OneNote Tips for Students

Although I’ve always had access to OneNote in the Microsoft Office Suite, until recently, I had never opened the application. Now that I’m familiar with the beauty that this little gem has to offer, I lament all the time I lost that I could have been using OneNote, especially as a student. Sigh. And now that many students are using phones, tablets and laptops in the classroom OneNote is more applicable than ever.

So, in an effort to save you and your little (or maybe not so little…) students the grief of a similar discovery several years from now, I’m going to outline some of the best functions that OneNote has to offer when it comes to school.

Keep in mind that if you don’t own the MS Office Suite you can still download the free version of OneNote through your browser at You can also download the app onto any of your devices for free through the App Store and Google Play. You will need to create a Microsoft account, and log in to that account with each of your devices so that no matter where you’re using OneNote, it will automatically save changes and they will be available on your other devices. The screenshots I used for this tutorial are from the Windows 8 version.

Creating Notebooks:

Back in the day I had a folder for each class. In each folder I had tabs to organize class notes, assignments, tests, calendars, etc. For today’s example I’ve organized my Notebook in a way that is very similar to my old school folders and notebooks, but you can organize your OneNote Notebooks any way you please.

OneNote New Notebook

To create a notebook just click: File>New>Create Notebook (as shown in the image above)

Renaming and Creating Tabs:

OneNote Creating Tabs

At the top of your page you will see tabs. The default tab is Quick Notes, but I erase that tab, or at least rename it, then create the other tabs that I want.

To rename a tab: double click on the tab name, or right click on the name of the tab and select Rename, or Delete.

To create new tabs:  click on the tab on the right with a + sign.

Adding Pages under Tabs:

This is where you add the meat of each tab. You can add as many pages to each tab as you want to, as far as I can tell. What you name the page at the top will be the title of the page that will show on the page list to the right. This list is ordered by the time the page was created, newest showing at the bottom. If you don’t like that, I’m sure there’s a way you can change it.

Name the page the date you took those notes, or something that will make the contents easy to recognize and locate. Scanning the pages list is how you will find the info you’re looking for.

OneNote Student OrganizationTo add a page: Click Add Page on the top of the right side of the OneNote window

Changing the Appearance of Pages:

You can change the color of the page, if you are into color coding, or add lines like notebook paper (even select the width of those lines), change the window view, etc.

OneNote Changing Page Appearance

To change your page: Click View on the top tool bar, above your tabs. If you don’t like the default page color or line ruling size you get from clicking the icons, click the words below them for more options.

Inserting PowerPoint, Word, and Excel files, or Photos and Screenshots:

Oh my, oh my, oh my! This is one of my favorite things. You can take a picture with your phone and insert the photo into the page (for when the teacher draws a big complicated diagram on the board. You won’t have to rewrite the thing, just take a pic and add it to your notes in OneNote).

Or even better, when your professor shares their PowerPoint presentation with you, you can add the presentation to your page in OneNote and then type, highlight, or write (by hand) your notes directly on top of it.

OneNote Insert Photo 1OneNote Insert Photo 2OneNote Insert Photo 4

To add a photo (I used my phone because it’s easiest to do from the device you take the photo with): Open the OneNote page where you want to insert photo>place cursor where you want photo inserted>press the camera icon at the top of the window> choose to insert from gallery (if you’ve already taken the photo, if not then click Capture a Photo).

If you’re adding the photo from your computer: click Insert (on the top tool bar)>Pictures>Navigate to the photo you want>Insert>choose the OneNote location to send it to>click Ok. The OneNote location defaults to whatever page you have pulled up at the moment.

OneNote Insert FileOneNote Insert File 2

In order to add a MS Office file to a page you will need the OneNote Tool. The OneNote Tool opens automatically when you pull up OneNote. If you notice, on the Windows bar at the bottom of your screen there are two OneNote Icons. One of these has scissors on it. The one with scissors is the OneNote Tool, and if you click on it, you will have the option to add a screenshot, a file, or create a new quick note.

To add a file from Word, PowerPoint, or Excel: open the file you want to insert into OneNote>click on the OneNote tool> click Send to OneNote> select the page where you would like to insert the file.

*Adding screenshots is pretty much the same as adding files. This is very useful when you want to keep bits of information you found on internet searches or recipes you have on eBooks, or many other things.

Writing, Drawing, and Highlighting on top of Inserted files:

OneNote Draw Options 2

This is where things get really fun. Yes you can keep your professor’s slides in OneNote for easy access, but the cool part is that you can take notes on them as you listen in class. This aspect of OneNote becomes extra cool if you have a touch screen, or use a digitizer pen.

For those who type faster than they write, you can type your notes on top of the slide (in a different color or font to distinguish your writing from the original). For the kids who haven’t achieved this kind of typing prowess yet you can write your notes by hand on your touch screen. OneNote can even take your writing and convert it to text.

You can write question marks where you are confused, circle important things, highlight the stuff your professor emphasizes might be on the test. There are so many options it’s just wild. This would be a good time to look at the different tags you can attach to your notes. Tags are found under Home.

OneNote Draw Options

To Type Notes: just click where you would like to start typing, choose your font size and color, and have at it.

To Write by Hand: click Draw (top tool bar above tabs)>click the pen color you want>use your finger or digitizer pen on the screen to start writing.

To Highlight: click Draw>click the highlighter color you want (highlighters are distinguished from pens and markers by the thick straight line on the icon)>highlight the areas you desire either with your finger, digitizer pen, or using the mouse. Note that the difference between the highlighter and the pen is that the highlighter is semitransparent and will allow you to see the words or images below it. The pen or marker will not.

To Convert Ink to Text: Click on the piece of writing you want converted to text (A box should appear around your handwriting)> click Draw> click Ink to Text. A box will appear and show you the best translation it can come up with. If it’s incorrect you can fix it there. There is another function right next to Ink to Text called Ink to Math. This will translate your handwritten formulas and equations into the proper Math symbols.

Also note: if you want to delete your writing without erasing the slides below it, use the eraser tool next to the pen tool.

Okay, I really need to end this before it reaches novella length. These are just some of the things that you can do with OneNote to help you keep organized at school. Also, look into sharing notebooks for group projects, using OneNote to compile your resources and information for research papers and making checklists. It really is one of my favorite programs these days, even though I’m no longer in school.







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About the author

Cecilia Harvey

I'm a technological enthusiast with a completely unrelated degree in English Literature. I've also been known to dabble in photography and DIY furniture refinishing, with occasional stints of fitness sprinkled among all of the above.

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