WHAT are sketchnotes?

Sketchnotes are visual notes created from a mixture of hand-drawn words and pictures which can include visual elements such as typography, shapes and lines. The Sketchnote Army defines sketchnotes as: ”purposeful doodling while listening to something interesting. It doesn’t require high drawing skills but does require a skill to visually synthesise and summarise via shapes, connectors and text.”

I use sketchnotes to quickly draw out information, discussions and concepts. I also TEACH people, students and organisations how to use sketchnotes as a way of visual thinking (see more at my Visual Workshops), as I believe anyone can learn how to sketchnote.

Through visual thinking sketchnotes allow you to organise your thoughts and ideas. And sketchnotes can be applied to any topic, information and project, so they can be used in your every day and your work. I love using sketchnotes as they put the fun back into note-taking and allow us to picture information and concepts quickly to easily communicate with others, as when you see it, you get it!

What sketchnotes are NOT, they are NOT ART! Sketchnotes are about putting your thoughts and ideas down on paper through the use of words and pictures, lines and connectors, they are not about creating pretty pictures or works of art. So NO DRAWING experience is necessary to sketchnote your ideas. If you can draw a line, then you can create sketchnotes in your own style, which is the whole point of using sketchnotes; to put your ideas down on paper, how you see it.

Below is a summary of my thoughts and experiences using sketchnotes, including the science behind using sketchnotes and how you can use sketchnotes to help organise your thoughts, communicate with others and add a new visual skill to your life and work.

WHY use sketchnotes?

Sketchnotes are a powerful visual learning and thinking tool as it uses BOTH sides of the brain, the verbal and the visual. So through a simple sketch the brain can focus on concepts and connections. As 65% of us are visual learners, when we see something, we get it! Drawing out information also allows the brain to retain and remember information vs just reading and listening to information.

Sketchnotes provide us with a new visual tool to share and communicate information, making learning, teaching (using sketchnotes) and presenting information more accessible, applicable and inclusive.

The Drawing Effect

Research shows that drawing is a great way to boost your memory. ‘The Drawing Effect’, research by JD. Wammes, ME. Meade and MA. Fernandes is a series of studies published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Vol 6 Issue 9 – 2016), revealed just this. In one part of their study participants were given lists of easily drawable words, such as apple, and asked to either repeatedly write a word for 40 seconds or draw it. Then after completing ‘filler’ tasks they were given surprise memory tests. Researchers found drawing enhances memory. The research also found that drawing worked better than:

  • just looking at the pictures
  • visualising the words
  • and writing descriptions of the meaning of words!

Graham Shaw, one of my favourite visual storytellers, explains this drawing concept beautifully, as drawing is thinking so “when you draw you remember more“!

Science of sketchnotes

I was recently part of a Masters research project carried out by Yu-Hsuan Liu of the University College of London who was researching the use of Science sketchnotes: techniques and strategies for visual note-taking in science and education. This research focused on unpacking the elements of science sketchnoting and compared them with general sketchnoting skills and provides a set of suggestions for the design implication for digital tools that support sketchnoting in science learning contexts.

Some of the research findings were:

  • Science sketchnotes have many unique characteristics vs general sketchnoting
  • Science sketchnotes cover many abstract and complex ideas that require a deeper understanding of the selected topic for sketchnoters to do the sketchnotes

You can read more about this research here:

HOW to use sketchnotes?

Using sketchnotes, is like learning any new language or skill, you need to start with learning the basics and then build yourself, what I call, a visual ‘toolkit’ which you can then draw upon to meet your visual needs over time. Applying sketchnotes to your work, projects, communication etc is NOT about art, but using words and pictures, along with typography, lines and shapes to help visually communicate your ideas, information, concepts and discussions etc.

Below are examples of how I use and teach sketchnotes.

As a marine scientist and artist I was recently invited to contribute to the world’s very first science communication magazine, SWIPE for SciComm, created by the very clever and talented Dr Tullio Rossi of Animate Your Science. For this article I created a series of sketchnotes drawing out the important aspects of the WHAT, WHY, HOW of sketchnotes, and even sketchnoted my own short biography as part of the article. I loved contributing to this wonderful SciComm magazine and you can read this article at SWIPE SciComm Magazine.

Sketchnotes for everyone

I have used and taught sketchnoting to a wide range of people and organisations and it is clear from the interactions I have had with people that sketchnotes really are for everyone. It’s not only because of the simplicity of the visual note-taking process which becomes quite natural when used in your everyday life and work, but its the process of drawing out the information from your own mind and hand which can make sketchnotes accessible and applicable to everyone.

There are also benefits of using sketchnotes for students, and anyone, with various learning and language challenges. Sketchnotes, as a visual note-taking tool, can be helpful people to synthesize information, make connections and demonstrate their understanding through words and pictures. Visual note-taking can also help to make content more accessible and applicable and communication clearer.

Sketchnotes can open up a new avenue of expression for people who struggle to communicate due to challenges in the areas of:

  • expressive and receptive language
  • auditory processing
  • fine-motor control
  • eye-hand coordination
  • visual tracking
  • handwriting
  • dyslexia
  • attention
  • organization
  • sensory processing

These challenges are common not only to people on the autism spectrum, but also to those with ADHD and various learning and language disabilities. Visuals can also help neurodivergent people to ‘think in pictures’, to support the structure, routine and sequence these students require to carry out their daily activities. So sketchnotes are for everyone.

Sketchnote workshops

I teach people, organisations, teachers, students and anyone who wants to learn how to sketchnote, through my tailored Visual Workshops. Sketchnotes can be applied to any topic, information and project. My workshops are never the same, or “off the shelf”, as I create workshop content that is tailored to meet you and your organisation’s visual needs. So we can co-create part of the workshop together.

Sketchnote workshops include:

  • Sketchnote your ideas (on any idea, information, project)
  • Sketchnotes in schools (also see Sketchnote your science in School)
  • Sketchnote your science
  • Sketchnote your ….insert any topic here…

Some examples of where sketchnotes can help to draw out and communicate your ideas and information include: strategic plans, business strategies, stakeholder engagement, incident management, cyber security frameworks, communication plans, emergency response plans, school curriculum and assessment, science communication, presentations, podcasts, meeting agenda’s, school projects, biographies and CVs, funding proposals, project outlines… the list is endless!

My visual sketchnote Workshops provide hands on demonstrations, worked examples based on your individual needs with time included for all participants to sketchnote their own work or project ideas. My sketchnote workshops outline the following:

  • Why, what and how of sketchnotes?
  • Building your sketchnote toolbox
  • Using sketchnotes as a visual learning tool
  • How to apply your sketchnotes (*tailored content)
  • Time to sketchnote your ideas, work, projects

And NO DRAWING experience is necessary to learn how to sketchnote, as if you can draw a line, then you CAN sketchnote!

Sketchnote your science (and ANY topic)

As a scientist and artist I use sketchnotes to help students and teachers to visualise science. I also use sketchnotes to help break-down and picture complex scientific concepts to help make the complex simple and the simple compelling with scientists and researchers. Drawing is thinking so this technique helps to make learning and science more visual, because “when you draw you remember more!” See more about how I use sketchnotes in schools to Sketchnote your science.

My Sketchnotes

Below are examples of some of my sketchnotes which draw out many different ideas and information, can be used for many different purposes and can engage with many different audiences (in-person or online). These sketchnotes include:

  • Workshop agenda’s and outcomes
  • My own short Biography (you could also do a visual CV)
  • Resume visual guide
  • Live presentations and pitches
  • Sketchnote icons and templates (eg. for sketchnote your science in school)
  • Sketchnote workshops

I love to sketchnote so if you would like to find out more about how you can sketchnote your ideas then please Contact me for more information.

All sketchnotes, artworks, stories and images are Copyright © 2023 Dr Sue Pillans