Searching for Notes in OneNote

For years OneNote’s toughest competitor has been the paper notebook.  It’s versatile, flexible, and extremely easy to use.  It never stops working, it’s always available, and it never complains if I misspell a word.  But one thing I can’t easily do with a paper notebook is search my notes.  Sure, I can turn the pages and scan them, but I have to visually search each page until I’ve found what I’m looking for.  If I have several notebooks, it could take a while to complete the search.

OneNote 2010 has an intuitive and powerful instant searching capability.  I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, thankful for the advantage of instant search in OneNote.  It has saved me on numerous occasions.  You just type a search string into the Search box and you get back a wealth of information, all in a neatly packaged little display.  You can narrow the scope of your search to a notebook, section and now in OneNote 2010, the current page.  OneNote will even find occurrences of the search string in pictures and audio you have in your notebook too.

imageBy default, the search scope is set to All notebooks, which means that when you type in your search string, OneNote will searchimage across all notebooks you currently have open.  If you want to change the scope, click the Search Scope arrow next to the Search box.  You can then set the limitation of your search to the current page, section, section group current notebook or all notebooks.  Then enter your search term.  OneNote will immediately begin displaying a list of the results of your search and navigate to the first hit.  You can click on any of the results to have OneNote instantly take you to the page where it’s found.  Each search result is highlighted in Yellow for easy recognition.  OneNote even keeps a list of your most recent searches handy so you don’t always have to type it in. 


If you prefer, you can open the Search Results pane by clicking on the Open Search Results Pane link found at the bottom of the list of results.  It will open the pane with all the results listed inside for easy navigation.  Simply click on a result to have OneNote navigate you to the hit.  In the Search Results pane, you can easily change the search scope by clicking the Search dropdown at the top of the pane.  You can also change the sort order by section, title or date.  In addition, you can sort by ascending or descending order.



  • To begin a search by using the keyboard, simply press <Ctrl + E> and begin typing your search string.
  • You can also press <Ctrl + F> to narrow your search scope to the page you’re currently viewing.
  • If you’re using an older operating system that does not currently support Windows Desktop Search, your searches might be slow.  To speed up searches you can install WDS.  To install or verify whether WDS is installed, click File –> Options –> Advanced.  Look at the Install Instant Search button beneath the Search category.  If it’s enabled, you don’t currently have WDS installed.  Click the button to install it.  If it’s disabled, it means it’s already installed and functioning.
  • When searching for a word, OneNote will search for all forms of the word.  For example, if you are searching for the word jump, OneNote will find jump, jumps, jumped, jumping, etc.  If you encapsulate the word in quotes, it will only find the exact match of the word.
  • To step through the hits while the results are visible, press <Ctrl + F>.   The following search control will appear at the top-right of the window, just above the page tabs.  image  Click the forward/back buttons to navigate through each occurrence of the search string on the page.  To get back to the original search results, press <Ctrl + E>.
  • You can use the following operators to filter your search results: OR, AND.  They must be entered in ALL CAPS.
  • Due to a limitation of Windows Desktop Search, OneNote cannot support substring searches or wildcard searches.
  • Due to slow performance reasons, the searching capability in audio and video is disabled.  If you would like to enable it, be aware that it may slow the results.  Click File –> Options –> Audio and Video –> click the Enable searching audio and video for words checkbox.  If you’ve previously recorded audio or video before, you may have already seen a prompt asking you if you want to enable this functionality.