Troubleshooting differences between section groups and notebooks in OneNote 2007

One of the things that is different about OneNote is that we are a folder based editor - not an individual file based editor. A good example of a file based editor would be notepad. It works with a single text file at a time. You open the TXT file, edit it, save it and move on to the next. I'm pretty sure the overwhelming majority of applications are like this. OneNote is different, though. While you can use OneNote to edit a single .ONE file at a time, we treat folders as a notebook. If you have multiple .ONE files in a folder, they each become sections in the notebook.

Looking at the OneNote Guide notebook, here's what I mean:


Since we are not document based, it may feel like opening a notebook is tricky. If you double click a .ONE file, you get asked to open just that section (the .ONE file) or the whole notebook. If you choose the whole notebook, OneNote will open the folder that holds the .ONE file. If there are other .ONE files (other sections) OneNote will open them all.

You can also right click a folder and select to open as a notebook in OneNote:


Any subfolders in the hard drive folder structure will be opened as section groups (and if they in turn have .ONE files, they will show as sections. Further subfolders become further section groups, and so on…) The parent folder will become the name of the notebook.

In this case, I chose to open the "OneNote Notebooks" folder as a notebook (this is a bad thing and I'm about to show why). OneNote will do what you told it - open the OneNote Notebooks folder as the notebook. Each subfolder will now become a section group. Looking into the folder shows this:


See the mistake? My "Personal Notebook," Work Notebook" and "OneNote 2007 Guide" will now all become section groups.  Here’s what OneNote will show.


And I cheated a little bit to open the "wrong" folder. OneNote was smart enough to give me this alert when I tried to open the folder that held all those notebooks:

The notebook you are opening contains one or more of your other open notebooks. If you proceed, those notebooks will no longer appear on the navigation bar. You will still be able to access them as section groups within the notebook you are opening. Do you want to proceed?

I chose yes.

This finally gets back to one of our users doing the same thing on his machine. He posted his question about what had happened over at our discussion groups. Here's an excerpt:

A user wrote:

Somehow, somewhere, I dislocated the structure of my ON 2007 files. The result is that ON has converted previous ON notebooks and sections into section groups, and sections.  Thus I now have one giant notebook in
the created folder MyDocs | OneNote Notebooks.  It contains section groups which previously were separate ON files.
What should the main folder for ON notebooks be named.  And how can I rearrange things to get back to the original group of separate notebooks.

"John Guin [msft] wrote...
It sounds like you right clicked the "OneNote Notebooks" folder in My Docs and selected to open it as a notebook.  OneNote would treat that folder as the "parent" and all subfolders as section groups.
Here's what I would do.
1. Ensure my backups are up to date.
2. In OneNote, right click and close all open notebooks.
3. Use Explorer to open the OneNote notebooks folder.
4. Navigate to the folders that hold the individual notebooks I want open, right click them and select to "Open as OneNote Notebook."
Each notebook is named the name of the folder that holds it by default. You can override what the OneNote navigation bar shows as the name by right clicking the notebook in OneNote and selecting "Rename."  This will not change the name of the folder on the hard drive - it only changes what the UI shows.  I do this frequently for notebooks that have long names to shorten them so I can see more notebooks at once.
John Guin

The user wrote:

That fixed it. 

Comments (8)

  1. Mike Morales says:

    There is a simple solution for preventing this.  When notebooks are created, they should use the same OneNote notebook icon as appears in OneNote, instead of a standard folder icon.  I’ve done this some manually, but have not kept up very well.

    I’m using XP, and this may very well be different in Vista.  

  2. John Huff says:

    I imagine somewhere similar to where other office apps keep their recent file history location (for retrieval in subsequent user sessions), but I’ve never gone on a (wild goose) hunt for it before.

    BTW, this was a very helpful post.  For those of us techies, I think prominently stating "OneNote is a folder editor" would save some head scratching.  That OneNote is a folder editor was one of my first head-scratching hypotheses, but I couldn’t mentally confirm it with "and here is where the folder location is kept".

  3. Kenz says:

    Thanks! All I had to do was close the notebook called "OneNote Notebook 2007" or something like that. It contained all my notebooks as section groups and as soon as I closed it they all became notebooks again!

  4. Kenz says:

    Thanks! All I had to do was close the notebook called "OneNote Notebook 2007" or something like that. It contained all my notebooks as section groups and as soon as I closed it they all became notebooks again!

  5. Tom Fox says:

    I’ve just discovered OneNote and really like it. One feature that I think would be really good to have is when you go to the right side of the screen where the pages are is if you could use the up down arrow keys to move between pages. The only way I could do this now was to use my mouse and click select from one page to the next.

  6. JohnGuin says:

    Try CTRL+mouse wheel.  Does that help?

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