Sketchnoting or visual notetaking is, in essence, drawing pictures and writing words and putting them together. Adding sketches to your regular text-based notes helps improve your retention of the information you captured this way.

Not only that, but based on my experience, it also makes studying and revisiting your notes much more enjoyable. The picture below shows one of my sketchnotes I took during my Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Law class, when I was doing my post-graduate in Information Systems. Revisiting my visual notes made it much more fun for me to revisit my notes when I was studying for the final exam.

How does Sketchnoting work?

While listening to any kind of information from e.g. a lecture or a keynote speech, you capture your key takeaways by either writing or drawing the keywords that will remind you of that information later on. The key is to activate the part of your brain that would otherwise lie dormant if you only used words to capture information. The purpose of sketchnoting is to improve your memory, not to be an artist.

For example, when I was studying for my Business Process Management (BPM) exam, this is how I memorized the Seven Process Modeling Guidelines that I had to learn by heart. 

What is the benefit of sketchnoting?

Apart from the very pleasing look of your visual notes, there are other additional benefits. As you can already guess from my previous example, these are just a few of the benefits of sketchnoting:

  • Better retention of information
  • Increased focus
  • Fosters active listening
  • So much more fun

Basic elements of drawing

Now you know the benefits of combining visuals with your text-based notes. But you might still be thinking: “That’s great Zsófia, but I can’t draw.” This is exactly what I thought one and a half years ago, until I discovered my visual skills.

According to Mike Rohde (2012), the author of the Sketchnote Handbook, to learn how to draw, you only need to know 5 basic elements: circle, square, triangle, line and dot. Everything you want to draw, whether it’s something basic or more advanced, is just the composition of these 5 elements.

A commonly used example of this is the demonstration of how to draw a bicycle.

After you overcome your fear of drawing and your need to be perfect there are some additional sketchnoting elements that you can practice. When decomposed, sketchnotes comprise of some of the following elements:

  • Lettering / Typography
  • Symbols
  • Frames
  • Connectors
  • Shades
  • People

How to get started?

Practice makes perfect. When I started, I just practiced adding tiny doodles to my bullet journal entries. Over time, I found more inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest… All of a sudden I started seeing ideas everywhere: street signs, restaurant menus, posters. Sketchnoting, just like drawing, is a skill that you slowly develop over time. The more you practice the better you become.

If you still want more resources to get started, click on the button below to see the resources page, where I list all the books I recommend for visual thinkers:

Go to the Reading List


Rohde, M. (2012). Sketchnote Handbook Illustrated Guide (1 edition). Peachpit Press.

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