Organize your OneNote: Using Section Groups

Office 365 / SharePoint Blog

I started off talking about how I use Pages as a starting point for my organization, and then when I outgrow Pages I move on to Sections.

Sections appear along the top of your work space. While you can have as many sections as you want, one thing to note is that your desktop application real estate is only so large and therefore, depending on the length of your section names, your application real estate only allows the room for about 8-12 sections before they disappear in a drop-down menu.

OneNote: section drop-down showing 5 blank sections

While the use of the drop-down menu is generally not a big deal if there are some sections you rarely use, I personally don’t like having to use a drop-down menu. At the same time though, it doesn’t always make sense to create a new Notebook just because you can’t see the section tabs.

Section Groups allow for that middle ground, where you can group your sections into similar topics (e.g. meetings) while still allowing all of your meeting notes to stay together with the rest of your file.

The two most commonly used section groups in my Notebooks are Meetings and @MySpace, where I keep things that belong to the overall topic discussed in the Notebook, but are just my notes to myself or random thoughts or collected information that I’m not ready to put out into the rest of the book just yet.

OneNote: Subsections showing on left menu: Blog Posts and Emails; Tutorial Scratch Files; @MySpace; Committee Work; Dept A-M; Dept N-Z; Meetings

Our divisional finance team uses Section Groups to name their budget codes, Sections for each of the months in the fiscal year, and Pages for the individual invoices and purchase orders. That way they can have multiple budget codes but still keep their information in a single file for a department.

Image showing section groups for finance budget codes 122318, 122325, 120917 and V00173

Using section groups works best when you are using the desktop version of OneNote, and you have the notebooks “pinned” to your left sidebar, because you’re able to view all of your section groups and sections at a glance.

Across the top of the page, you will see any top-level sections as well the names of section groups. When clicking on a section group in the top bar, only the sections within the section group will show.

OneNote Section bar showing section groups
When you open a section group for the first time, it can be a little disconcerting because it appears you’re “stuck” inside that section group, as you no longer see the remaining portions of the notebook. The little green “return to top” arrow will get you back to the top level of your Notebook so you can navigate to the rest of it again.

OneNote: Section Group Bar showing 5 tabs, with a little arrow on the left that would take me up a level Smart Tip

If you use section groups, keep the most-used sections at the top level, so that you can easily access them without needing to go into section groups. As shown in my working notebook above, I keep the blog post and tutorial scratch tabs at the top level because I use them all the time, and I don’t want to have to click into a section group to do my daily work. I like that OneNote lets me have the flexibility to do what works for me.

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