Why Every OneNote User Needs to Start Using Tags Right Now

Rahul Saigal Updated 08-04-2020

Microsoft OneNote tags add a visual marker to your notes for identifying the type of information, its relation to any project, and whether it represents an action item you should complete.


Some of the notes you take are easy to organize because of the OneNote structure. Other aspects, like your comments on a topic and ideas generated during brainstorming, are less structured and can be improved with the right tag.

We’ll show you how to use OneNote tags and why you should use them to keep track of anything you want to remember.

Using Tags in OneNote

By default, OneNote includes a library of preset tags. These tags let you label notes according to the type of information or the action you want to take on an item.

Each tag contains a symbol and a text label. You can apply tags to an entire page, individual paragraphs, or multimedia content; the choice is yours.

OneNote’s tagging feature not only helps you identify items that need special attention, but it can then compile all the tagged notes in a single pane for easy access, lookup, and printout.


Here are some reasons for using tags:

  • Keep track of notes, wherever they’re in your notebook and make them accessible.
  • Highlight important points, add a to-do tag to pinpoint things like homework that you should finish, or mark unclear parts with a question tag.
  • OneNote allows you to collaborate on the same notebook with several members. You can assign and manage the work of your project team easily with tags.
  • Use to-do tags together with any template (kanban, calendar, and more) to track your projects and manage them seamlessly.

How to Use Built-in Tags in OneNote

OneNote 2016 provides different types of tags. Those that are commonly used get assigned with a keyboard shortcut. For example, To Do, Important, Question, Remember for Later, and more are tags that you might often use.

There are tags to help you identify categories of information useful to your writing, research project, or for inspiration. You’ll also find tags related to project communication, priority, and delivery.

Assign a Tag

To add a tag, click or select the text you want to tag. Click the Home tab.


From the Tags group, click the More arrow in the lower-right corner of the Tags gallery. Then, click the tag you want to assign.

You can even use a shortcut to create a tag. For example, press Ctrl + 1 to make a to-do tag, Ctrl + 2 for a star, and so on.

assign a tag to an item from tags gallery

Modify a Tag

If the built-in tag doesn’t suit your needs, you can make some modifications to change its name, icon, font, or highlight color.


To modify an existing tag, click the Home tab. In the Tags group, click the More arrow, and from the bottom of the gallery list, click Customize Tags.

click customize tags to modify a tag in OneNote 2016

From the dialog box that opens, select a tag that you want to change and click the Modify Tag button.

Type in your display name, choose a symbol, font or highlight color, and click OK.


Remember that any customizations you make to a particular tag do not affect the notes you have already tagged.

modify a tag with your choosen preference

OneNote for Windows 10

The OneNote app has fewer built-in tags. Although you won’t see any visual confirmation of shortcuts, the procedure for adding it remains the same. As of now, there is no facility to modify a tag.

using tags in OneNote for Windows 10

How to Create and Use Custom Tags in OneNote

Again, the tags you want to create depend a lot on your work, needs, and domain. While you can create many custom tags, we recommend you to limit them as much as possible.

Remember: Tags should be specific, widely used across all your domain, and of high value.

To create a tag, we’ll repeat the same procedure used previously.

From the dialog box that appears, click the New Tag button. Type in the tag name.

Then, click the Symbol button and select a symbol from the gallery. Also, choose a font or highlight color, and click OK.

create a custom tag in OneNote 2016

In the OneNote app, click the Tags dropdown in the Home tab, and choose + Create New Tag. A new panel appears from the right.

Type in the name, select an icon and click Create. Any tags you create will sync with the OneNote app for all your devices.

create a custom tag in OneNote for Windows 10

Search Your Content With Tags

When you add a tag to any item, it gives OneNote information to index them and help you find the notes. Press Ctrl + F to bring up the search box. Type in your tag name to find the content by note tags. Click on one of the results to go to its specific location.

By default, the search scope is limited to the Current Page. To adjust the range, click the dropdown menu to include Current Section/Notebook or All Notebooks.

search your tagged notes in OneNote app

In OneNote 2016, you can easily find the tagged notes using the Tag Summary pane. It organizes your tags according to the groups.

You can choose to group them by name, section it appears in, the text of the notes (in ascending alphabetical order), and more.

To open it, navigate to the Tags group of the Home tab and click the Find Tags button. From the pane, click the Group tags by dropdown arrow and select a filter.

If you’re unable to find a note, you can increase the scope of your search. Click the Search box arrow, and choose a specific section or notebook.

find tagged notes in OneNote 2016

Create a Tag Summary Page

OneNote 2016 lets you create a page that summarizes your tagged notes. It’s a list of your tags across pages and sections in your notebook.

To create a summary page, repeat the procedure as described above, and click Create Summary Page. OneNote will then insert a new page in the section.

Since many tag summary pages will get created, make sure to delete any existing summary page. Also, change the page’s title to indicate that it is a summary.

Do remember that tagged notes on the summary page are the copies of original notes, but they don’t link to the originals.

create a tag summary page in OneNote 2016

Use OneNote as Your To-Do List

Tagging in OneNote is beneficial for avid note-takers. If you don’t use tags, start using them today, no matter which profession you belong to and what kind of notes you take regularly.

A well-tagged to-do list can be a great way of ensuring you’re making progress in day-to-day tasks. However, the right tags can help you set up and manage your to-dos and tasks with OneNote 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 .

Related topics: Microsoft OneNote, Organization Software, Productivity, Productivity Tips.

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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.

    • Chris
      September 25, 2018 at 4:35 pm

      Perfectly said.
      OneNote's interface is superior, and the ability to float text and add arrows, circles, etc., makes it a great tool for getting abstract thoughts down on digital paper. Evernote sort of forces me to use bulletpoints, or sometimes I even have to jot notes by hand to get my thoughts out, and then take a picture of the paper. So, on a note-by-note basis, I like OneNote better.
      That being said, Evernote's dynamic tagging is what makes it indispensable. Things change over time - new job, new hobbies, new house, new cars, new family members, new interests, yet Evernote doesn't blink. I have 12,000+ notes accumulated over the last 9 years, ranging across work, family life, side hustles, writing -- and every note is easily accessible from any device at anytime.. I don't have to think about where to file it (because I can use multiple tags, which themselves can be modified over time as needed), and nothing ever gets lost.
      I wish OneNote had Evernote's tagging abilities. And I wish Evernote had OneNote's interface. Pick your poison.

  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. :)