No book has affected my note taking workflow more than The Sketchnote Handbook: The illustrated guide to visual note taking. This hand-sketched book is masterfully drawn, offering tips and tricks to blend traditional note taking with intentional doodling. For those who are familiar, the book is formatted more like a graphic novel than a traditional productivity/self-help book. Each page is drawn as a sketchnote with examples from the personal notebook of the author.

The premise behind sketchnotes is simple; text notes are limiting and drawing helps with retention. As students we are taught to take notes verbatim, trying to copy down every word that comes from the front of the classroom. During this process, we lose sight of the real purpose of the classroom lecture, capturing and retaining the main ideas. Building from the Allan Paivio's Dual Coding Theory, sketchnotes employ both the verbal and visual channels in which the brain processes information through sketches and words. The process of sketching also forces us to think more abstractly about key concepts and how they relate to other ideas.

While many may be turned off by the idea that they are "not artistic," Rohde reassures his readers that artistic ability is not a requirement nor an excuse. He provides basic sketching tutorials and suggests ways to convey complex ideas with simple images that everyone can create.

I finished reading the book in the middle of the semester and below is a sketchnote I created for my African Archaeology class using an iPad and the GoodNotes App.


It's not the prettiest of sketchnotes but it's a start. Admittedly incorporating sketchnotes slows down the note taking process but causes you to focus on ideas not words; thus reinforcing a key concept of the book. In this examples, I found I was able to more visualize the differences among the African, Taurine, and Indian cattle more readily with images rather than words.

With that said, sketchnotes isn't ideal for every situation. I tried - to no avail - to incorporate sketchnotes into my Intro to Statistics class but the only things I ended up drawing were equations and some pretty bad sketches of the teacher.

If you find yourself doodling in the margins of your notes you should definitely check out THE SKETCHNOTE HANDBOOK. You may even end up creating notes that you'll actually enjoy reviewing.

For a short but thorough introduction to his "sketchy approach" watch this YouTube video where Mike Rohde, the author, introduces the concept. Also check out the Sketchnote Army, a collection of user-submitted sketchnotes updated daily.

Do you use sketchnotes? Please share your sketchnotes below and let me know if you would like to see a review of THE SKETCHNOTE WORKBOOK.

This post is part of the Book Review Series which features short summaries and reviews of books that are helpful to students in 500 words or less.