How to Organize OneNote for a Productive System

Sandy Writtenhouse 04-04-2017

Microsoft OneNote is not just an ordinary note-taking application. It can be used to hold lists, embed files, and create documents for work, school, and home. But the key is organization and with these standout features, you can have a well-structured system The Only OneNote Guide You'll Ever Need OneNote is a powerful note-taking app. It's cross-platform and well integrated into Microsoft Office. Read this guide to become a OneNote pro! Read More to stay on top of things.


The OneNote Hierarchy

If you are not a current or frequent OneNote user, it is important for you to become familiar with its structure. OneNote is comprised of three main hierarchical levels: notebooks, sections, and pages. You can think of it just like a physical, multi-subject, spiral notebook.

onenote notebooks main

Notebooks are the main files for OneNote that hold all pieces inside. You may create separate notebooks for items like Work, School, or Home.

Sections are the dividers in the notebooks and the next levels in the hierarchy. You might label them like in a College notebook as Chemistry, Psychology, and Math for each of your classes.

Pages are within the sections as the notes, lists, and planners. Using College as an example again, your Psychology section may include pages for Lecture Notes, Study Questions, and Homework Assignments.


Now that you have a brief explanation of OneNote’s structure, it is time to move on to its wonderful organizational features 10 Unique Ways to Use Microsoft OneNote OneNote is one of Microsoft's most underrated apps. It's available on almost every platform and can do many tricks you wouldn't expect from a note keeping app. Read More .

Create Section Groups

To take things a step further with Sections, you can use what are called Section Groups OneNote's Best Organization Feature Is Hidden in Plain Sight One of OneNote's best organization features is hiding in plain sight. Here's how to use the section groups feature to organize your books. Read More . This basically means that within a notebook that contains numerous sections, you can group sections together. Here are few examples of when you might want to use section groups.

Section Group Uses

We’ll use our College notebook example first. You have sections labeled for each class. But, what if you want to group those classes by semester or term? Using Section Groups, you can create a group called Semester 1 and then move those class sections into the group.

onenote college section groups


Then when your next term comes up, create another Section Group called Semester 2 and add the classes as sections inside of it.

For work, you may have a notebook called Work Projects. You could create Section Groups for IT Projects, Customer Service Projects, and Client Management Projects. Then inside of IT Projects have sections for Website Redesign, New System, and Client Conversions.

onenote work section groups

The Section Groups feature is a useful way to organize within your notebook and sections. And it can save you from having to create separate notebooks for topics that belong together.


Set Up a Section Group

You can create a Section Group very easily. Right-click your mouse on the Tab bar and select New Section Group and give it a name. If you already have sections created, you can just drag them to the new Section Group. If not, click the group and add sections within it.

onenote section groups

When you are within a Section Group and want to go back (up) a level, just click the green arrow.

Work With Tags

You may already use tags in other applications such as a different note-taking tool or bookmark manager. These handy little labels can make organizing and searching much easier Why Every OneNote User Needs to Start Using Tags Right Now Microsoft OneNote tags are easy to overlook. But if you're a note-taker, tags are crucial for organization and productivity! Read More . And OneNote offers a great variety of built-in tags in addition to custom tags that you can create.


Select and Apply Tags

On the Home tab, you will see the section called Tags in your ribbon. When you click the arrow in the Tags box, you can view a complete list of the built-in options. From simple prioritization to follow-ups to ideas, books, and movies, you can choose from a nice selection.

To use a tag, navigate to the page where you want it applied, and just click it from the Tags list. Along with a matching icon for easy viewing at a glance, you can pop text into the tag. So for the tag Web site to visit, you can enter or for Movie to see, you can enter Gone with the Wind.

onenote tags list

For school, you might use tags for prioritizing homework assignments How to Use OneNote for School: 10 Tips for Students and Teachers Microsoft OneNote can transform the classroom. Find out why the note-taking app is designed for both students and teachers. Read More . You can then search for all tags with a high priority to see what is due first. For work, you may use tags for meetings that you need to schedule. You can then quickly see all of them at one time and start scheduling.

Find Tagged Pages

After you have tags set up, you can search for them by clicking Find Tags in the Tags section of your ribbon. This will open a Tags Summary with all of your tags, plus a grouping option for simple sorting. You can click any tag to be taken directly to the page.

onenote tags summary

Try Multiple Tags

You can add more than one tag to a page and nest tags as well. So if you’re using OneNote for a checklist of to-do items 6 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List Are you making the most of your OneNote to-do list? Apply our tips for better OneNote checklists. Read More , you might use separate tags for Project A, Project B, and Schedule meeting. But you can also use Project A, Schedule meeting, and Discuss with management all in one. This allows you to search for the tags as a group and separately too.

To add these nested tags, place your cursor inside the original tag and just select the additional tag from the list. You will then see that tag’s icon pop in next to the rest.

onenote tags

To modify the current tags or create a new one, just select Customize tags from the bottom of either the Tags list or the Tags Summary.

Insert Links for Quick Access

As with the other Microsoft applications like Word and Excel, OneNote lets you add both external and internal links. For instance, if you are compiling a list of reference sites for an article, you can pop the URLs right into your list How to Save Anything to OneNote from Anywhere Microsoft OneNote is a powerful tool for freeform note-taking. The unique structure of OneNote helps you collect, organize, and share your notes. Here are the best ways to gather information from anywhere. Read More . You can also link text from one of your OneNote pages to a specific file on your computer.

But another organizational feature that is super handy is linking notebooks, sections, and pages to each other within OneNote. You might not realize how convenient this can be and just how easy it is to do.

Link Uses

Back to the College notebook example, you can use this feature for referencing material. Maybe you would like to link notes from a previous project section to a new one for the same class. Or perhaps you want to connect a homework assignment page to your to-do list.

onenote link text

For work, you could link a Schedule meeting tag to a meeting agenda page. Or you might link meeting notes to a new page you plan to create for a project overview.

Choose and Apply Links

To link notebooks, sections, and pages, begin by selecting the text on the page you want to connect. Then, either click Link from the ribbon on the Insert tab or right-click the selected text and choose Link from the context menu.

onenote link box

The Link pop-up box will appear and you can then choose the notebook, expand one to the section, or go a step further to select a page. You can also create a new page, link to a website, or connect to a file on your computer from within this box.

When you are finished, click OK and you’re set. You can also follow these same steps to edit a link if needed.

Additional Ways to Organize

With Section Groups, Tags, and Links, you can get off to a terrific start with OneNote. In addition, here are even more features that can help you stay well-organized.

What Is Your Favorite Way to Organize OneNote?

When you combine these features, you are taking simple notes and turning them into a structured and organized system The Essential OneNote for Mac Guide Microsoft OneNote is a free note-taking app for Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Here's everything you need to become more productive. Read More . If you’re not a fan of OneNote, there are plenty of robust Mac outliner apps you can use to stay organized.

Do you use one or all of these methods for organizing OneNote? Which features do you find to be the most helpful for keeping it all together? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Related topics: Microsoft Office Tips, Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps, Organization Software.

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  1. Anonymous
    May 31, 2019 at 5:08 am

    That's not "nested tags". There is no nesting going on. That is just multiple tags.

    OneNote does not have the ability to do a hierarchy of tags - which it should - like Wrike.

  2. Michael M
    December 30, 2018 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you for your article. Im a small business owner with a standard naming convention for a list of folders used in every notebook. My question is, is there a way that onenote upon creation of a new notebook, can autocreate a standard set of folders. I use the same folders (ex. Marketing, Legal, Tech, HR) for each of my notebooks, and it would be convenient not to create these every time. Thank you

  3. Chris Page
    May 9, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for this article - I was unaware of both Section Groups and the Linking facility so helping me get more out of OneNote.

  4. Syed
    April 5, 2017 at 1:46 am

    One note is lagging build in hand writing capability. The draw tool does not work well.