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.

Comments (19)

  1. AdrianP says:

    One thing that I've found frustrating with OneNote 2010 is that you can't seem to step through the results of a search over a whole note without going to each page. In OneNote 2007, it was very easy to do this. The new search interface seems to me to be a retrograde step rather than an improvement.

  2. Ivan says:

    And what about substring search and wild card characters? Are these still not possible to use?

  3. jeffcardon says:

    AdrianP, I just updated this post to include the following information on how to step through the list of hits on a page.  I had inadvertently left this information out when I originally posted this morning.  Thanks for the reminder.

  4. jeffcardon says:

    Ivan, the inability to search for substrings and wildcard characters is unfortunately a limitation of Windows Desktop Search.  We are able to support the OR and AND operators though.

  5. Ben says:

    Is this a cruel joke?  The OCR/search bug cripples almost any functionality of the search feature.  Please hurry with releasing the patch.

  6. john says:

    the paper notebook also doesn't shift all your ink around

  7. Ben Dupre says:

    When I merge a PDF document that is searcheable b/c of the OCR text recognition that I ran and then saved the file following the OCR text recognition.  In other words, the file was a scanned text document that I saved as a PDF Document.  I then ran an OCR text recognition that would allow me do a word search.  I then saved the file.  I then merged it into my OneNote, but I cannot search words.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks,  

    Ben Dupre

  8. OliverB says:

    Searching has gotten super complicated in ON2010 with all that different key combinations. Why isn't there a simple to use unified sidebar?

  9. Jimmy says:

    Is there any way for the "Search Results Pane" to always show up by default.  I'm so used to hitting enter after I hit my search terms that I always lose my search upon hitting enter.  I'd prefer not to have to click the link as instructed above to get to the "Search Results Pane".  Anyone find a way to do this?

  10. Ralf says:

    @Jimmy: Hitting Enter should definitely show a list of results rather that cancel the search makes no sense at all like this.

    @jeffcardon: Thank you for writing this up. Clarified some things for me.

    Any idea if Microsoft is at least thinking about making ON more usable by improving the search functionality? The lack of substring and wildcard search is bad enough. But the lack of exact searches is a real killer.

  11. Terry says:

    I too am extremely frustrated by One Note 2010's search capability.  It used to be so easy to skip to the next "find" in a notebook.  Now it appears the best I can do is Open the search results and click on each link:(

  12. Anon says:

    I like using OneNote very much.  But something has to be done about the substring search capability.  I think it is absurd that I can't search for text within a note.  I should say, it works for some characters but not others, and there appears to be no reason behind any of it.  For instance, a search for "b" works but not "i".  And special characters are ignored (semicolon, colon, comma, etc).  I can work with the silly find-next behavior…but it is frustrating when I can't search for certain text strings.  Don't forget the formula for keeping it simple…

  13. Jeffrey G says:

    I've put notes in NOTEPAD for years, all in one directory, and can search easly.  OneNote will not search and find numbers. I can search for alpha characters and find them.. but I want to search numbers, like my form number 12899.   Can't find numbers.. Can't use OneNote.

  14. Tony C says:

    I use OneNote for Sys Admin command line examples and programming code chunks.  

    HUGE limitation – "inability to search for substrings and wildcard characters is unfortunately a limitation of Windows Desktop Search"

  15. Yen says:

    For some reason, my search function is NOT recognizing ANY words in my notebooks. Does anyone know how to fix this?

  16. Malcolm says:

    Can you export your search results to excel or even to a onenote page. I have several project notes that meet a criteria and I am trying to create a report of those projects.

  17. yosemite says:

    Well I think the searching in OneNote is excellent!  It's nearly instant, and that's really the most important thing.  I love the way search results are presented – I can click through to any page and it pops up instantly while my search results stay.    The AND and OR operators work as expected.   Likewise quotes for exact sequences.

    The one thing I'd wish for is to be able to search special characters or at least # and @, so I could do freeform tagging like #project and @Joe.

    I did discover that the _ underscore character can be used, e.g. a search for a_b finds "a_b" but does not find "a b" or "a.b" or "a+b" etc.  So if you want you could do things like "proj_" prefix and similar.

  18. Stacey says:

    My OneNote isn't pulling up any word I am trying to search by although it exists. How can I correct this? I am searching all notebooks.

  19. Philip Leicester says:

    Unbelievably rubbish search features. #Fail

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