Setting list item gaps in Microsoft OneNote (AutoHotKey script)

Although I like Microsoft OneNote and use it continuously, it does have a few failings. One of these is the inability to set the default styles and layout for text.

In particular, when you create a new paragraph or list entry in OneNote, the default – non-changeable – setting is to have no white space between the paragraphs.

This is very poor design and makes more than a small amount of text quite unreadable. I’ve raised this with Microsoft but who knows if or when it might be sorted.

In the mean time, I need a far quicker way of changing this. Currently, I’ve had to:

  1. Select the container with the text I want to format
  2. Use the menu to show the List Task Pane ([alt]o/L)
  3. Mouse click on the text box to change (you cannot tab into it)
  4. Change the 0.00 pt default to something like the 6.00 pt that I prefer
  5. Close the List Task Pane

Not nice!

Having determined that there is nothing clever that can be done in OneNote, I decided that the old standy “AutoHotKey” would be useful. So I’ve created a script for AutoHotKey that will change the inter-list gap for the currently selected container.

; [win]-z Set OneNote list to 6pt separation
; We need a partial title match but we will also reset to previous setting
oldTitleMatchMode := A_TitleMatchMode
SetTitleMatchMode, 2

debug            := 1                                                           ; Set to 1 to output debug messages, or 0
winTitlePart := " - Microsoft Office OneNote"   ; Partial title of ON windows
winText          := "List"                                                      ; Text to identify List Task Pane - Visible Window Text: MsoDockRight, Task Pane, List
listDefault      := "0.00 pt"                                           ; The default setting for list separation between items
listNew          := "6.00 pt"                                           ; My desired spacing between list items

; Only do something if ON is the active window
IfWinActive, %winTitlePart%
        ; We need the List Task Pane to be visible
        IfWinNotExist, %winTitlePart%, %winText%
                ;IfEqual, debug, 1, MsgBox List not active
                ; Send chars to activate menu, can't use WinMenuSelectItem with Office apps
                ;   SendPlay is used to prevent the Windows key locking the PC (Win+L)
                SendPlay, !oL
        ; List Task Pane should now be visible, save the existing setting
        ControlGetText, Var1 , RichEdit20W2, %winTitlePart%, %winText%
        ; If the current setting is the default setting then make the change
        if Var1 = %listDefault%
                ; Focus on the input box & set the text
                ControlFocus, RichEdit20W2, %winTitlePart%, %winText%
                ControlSetText, RichEdit20W2, %listNew%, %winTitlePart%, %winText%
                ; This is optional to check if we were successful
                ControlGetText, Var2 , RichEdit20W2, %winTitlePart%, %winText%
                if ErrorLevel   ; i.e. it's not blank or zero then error
                        MsgBox, %Var1% - %Var2% - Problem - %ErrorLevel%.
                        IfEqual, debug, 1, MsgBox, OK - %Var1% - %Var2%.
        ; Close the List Task Pane (actually it closes the Task Pane, period, sorry)
        SendPlay, ^{F1}
else    ; ON not active so do nothing
        IfEqual, debug, 1, MsgBox, OneNote not active

SetTitleMatchMode, %oldTitleMatchMode%

OK, so it’s a bit rough-and-ready but it does save a whole lot of time. I’ve got this in my default AHK script so it is loaded whenever I log in and is activated with [win]z.

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  • Zeffa123

    can you write code to select text in onenote highlighted pink and change the highlight to a different color, say gray25%? i wrote a macro in VB that works in MS word and I even got in running in activewords, but the macro will not work on text within onenote. plus i have no clue how to write in the language needed for AHK.


    • Hi Zeffa, I’m afraid I’ve never updated this to work with new versions of OneNote and I no longer use the script. In theory it may be possible to change colours but we are very limited as to what can be done since OneNote doesn’t use the same kind of object model or controls that most of the Office suite uses.

      The latest versions of OneNote are rather better about having sensible formatting so I no longer bother to use the script.

      AutoHotKey is not really difficult to learn so you could try something for yourself.