How to start using Microsoft OneNote

OneNote is slowly gaining popularity.

But I noticed a problem.People like it – they want to use it – but the EXACT steps of starting to use OneNote are not clear. So here are the OneNote Start Guidelines.

how to start using OneNote by Dr. Nitin Paranjape

Estimated reading time 10 min.

Quick Steps

  1. Start OneNote
  2. DO NOT add anything into the default notebook. Learn from it.
  3. Think of your work profile and add as many EMPTY notebooks as required
  4. If you want the notebooks to be available on all devices (Laptop, Tablet, Phone) create them on OneDrive (for personal use) or OneDrive for Business (for business use)
  5. Next time you take notes, choose the right notebook and section to add notes
  6. Right click on Calendar Appointments to take notes into the appropriate notebook
  7. Use OneDrive and sync the Personal (Web) notebook
  8. For team usage create notebooks on OneDrive for Business, OneDrive or SharePoint Team Sites
  9. Create custom Tags if required
  10. If you find similar pattern of notes repeating, create Page Templates
  11. Teach OneNote to your boss, team, subordinates and loved ones

Details are given below. Even if you do not have time right now, come back and read the details. Some things just cannot be explained in brief. Good things require time and understanding…

How to check if you have OneNote installed

Start menu – search for OneNote. If you are using Office 2010, there is a good chance that you already have OneNote installed. OneNote is free on Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android. Install it from here.

What is OneNote

Good question. I have written many articles about OneNote already. Refer to this article to understand what OneNote is and the usage scenarios.

OneNote: It is free, but what is it?

How is OneNote organized

OneNote contains one or more notebooks. Each notebook can be stored on local PC or cloud – OneDrive for personal use and OneDrive for business (or SharePoint Team Site) for Business use.

Each notebook can have one or more sections. And each section can have any number of pages.


How to start using OneNote

Using OneNote unlimited number of notebooks can be created. First time OneNote starts on the desktop, there is one notebook already created. This notebook has few pages which describe common usage scenarios.

Don’t touch that notebook for adding your data. Just read it and understand how to use it.

Once you finish reading it, close it. Right click on the notebook  name and choose close notebook.

For using OneNote, you must create NEW notebooks. Yes. Pleural – NOT one.

How many notebooks to create?

This is a personal decision. This is how you decide. Think of your work profile. What are the broad areas of work? For each area, create a new notebook. Create all the notebooks you need as the FIRST STEP of starting to use OneNote.

Don’t worry. Unnecessary notebooks can always be deleted.

If you are not sure how many notebooks you need, look at your paper based notebook or diary. Turn the pages and identify different subject areas or topics you have taken notes for.

Here are some examples to get you started. But these are only indicative. You are the best judge.

HR Example

Suppose you handle recruitment only. Create one Notebook for Recruitment. For each department which requests you to fill positions, create a tab. For each new position, create a page.

But this is just the beginning. After screening candidates you will send them offer letters. This is an ongoing process. So create a separate notebook for Offered jobs. Sections for various job roles. Pages for actual offers – one candidate = one page.

Once people join, you may want to do induction. Induction is a multi-step process. Create a separate notebook for induction – and each step of induction is a separate section. Each candidate or group of candidates undergoing induction can be managed on separate pages.

On the other hand if you do employee performance review, create separate notebook for review. Each section can be a department and each page can be used to manage specific employees.

Sales example

Suppose you handle 5 large customers, 100 small customers and you have a pipeline of potential customers. How many notebooks to create?

One notebook each for the 5 large customers. One notebook for the smaller customers – with sections for each industry / vertical / segment and pages for each customer.

For leads create a separate notebook where each lead is a separate page.

CFO example

If you are a CFO you have specific and well defined Key Result Areas. Create a notebook for each KRA. Alternatively, you may have different teams reporting to you – like Statutory Reporting, Costing, Compliance, Credit Control, Accounts Receivables. Create a notebook for each area.

IT example

If you are a developer, you may be working on one or more projects. Create a new notebook for each project. If you handle testing, create a separate notebook for each application you are testing. Each unit / module will be a section with as many pages as required. If you handle external vendors, create a separate notebook for each vendor.

If you are learning / working on different technologies, create a notebook for each technology / platform.

Where to create the notebooks?

If it is a work specific notebook, you may be tempted to create it on your local PC or laptop. But in the long run it is a bad idea. OneDrive is free. So create notebooks on OneDrive or OneDrive for Business. Why? Because these notebooks are available to you on any device in any location. OneNote is available for free on ALL platforms. It includes Windows PCs, Laptops and Tablets, Android, iOS and Blackberry.

Storing the notebook in OneDrive makes it available to YOU on any device. Of course you can also share it with others.


Notebooks created on PCs or Laptops are available ONLY when you are using that machine.

The Personal (Web) notebook

If you use OneDrive for personal data storage, there is already a notebook created for you called Personal (web). It is usually in the Documents folder.

Project specific notebooks

Usually, apart from your core work, you are a part of new initiatives, projects or events. In such cases you are not alone. There is a cross-functional team involved. Now it makes sense to create a SHARED notebook. Shared notebook must be created in SharePoint. Usually it will be created in the team site which itself was created for the new project.

File – New – SharePoint Site – (specify name and create the notebook). This creates the shared notebook in a SharePoint document library but also creates a local copy on the desktop. This copy is available for offline editing. Synchronization with the shared notebook on SharePoint will be managed automatically by OneNote. You do NOT have to do any manual upload or refresh.

Now share the notebook with your team. File – Share – Invite people. In fact, when a shared notebook is created on SharePoint, OneNote automatically ask you if you want to invite more people. Put their email ids and send the invitation.

The team members will receive a mail with a web link to the SharePoint folder. Clicking on that link opens the notebook on BROWSER – not in OneNote. Therefore, ask all team members to open it in browser for the first time and then click on Connect to OneNote or Open with OneNote button.


This will create a local copy for each team member. Now onwards all changes made by all persons will be automatically synchronized whenever internet connection is available.

How to share a local notebook

Initially you may have created a notebook only on the PC. But later you feel like making it shared on your OneDrive or other locations. How to do it? Simple. File menu – find the notebook in the list and choose this option Share on Web or Network. Now choose the network location. That’s it.


DO NOT create a separate notebook for minutes of meetings

If you have created a separate notebooks for each important area in your domain of work, each meeting will naturally be a part of one of those areas. Therefore, notes about a specific meeting should be added to the related notebook.

Others invite you for many meetings. Those people do not know which notebooks you have.

Refine the approach as you go

All that I have said here is just guidance. The idea is to get you started without making mistakes. But beyond that – the exact approach is entirely up to you. Refine, experiment and adapt.

Related OneNote articles

  1. You need OneNote. Spend 4 min to find out why!
  2. OneNote usage: Practical Scenarios
  3. Add meaning to your notes using OneNote Tags
  4. Standardize Processes using Checklists in OneNote
  5. Recruiters, Sourcing, Researchers – Use OneNote Linked Notes
  6. Marketing: How to interact with external agencies efficiently
  7. Legal Professionals: Searching scanned documents
  8. Never miss important points during a meeting. Use OneNote audio recording
  9. Students – try this NEW way of learning using OneNote
  10. OneNote Calculator
  11. OneNote Linked Notes – with Word and PowerPoint
  12. Never lose a visiting card – Use OneNote and SharePoint


4 Responses

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