How do I: Take notes? Sketchnotes!

So as my IG handle suggests, paper is a pretty broad topic – and that was intentional because I love many things paper-related, and wanted to keep my options open so I could talk about things like sketchnotes.

What are sketchnotes? At the core, it’s a visual way to capture ideas, outside of the standard line-by-line notetaking. If you’ve ever seen RSA Animate videos on YouTube like this favorite of mine, I’d consider those Sketch Notes.  The possibilities with this method are endless – get inspired by some at SketchNoteArmy.  At the very end of graduate school I accidentally started taking sketchnotes at a conference – I didn’t have enough room in my stenopad so I grabbed some blank printer paper.  That was all it took to free my writing from the usual linear route and I kept returning to it.

My sketch notes from a conference session

I take these notes separate from my FoxyNotebook system because these are not project notes, but rather reference notes for later. This is a VERY basic example of how you can create your own connections and structure for notes – boxing sections, simple visual representations of the concept (the thermometer), and of course different colors and lettering styles to set different ideas apart. (I’ll give more starting tips later on in this post!)

Our brains aren’t linear, so why should our notes have to be?

My sketch notes of a conference session

In this example I did more sketching to show how learning takes place in the brain.  You DON’T have to be an artist to do this – ANY visual representation works. It’s definitely a fun way to illustrate ideas and key points that make sense to you and YOUR brain while incorporating lettering and colors to make it more fun to review later.  Before, I would frantically try to keep up, scribing all the ideas being presented; but with Sketchnotes I am selective about what I write down and really boil it down to represent it.  It helps me remember and learn things MORE, actually, even if it’s just a header here or there,  If only I had discovered this method when I was in college, I wonder how much more I’d remember my notes!

How would I start using sketchnotes?

It’s always overwhelming to figure out where to begin.  Here are some of the ways I got started with it – hopefully they help you too!

Start with blank or gridded paper. 
Simply removing those lines removed enough of the limitations on how I would capture ideas.  Some like light grid paper because it provides just enough structure but freedom to go whichever way – try both! Here’s a gridded printout to try on.
Group thoughts together

Show connections.
If there’s a central concept with several branching concepts, highlight that relationship by visually branching off.

Educators also talk about concept mapping – showing how ideas are connected to each other.  Most things overlap and exist in relationship to other things, so showing that helps us learn them more deeply.

Highlight acronyms

Emphasize acronyms.
This is a fun way just to help remember acronyms in an easy way – by highlighting the first letter.  In this case, HIPS was a framework to look at “ways of knowing.” So each concept followed this framework – filling in their respective “HIPS” for each.

Little Icons.
At the top, you’ll see a little magnifying glass – for me, a magnifying glass represents “investigation”, “checking it out.” So I was trying to remember to investigate the video called, “They saw a game.”

Thought bubbles

Show progression.

In this example, the gist is to go from your immediate circle of friends, out to your neighborhood, to the world, or your state (sorry Minnesota, that one really sucked).  In other cases, you could show thoughts building from bottom up, or a process.

Have a thought? Draw it in a bubble. 
Since I go to a lot of trainings on teaching or am teaching, thought bubbles do a good job representing literally students having different thoughts about something, OR that I’m wondering something during a training.  Again, easy to see and capture.

Create icons to represent ideas

Mini illustrations.
As my mentor gave this awesome talk about what holds us back, it was easy to identify ways to represent Anchors, Ghosts, Doubts, and “rolling stones” – as if you were playing Telestrations or Pictionary, how would you sketch this for someone else? Even putting in the extra 30 seconds of effort solidified the images in my mind.

Lettering styles as headers.
Changing up your lettering style helps make different concepts or points stand out. From using all caps to cursive to block letters or using a different pen, it can break up the different sections.  Want to learn lettering? I LOVE Cindy’s (LlamaLetters) YouTube videos. She’s direct, hilarious, and really helpful at developing your own lettering style.

Longer post but I hope there are some helpful tips for you to get started with sketchnotes.  Anyone else also a sketchnoter in the planner community? How do you take notes? I would love to see!



7 thoughts on “How do I: Take notes? Sketchnotes!

  1. I like this concept but don’t know if I could do this while listening to a speaker. I’d probably have to return to my extensive notes because many times – in the moment – I don’t know if something is a key point until I’ve heard the rest of the presentation. In other words, is this difficult to do while learning totally new information?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great question – there is a range of how sketchy my notes look depending on the information. If it was completely new I tend to pick up on key words and highlight those, and using a bright color to outline what I discover to be the key points. What do you think? It is a shift in doing things, but again once I got rid of the boundaries of lines it helped a ton!!


  2. This would be fun IF I could listen/think/write quickly!! LOL. But seriously, just getting the Cindy YouTube lettering videos is GOLDEN. I have been wanting to take a lettering class, but didn’t want to fork over the money not knowing if it was a good class or not … Cindy is awesome and so funny. Learning so much … thanks for sharing!! Really enjoying your blog … so relevant for where I’m at with all of this right now!


    1. You can totally do this! It’s actually so nice to have to slow down and keep from jotting down *everything and force myself to integrate and distill ideas down. And, RIGHT? Cindy is hilarious – she is concise but funny and very practical in developing your skill. I’m glad you like her🙂 I hope you post some of your work on Insta. Lastly, your comment about my blog is a daymaker – I want this to be useful🙂


  3. Thanks for your reply. After your post, I’ve been rethinking my note taking. See, I was a journalism major but that was a LOT of years ago. It’s about time that I evaluate and revamp how I take notes. This will have a big impact on my life because I take notes everywhere…church, classes, meetings, etc. Also, I agree that Cindy’s YouTube lettering is awesome – the best that I’ve seen so far. So between the lettering and the note taking, it’s like being in elementary school again except I’m 55 years old and have no teacher to answer to. Amen! Thanks for your great blog.


  4. Very cool! When I was in college I used this method mainly for making study guides for midterms and finals. After a while of that I used elements of it in my note taking. It really makes reviewing and remembering simple, and pretty fun.🙂


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