Search in OneNote

Updated 16/12/2018

The ability to quickly retrieve notes in OneNote is one of its killer feature.

If you look for a note written recently, flipping your last pages, or using the “Recent note” is a solution. But when you are looking for an older note (or all notes mentionning a subject or word), the Search feature is essential.

All versions (UWP, desktop and Online) provide a search feature, with some slight differences as far as user interface and performance are concerned :

Search in OneNote desktop
OneNote Desktop search : lightning fast, and sorted results (recent, title, page)

In OneNote desktop, the search is super fast, even if you have several large notebooks opened !

If you want to browse across the found notes, you’d rather pin the result’ pane before clicking within each resulting page (otherwise the list of notes disappears).

The options are numerous : sort by modification date (by default), note’ title or section, ascending or descending order, or freely move the search window (may be useful when using two monitors ?).
Nevertheless, I feel rather confused with the results being sorted by modification date (by default), because most of my notes are organized by creation dates (with the date stated in the title of the note) :

Pinned search result pane in OneNote desktop
The pinned search result’s Pane shows notes sorted by modification date (by default), clustered by months.


OneNote UWP offers the same filtering options than its elder brother : you can search in all notebooks, current notebook, current section (but not in the current Section Group) or the current page.

OneNote UWP search demo.
OneNote UWP : be … patient !

As shown in the above video, OneNote UWP needs more time to find the results, if you don’t limit the scope. While the results were available instanly in OneNote desktop, it took 4 seconds in OneNote UWP  (and more than 1 minute in OneNote Online !).

Update Nov. 2017 : thanks to an indexation process, search is now much quicker !


On the other side, navigating through OneNote UWP’ results is super easy :

  • the results’ pane remains anchored on the left until you close it, so you can skim each note, without loosing the results’ pane,
  • press TAB 3 times, and you’ll reach the first result of the list ; use up and down arrows to navigate through the results ; press ENTER to reach the selected page.
LIRE AUSSI  3D search
Shortcuts in OneNote for W10

I also noticed that OneNote UWP finds results which OneNote desktop don’t : in my company, the part numbers format is AB.70xxx.CDE. The “root” is 70xxx, and thus most of my search are at the “root” level :

  • In OneNote desktop, if I search for 70xxx, I don’t get any result (but .70xxx does)
  • In OneNote UWP, I get it.

That’s better !



Side Note : Ctrl E is the shortcut to search in all notes / Ctrl F to search in current page. Same in OneNote desktop and UWP. 

By the way, on a related topics : while you are in a note in OneNote UWP : Ctrl Alt F bring the focus to the note pane. Arrows (up and down) move across your note’ list, while right & left arrows expand or collapse sub-pages. Enter bring the focus back in the selected page.

Update 04/11/2017 : Search in OneNote UWP is now much faster thanks to an indexation process.

Update 15/11/2017 : See this interesting article (in German) from Stefan Wischner about the use of special characters in OneNote UWP – in combination with the search feature – to categorize.

Note 16/12/2018 : OneNote desktop supports “exact phrase match”, which means that searching for “own” will return pages containing “own” (pronoun or verb), but not pages containing “brown”, “crown” or “owning”, “owner”… 

Note 06/04/2019 : OneNote UWP now supports “exact phrase match” ! It can be confusing, though, because while pages containing the very phrase into quotes show in the result pane, in-page results will show more results, highlighted in yellow. See this Reddit thread for details.

Note 07/04/2019 : OneNote UWP searches for prefixes only, but not substrings. Pages with 70xxx will show in the result pane, whereas pages with AB.70xxx won’t. Confusingly, if your focus is on a page containing AB.70xxx, the 70xxx will appear highlighted in yellow… This makes sense thanks to OneNote developper’ Abhinav2107 explanation : “The on-page highlighter treats phrases differently than the search engine.”

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