Why Every OneNote User Needs to Start Using Tags Right Now
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OneNote has dozens of amazing features that distinguish it from all other note-taking apps, but one of those features is subtle and easy to overlook. I’m talking about custom tags, which is one of those features that can truly revolutionize the way you keep notes.

Here’s the gist of it: OneNote is already quite organized thanks to its notebook/section/page hierarchy of notes, but sometimes you need to group notes together even though they aren’t in the same notebook or section. That’s where tags come in.


For example, maybe you have a notebook for Course Notes and sections for different courses, like Biology or Chemistry — but maybe you also want a quick way to find all lab notes from any course. Just create a “Lab Notes” tag, then tag all of your lab notes with it.

But tags can be used in other ways, too. You could use an “Unfinished” tag to quickly pinpoint essays and papers that need to be completed. Or use a “Resource” tag to mark notes that contain links to important websites and files. A “Definition” tag could show notes that define important terms.

There are many benefits to using OneNote, but tags are a must-use feature no matter who you are and what kind of notes you’re taking. That being said, if you’re a student, check out these special OneNote tips for students that you may find helpful.

Do you use tags in OneNote? If so, in what way? If not, will you start using them now? What other features do you like in OneNote? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. Guru
    October 25, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Tags are unnecessary in OneNote because the search tool is so powerful. Every single word you type is a tag. Just search for the keyword or phrase you're looking for. This makes tagging obsolete and the idea of switching to and posting for Evernote ludicrous.

    • Steve
      December 3, 2017 at 1:04 am

      You clearly don't understand the use of hashtags. It isn't the same as simply doing a word search. I might use the word "Run" in a variety of ways, but I might only tag things "Run" if they are related to fitness running. Hashtags also allow us to keep track of exactly how often the tag is used AND change all of those tags with a single motion. Several basic outliners (Dynalist, Checkvist, Workflowy) allow this. It shouldn't be that difficult to add it to OneNote.

  2. Karla
    July 18, 2017 at 11:56 am

    I use but limited as we use onenote for project management/collaboration. We have to have a meeting to make sure we all update the same tags for the same things. Why won't microsoft have global ones? They have that same issue with quickparts and categories yet Office is one of the most used products for companies. I want both global and personal personalization.

  3. Richard Miller
    December 28, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    OneNote does not really understand tags and their power in organising in the way that EverNote does. There is an implementation, but it is pretty clunky and unlikely to encourage you to make use of it.

    Having tried very hard, and read a number of articles explaining the various features, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that OneNote does not suit my style of working.

    Many people have commented that EverNote is like a filing cabinet and OneNote like a more flexible notebook. I do not find this. I find that OneNote forces structure on your approach and a clear understanding of what you are going to use material for in the future. Much more like a structured document filing system. EverNote tags allow me very easily to hold an item once, bring it up in multiple contexts, and change that context whenever I want. That gives EverNote a flexibility and adaptability I don't find in OneNote (at least not without unnecessary work).

    The thing about any filing structure, or ontology, or set of predefined labels, is that as soon as you have developed one it is almost inevitably wrong and needs changing. As a senior librarian said to me "once something is correctly filed it is irretreivably lost".

    EverNote's use of tags helps me to maximise the value of what I have stored. OneNote's notebooks, sections and pages, coupled with limited tagging options, does not.

  4. Kelly Brown
    March 29, 2016 at 3:46 am

    And the tags are not shared. If working on a shared OneNote and one person creates tags for the group, only the person that created the tags can see them.

    • Joel Lee
      April 1, 2016 at 1:32 am

      Ah, that's a bummer. I don't share my notes so I wasn't aware of that. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Karla
      July 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Huge shortcoming

  5. Anonymous
    March 24, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Never bother with tags as they only apply to a paragraph and have to be set up (i.e. you need to 'customize tags' to add your own ones) meaning if you regularly add new tags it's a nuisance - and similarly there are only hotkeys for 9 tags which makes it a slow process adding ones that do not have a hotkey. If OneNote had full page tagging capabilities like Evernote I would use tags all the time. Microsoft could easily add something like this through hashtags so it doesn't replace or conflict with the existing tagging system. Instead I do all my tagging of reading notes in Zotero and add links to OneNote pages so I can use Zotero to do my searching and keep OneNote for notes. For my own writing I add tags at the top of the page prefaced with '1' so I can for example search for '1geography' to return all pages I have tagged geography rather than those that happen to mention geography.

    • Joel Lee
      March 25, 2016 at 8:49 pm

      Hmm, good points. I hope someone has suggested these things to Microsoft.

  6. Anonymous
    March 24, 2016 at 10:42 am

    To tag or not to tag is an "age old" discussion, often getting quite emotional. I personally don't feel the need for it in OneNote because the notebook/section/page organisation in combination with my customised use of tables & page TOCs makes for an almost perfect structure that helps me find my data quickly.
    OneNote tags are not really tags in the true sense of the word. When you want to change the name of a tag, the notes that have the old name will not update automatically, you will have to do that manually. That is a big drawback. Also, nesting tags is not possible in 1N.

    • Joel Lee
      March 25, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      Oh man, I've never had to change tags yet so I didn't know that. That's kind of a disappointment. Hopefully Microsoft fixes that oversight in the future.

      And you're right Peter. If you're perfectly happy without tags, then skip them. No need to bog down your workflow. :)