Using OneNote as an email creator lesson learned

If you've been reading this for awhile, you know I spent some time using OneNote to compose all my emails. I received an email from a tester on my team last week and needed to forward it. She had used OneNote to compose the original mail as well, but I did not notice that to being with. Instead, the first time I noticed it was when I wanted to forward her mail and needed to re-format the first line of it. I could not format it the way I wanted and thought I was hitting a bug that needed to be reported. I had never hit this myself. But it turns out it wasn't a bug so I figured I would explain what happened.

First, here' s what I wanted to do. I received her mail and noticed there was a line of text "way off to the right" that I wanted to move back to the left. Here's what I saw when I wanted pressed forward and clicked in the body to the left of the line I wanted to move:


When I put my cursor to the left of the word "to" I wanted to press the "Decrease Indent" ribbon toolbar button to move the line to the left. Pressing it did nothing. I had never gotten behavior before and was confused.

Look at the top of the email inspector frame: the caption says "Table Tools." That was a clue. Tables are a method of forcing a layout scheme onto a OneNote page (we're typically pretty loose with letting you type or insert content any where you want, but sometimes you need information right there). I didn't know where the table was coming from since all the mails I sent did not have it.

Since she had sent me an HTML formatted message (this is the default in Outlook 2007), I was able to right click the original message and view the HTML source:


Looking at the HTML shows a table holds the line I wanted to move (here's an edited copy of the HTML table):


The last clue here is that Outlook uses Word as its email editor. So what I was seeing was the expected behavior of changing the indent of text in a cell of a table. When I moved the text to the left, it moved to the left most edge of the cell. Since the table was invisible, it did not immediately "click" and I had to look twice to see what was going on "under the hood."

The reason I had never seen this with my own mail is that I had not inserted an outline to the right of the date/time and title area. I had been keeping all my notes under that area and therefore never needed the table to be created to ensure the text was in the correct location when it shows in email.

Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


Comments (7)

  1. George Goodman says:

    I’ve run into similar oddities at times with a 1on1 meeting note template I created.  I finally gave up the fight 🙂 and moved the Attendee list from where it started (to the right of the Header) to a position immediately under the Header.

    T’would be nice if we could depend on an HTML email under all circumstances that sustains the layout we have in ON, but that waits for the next release? 🙂

  2. JohnGuin says:

    Well, the biggest change I can see is that our table corners are rounded, but they are not in HTML.  There’s far more to it than that, of course.  Feel free to send me a screenshot or two of the OneNote page and the resulting email (or send me the ON page).  I’ll see what’s happening.

  3. fleon says:

    John, been following your blog for a while and thought you might have a suggestion for my problem.

    I have about 15-20 pages with audio recordings, but my audio indexing never completes.  It gets stuck somewhere on one of the audio files and never finishes it or goes onto the next audio recording.  So I usually end up with 3-4 correctly indexed audio recordingns and 17 that just get skipped.  

    I have found that if I remove the notebook with the bad audio and delete the audio cache, new audio recordings get indexed just fine.

    Two questions:

    1) Ever heard of this and have a suggestion or solution?

    2) Is there a way in Onenote, or a tool/addon that will help me find all pages with embedded audio?  If I could at least figure out where in this 3000+ page notebook the audio is, I could try removing the audio files one at a time until I find the offending file.

  4. John says:

    For 2), I released a tool that finds all embedded files in a notebook at

    For 1), I have not heard of this, but could imagine a corrupt file breaking the indexer.  If you locate it, feel free to send it my way, or report the bug at

    Sorry for the problems.

  5. fleon says:

    Thanks, John!  This should help a lot!

  6. fleon says:

    Hey John-

    The app works, but doesn’t operate recursively through lower section groups.  Any ideas?

  7. JohnGuin says:

    You will need to go to each section and run the tool on the section.  The algorithm I used is slow, and when I tried it on a full notebook it took far too long to complete, so I set it to just look in a single section at a time.  I realize I said "notebook" in my earlier response and I am sorry I misled you – that was the wrong word to use.

    I hope you still find the tool useful (and can track the faulty embedded file).

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