The joy of sketchnoting

Since the summer of 2016, I try to frequently make sketchnotes. Sketchnotes are the hipster way of taking notes. The idea is that you document meetings, presentations and the like using a combination of doodles, text and diagrams. That way you end up with a summary that is something a hybrid between a scheme and a comic book page.

Not only is making sketchnotes much more fun than traditional boring noting, it is in my opinion also much more effective! When I am trying to make a simple and visually appealing record, I am much more actively processing the content. I generally make sketchnotes in the following situations:

  1. Live, during presentations. This is the most intense, as I have to distill the main ideas of the talk and find a good way to draw them in a very short time. Ideally, I also want to have a sketchnote that completely fills one or two pages. For this reason, I often draw a ‘filler’ doodle during the Q&A. The difficulty notwithstanding, some of my best sketchnotes are drawn during a talk. If I can convey the main message, it is usually an indication that the presenter gave a very lucid talk!
  2. To summarize papers and books. Sketchnoting is an excellent way to retain information from books or papers. Since I always carry my notebook with me, I can rapidly look back to the main points of something I read. Since the sketches are often quite distinctive, I can quickly find back the relevant page.
  3. To organize my thoughts. When preparing a lecture or presentation, writing out a project proposal or brainstorming for new research ideas, I like to make a sketchnote as well. If I can outline the crux in a page or two, I can usually explain it well to other people. Since sketchnoting is quite visually stimulating, I also better remember the content.

Three sketechnotes: a talk, a book and a brainstorm.

I always thought of myself as being spectacularly bad at drawing. Being friends with Koen van den Eeckhout, who is the official sketchnoter of the Science Café at Ghent, does not help my self esteem. The philosophy of sketchnoting however is to keep the artwork simple and having fun is more important than a crisp end result. Remember, there are only five basic shapes to draw just about anything: point, square, circle, line and triangle. Though I still do not find my drawings very appealing, I do see quite an improvement of my artwork in the last years.

The five basic shapes to draw: point, square, circle, line and triangle.

Sketchnotes are an good way to have a bit of presence on the social media. Posting the notes on Twitter during a conference is a good way to meet some people and people will be grateful that you documents the talks for them! I also find that tweeting sketchnotes of papers is a good way to signal what your research interests are! And sometimes one of them gets picked up and results in a bunch of new followers! Furthermore, if the chief storyteller of the Flemish news want to use your notes of the media school in his course, it is a huge ego-boost =)

P.S. Since this year I have taken up bullet journalling as well. I find that this is a good way to keep track of my work and what I read and it is another way to express my love for fancy notebooks.

Three more sketchnotes: iGEM, comparing distributions using kernels and a brainstorm for my postdoctoral project.

Written on January 11, 2018