pressing enter).

The Equation and Math menu options offer additional capabilities. For example, you can format complex equations, create embeddable graphs, and get step-by-step instructions for finding the value of a variable.

Audio recordings can be made of lectures and any other discussion, and then insert the audio recording later. OneNote can sync audio recordings to notes so that the relevant parts of a recording play at the exact time you wrote down a note. OneNote also includes a transcription service to convert the recording audio into editable text.

If students have access to the lecture slides, they can insert those into OneNote, and then add their in-class notes. Handwritten notes can be scanned using a scanning app, such as Microsoft Lens, insert those pictures into OneNote and copy the text from the picture via the right-click context menu.  This functionality can also be used to convert a screenshot into editable text.

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Dictating notes in OneNote

Dictation is a quick and easy way to create drafts, capture notes and make comments.  Dictation lets you use speech-to-text to author content in Office with a microphone and a reliable internet connection.

In addition to dictating your content, you can speak commands to add punctuation, navigate around the page, and enter special characters.

How to use dictation

  1. Go to Home > Dictate while signed into Microsoft 365 on a mic-enabled device.
  2. Wait for the Dictate button to turn on and start listening.
  3. Start speaking to see text appear on the screen.

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Contact Us

If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail or explore the more advanced options of this feature, please don’t hesitate to contact the Digital Learning Specialists, who are more than happy to arrange bespoke coaching and mentoring sessions.

They are contactable at

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