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Inside OneNote 2010

OneNote really is a digital replacement for a traditional loose-leaf notebook in which you can save class notes, academic research, meeting minutes, or just about anything else you might be tempted to put on a piece of paper. In this chapter from Microsoft Office 2010 Inside Out, learn about the features and capabilities of OneNote 2010.

What’s in a OneNote Notebook?

Filling a Notebook with Text, Pictures, Clippings, and More

Formatting Text

Navigating in OneNote

Customizing the Look and Feel of a Notebook Page

Personalizing the OneNote Interface

MICROSOFT’S OneNote is more than seven years old, and yet for many (if not most) Office users it’s a complete unknown. That’s understandable: After all, in Office 2003 and Office 2007, OneNote was included only in a couple of Office editions, but in Office 2010, OneNote is elevated to marquee status and is part of every edition.

So what is OneNote exactly? In this case, the program’s metaphor is absolutely accurate. OneNote really is a digital replacement for a traditional loose-leaf notebook in which you can save class notes, academic research, meeting minutes, or just about anything else you might be tempted to put on a piece of paper. You can type, write, paste, print, snip, clip, and send just about anything to OneNote, which saves each item on a page in a section of a notebook. You can move the pieces around on the page, format text and resize pictures, and arrange text into tidy outlines and lists.

Did we mention that OneNote notebooks are infinitely expandable? You can add new pages and sections, organize pages and subpages, and create as many new notebooks as you can fit in your default storage location. Personal notebooks are stored on your hard drive; you can share and sync notebooks using Windows Live SkyDrive (or, on a home or business network, in a shared folder or SharePoint site).

Even if you already know OneNote well from an earlier version, you’ll want to read this chapter carefully. Office 2010 includes some significant new features and capabilities, as well as a new file format.

What’s in a OneNote Notebook?

The basic organizational unit of OneNote is the notebook. When you create a new notebook or open a saved one, its icon and name appear in the Navigation bar on the left of the OneNote window, with the hierarchy of sections (and, optionally, section groups) shown in an indented list below the notebook icon and in tabs along the top of the contents pane. Selecting a section displays its contents in the page tabs bar on the right. Selecting a page from that list displays it in the contents pane. To begin adding your own notes, pictures, and web clippings, you can rename the default section and page or start adding new sections and pages of your own.

Figure 15-1 shows an open notebook containing five sections, with five pages in the open section.

Figure 15-1

Figure 15-1. This notebook is arranged into five sections, shown in tabs on the left and on top; select a page from the current section using the list on the right.

You can organize your notes in ways that are much more sophisticated than the simple Class Notes notebook shown here. For example, as your collection of notes grows in size and complexity, you can combine sections into section groups and gather a group of related pages together as subpages; although the previous OneNote version also allowed you to create subpages, OneNote 2010 is the first that allows you to collapse them under a parent page. You can also create clickable links that open other OneNote pages, Office documents, Outlook items, or web pages.

OneNote notebooks are automatically included in the Windows Search index. As a notebook grows in size (and especially when you use multiple notebooks), search becomes not just handy but essential. For the best results, use the search box above the page tabs bar.

There’s no limit on the type of information you can save in a notebook. A partial list of common tasks and activities includes the following:

  • Taking notes during classroom lectures and lab sessions

  • Organizing online research

  • Recording the minutes of a meeting

  • Planning a family reunion or vacation

  • Creating to-do lists for short-term tasks and long-term goals

  • Organizing manuals and warranty information for household appliances

Or anything that strikes your fancy, really.

There’s no right or wrong way to build a notebook or to organize its parts. Your personal preferences dictate how you can manage and use notebooks.

Creating and Opening OneNote Files

One striking difference between OneNote and other Office programs is the absence of a Save button or menu. OneNote does indeed store its work in files, but it handles virtually all of the management tasks for those files in the background. Except in rare circumstances, you should never need to directly manipulate OneNote files.

To create a new notebook, click File, and then click New. Follow the three-step process shown in Figure 15-2 to choose where you want the notebook files stored, and then click Create Notebook to create the new notebook files and begin working immediately.

Figure 15-2

Figure 15-2. The name you enter in step 2 here is used as the display name for your new notebook and as the name of the new folder where its files are stored.

In this chapter, we assume you’re creating and storing the new notebook locally (choose My Computer in step 1). The default location for all new notebooks is the OneNote Notebooks subfolder in the Documents folder of your user profile. You can specify an alternative location in the Location box.

The text you enter in the Name box under New Notebook is used as both the folder name and the display name shown in the OneNote Navigation bar. After you create a notebook, you can change its display name at any time without affecting the original folder name. To do so, right-click the notebook name in the Navigation bar and click Rename. That opens a dialog box like the one shown in Figure 15-3, which also allows you to change the location or format of the notebook.

Figure 15-3

Figure 15-3. Changing the display name of a notebook here does not affect the name of the folder where its files are stored.

So what about the files themselves? Each notebook section is saved in its own file, using the default Microsoft OneNote Section format with a file name extension of .one. If you create a OneNote notebook by clicking File and then New in OneNote 2010, the program creates a tiny file with the name Open Notebook; this file is saved in Microsoft OneNote Table Of Contents format, with a file name extension of .onetoc2. Strictly speaking, the Open Notebook file isn’t needed. If you point OneNote to a folder filled with OneNote section files, it will ask you if you want to open the folder as a notebook, as shown here.


If you click Yes, OneNote creates a new OneNote Table of Contents file, using the folder name as the notebook display name and populating it with all section files contained within the folder.

You don’t need to manually save OneNote files. OneNote automatically saves your work every 30 seconds and when you close a notebook or the program itself. If you’ve just made a large number of changes and you want to force a save instead of waiting for the next automatic save, press Ctrl+S.