11 Useful OneNote Tips to Get the Most Out of It

Best Onenote Tips Featured

OneNote is a simple, yet powerful, note-taking application from Microsoft. While Evernote is its direct rival, OneNote is more of a digital notebook with powerful control over how you organize your content. As useful as it is, it is one of the most underrated Windows applications. If you are already using OneNote to manage your note-taking requirements, these tips will help you get the most out of it.

Good to know: looking for more OneNote alternatives? Check out our earlier post that highlights some free options.

1. Use OneNote Dark Mode

Everything nowadays has a dark mode. Google Chrome has it. Microsoft Word also offers it. So it should come as no surprise that OneNote boats this feature too. Even so, the option is just a little harder to find – just like in Word. It’s there – you just have to look for it. To find the dark mode function for OneNote, follow these steps:

  1. Go to “File -> Options -> General.”
Setting the "Office Theme" to "Black" to turn dark mode on.
  1. Change the “Office Theme” drop-down to “Black.”

2. Pin OneNote to Desktop

When you’re busy with hundreds of tasks, always having your to-do list open on your desktop can help. Pin your OneNote notes up there while you complete your tasks one by one. It’ll never disappear from view no matter which app you’re working with. The feature, called “Dock to Monitor,” kind of snaps OneNote to one part of the screen. Set this up by following the steps below:

  1. Press Ctrl + Alt + D.
Pinning OneNote to desktop.
  1. To bring your OneNote back to its full-windowed glory, press the double arrow below the X.

Tip: if you’re working as part of a team, you may benefit from using Microsoft Lists. Learn how you can get started with it.

3. Draw Math Equations

If you need to draw math equations into your notes during class, the simple answer is OneNote’s “Ink to Math” function. It works with your mouse, trackball, or stylus, allowing you to write any math symbol and never miss an important part of the lecture again.

Access the tool by going to “Draw -> Ink to Math.” You’ll see a yellow graphing pad with buttons and a preview window, where you can start writing your equations.

Drawing math equation in OneNote.

4. Type in a Different Language

This is a useful OneNote tip if you know a language other than English. OneNote lets you type and save text written in any other language that’s supported by Windows. You can type in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Baybayin, or even Sanskrit!

OneNote with Japanese text written into it.

But before you do that, you’ll need to download the language to your keyboard. We have a guide that shows you how using Windows keyboard settings. Alternatively, you can do it via OneNote.

  1. Go to “Files -> Options -> Language” to access the language settings.
Accessing language settings in OneNote.
  1. To type in something like Indonesian or Korean, press “Add a language” under “Office authoring languages and proofing.”
Clicking on "Add a Language" button in OneNote.
  1. A list of languages will pop up. Click your language, then the “Add” button.
Adding a new language in OneNote.
  1. Press “Proofing available” to download proofing data. This allows you to see red squiggles whenever you write something incorrect – just as it normally would when you type in English.
Adding proofing option for selected language in OneNote.

FYI: if you want to use Markdown on your phone, these are the best apps to help you with that for both Android and iOS.

5. Type in Markdown

Normally, you wouldn’t be able to type in Markdown on OneNote, but a third-party plugin for OneNote allows you to do that and even has a live preview.

Typing in Markdown in OneNote.

The OneMark plugin is free for 14 days after you install it. Buy a lifetime license starting at $16 or opt for a subscription at $12 per year. To install OneMark, download the installer from the OneMark website, then run it on your computer. It runs silently in the background.

6. Take Advantage of the Feed Pane

The OneNote feed pane lets you view everything you’ve ever written on OneNote (as well as your Sticky Notes). It syncs across your devices, including your phone’s OneNote app.

  1. To view the feed pane, click the paper-shaped icon in the upper-right corner of OneNote next to the “Share” button.
  2. The feed pane will show up. It may prompt you to log in if you’re not already.
Feed pane in OneNote app.

7. Quickly Create To-Do Lists

To-do lists may look simple, but they are vital if you want to stay up to date regarding your daily activities. In fact, most of us start our day by listing all the important things we should do that day. OneNote is not only useful for note-taking tasks but can also help you create easy to-do lists. Follow these quick steps to create a to-do list.

  1. Enter the task and press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl +1.
  2. OneNote automatically adds a checkbox to the line. Press the Enter button to write another to-do task and repeat for additional tasks.
Creating to do lists with OneNote.

Tip: check out more OneNote keyboard shortcuts that could come in handy.

8. Clip Webpages

With OneNote, you can easily clip web pages with just a few clicks by installing the Web Clipper extension for Chrome, Firefox, or Edge. The OneNote web clipper is not as advanced as the Evernote clipper but works for basic usage. To activate the extension, follow these steps:

  1. Click on it in your browser.
  2. The full-page clip will immediately appear on the left. If you only need part of the clip, select “Region,” then make your selection.
OneNote web clipper in action.
  1. Press the “Clip” button underneath to create the clipping.
  2. Besides clipping web pages, you can also take quick screencaps using OneNote. Right-click on the OneNote icon in the system tray and select the “Take Screen Clipping” option. Alternatively, use Win + Shift + S.
Clicking on "Take screen clipping" option from OneNote in system tray.

9. Add Audio and Video to Your Notes

Along with adding text to OneNote, you can embed just about anything, like images, video, audio, math equations, etc., with the help of the “Insert” menu on the ribbon.

Onenote Insert Ribbon

Additionally, one of the lesser-known features about OneNote is that you can make your added audio and video files searchable to find keywords within the video or audio file. This feature is disabled by default, but you can enable it with the steps below:

  1. Open “File -> Options.”
  2. Select the “Audio & Video” option in the left sidebar.
  3. Select the “Enable searching for audio and video recordings for words” checkbox.
Turning on "Enable searching audio and video recordings for words" option in OneNote Options.

10. Extract Text from Images

If you have a picture with text, or you’ve just taken a screenshot of a web page and want to extract all the written content from the image, you can do so with OneNote. You don’t need additional OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software.

  1. Add the image to your OneNote section.
  2. Right-click on the image and select the “Copy Text from Picture” option.
"Copy text from picture" option in OneNote.
  1. This will copy all the text from the image to the clipboard, allowing you to paste it anywhere you want.

11. Password Protect OneNote Sections

This may not be for everyone, but if you share your notebook with another person, you may want to password-protect certain sections of the notebook. Follow the steps below to enable the option.

  1. Right-click on a tab in OneNote.
  2. Select the “Password Protect This Section” option.
Enabling password option for OneNote section.
  1. Click on “Set Password” on the right, then input your password.
Click "Set Password" button in OneNote.

Tip: learn how to password-protect your Excel workbook or file.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use OneNote without Internet?

OneNote works without being connected to the Internet, but some functions like sync and feed panel may not work properly without an active Internet connection.

Can I use OneNote with a non-Google email address?

You can use any email address with OneNote, but it’s important that you have an email address that can be used with a Microsoft account. You can even use disposable emails to make an account.

Can I use OneNote for free?

OneNote is free for anyone to use. You can do practically everything without having to pay a cent, and that includes the sync function. However, if you do have an Office 365 subscription, you’ll get even more out of it, including even larger cloud storage for all your notes and photos.

Image credit: Freepik. All screenshots by Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz.

Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz
Terenz Jomar Dela Cruz

Terenz is a hobbyist roboticist trying to build the most awesome robot the world has ever seen. He could have done that already if he wasn't so busy burning through LEDs as a second hobby.

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