OneNote part 1: making your own toolbars


OneNote horizontal toolbar OneNote vertical toolbar


This is the first in a series of loveletters, I mean blog posts, about how I use OneNote. No, seriously, I love this thing. I’ll also be talking about:



  • folder layout and information sharing,
  • note taking, outlining and mind mapping,
  • and personal databases,

but I want to start with the toolbars.


Why the toolbars? Partly because having the right ones is important – if you’re on a Tablet PC, you’ve got a limited amount of screen space, and you only want to display toolbar buttons for the actions that you use the most. But mostly because setting up Office toolbars is one of the most annoying and counter-intuitive UI tasks known to man, and deep down I just want to vent.*


So which are the right toolbars to use? I argue that it’s best to create your own – I did that after I found myself frequently using buttons from four or five of the standard toolbars. And I created two: a horizontal toolbar that I use everywhere, and a vertical toolbar for the pen actions that I only use on my Tablet PC. To do it yourself:



  1. View->Toolbars->Customize, and switch to the Toolbars tab.
  2. Click New to create a new toolbar, give it a name, and drag it into the toolbar area.
  3. Display all the other toolbars by checking off their names.
  4. Now comes the counter-intuitive bit: while the Customize window is active, clicking on a toolbar button does not perform an action. Instead, it lets you drag-and-drop that button onto a different toolbar.
  5. So, drag all the buttons that you want to use onto your new toolbar – my horizontal toolbar contains buttons from the Standard, Formatting, and Outlining toolbars, for example.
  6. If you’re not sure what a button does, right-click it and take a look at its name. Right-clicking also lets you change the appearance of a button (text, icon, or both), or insert the little divider bars between buttons (“Begin a group”).
  7. Some OneNote commands don’t appear on any standard toolbar, but you can still see them listed in the Commands tab of the Customize window, ready to be dragged onto your own toolbar.
  8. When you’re done, the standard toolbars will probably be mere shadows of their former selves, denuded of useful buttons. That’s ok – just select each of them in turn and hit “Reset…” to make their buttons reappear.

Phew. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now you can hide the standard toolbars and revel in all the screenspace that you just created!


More OneNote 2003 resources:



*To be fair to the Office UI team, giving a user good visual cues as to how to manipulate toolbars is hard!

Comments (6)

  1. Manip says:

    I know what you mean, it is a pain .. But I spent a couple of minutes thinking about the problem and was unable to come up with a more effective method.

    The only suggestive method I came up with was this – You have a white demo button on your new toolbar.. if you don’t click it, it remains ‘nothing’ at rum-time.. if you DO click it, it displays a list of graphical icons and short-name [like a graphic combo box list] and you can select ‘None’ or a graphic icon for the method you want to use. After you have selected the method you want it moves the demo box (the one you clicked) over one space to the right. This is not a GOOD method.. just an alternative one.

  2. Manip says:

    I created a visual example which you can find here:

    http://img71.exs.cx/my.php?loc=img71&image=ToolBarAdd.jpg

    [ Please Comment Just So I know ANYBODY looked at it.. ]

  3. Yup, I looked at it đŸ™‚ One of the problems with the current method is the lack of visual feedback – you’re in a weird mode where you have to ignore the active foreground window and drag things around in the background instead, but there’s no on-screen hint about that. I like OneNote’s related solution for screen-clippings, where it "fades out" the inactive screen components. I wonder what other possible solutions the Office team came up with?