Sketchnotes – What are they and why are they so effective?

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Mar 03 2021 Blogs

A lot of people, myself included, find visual notes much more engaging, as well as more digestible and easier to remember detail from. It’s something that is becoming more widely accepted as a good way of transcending language barriers, and a way of engaging a wider audience with information we want to share. A few years ago, we saw a real growth in infographics, and Sketch Notes are, in many ways an extension of that idea. They say a picture tells a thousand words, so imagine how many words can we convey on a poster with a number of pictures on?

Although I was only introduced to the term ‘sketch notes’ a couple of years ago it’s something I’ve always done. In my early career, when I was responsible for minute taking, I would often be pulled up for drawing instead of writing notes. Eventually, in the interests of my future career, I caved and stopped drawing in meetings, but my ability to take notes really suffered. And now I know why…

Studies have shown ‘that drawing is superior to activities such as reading or writing because it forces the person to process information in multiple ways: visually, kinaesthetically, and semantically. Across a series of experiments, researchers found drawing information to be a powerful way to boost memory, increasing recall by nearly double’. (; 2019).

I find that incredible. Just the act of drawing rather than writing means that we nearly double our ability to recall information. When I read that, the younger version of me rejoiced, and I immediately returned to drawing my notes wherever possible.

Why are sketch notes so effective?

If we look at this in the context of recall alone, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, a pioneer of memory study, teaches us, via the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, that we forget 80% of the new things we have learned within a month of hearing or learning them. So, if we can double our memory recall by drawing, that can only be a good thing.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Not only does the act of drawing improve our memory, it also increases our creativity and helps us to make deeper connections with the topic at hand. It increases our focus and helps us to see the bigger picture.

Credit: Sylvia Duckworth

How to start sketch notes

You don’t have to be good at drawing to sketch note- just the act of recording the notes in a more visual way, like a mind map or spider diagram has the same effect as physically drawing it, and there are lots of simple tips to help you get started.

Tip 1: Find your style

Using different types of arrows, boxes, boarders and writing styles can tell your message in as visual a way as drawing.

Tip 2: Adapt your method of creating visual minutes for a conference or event

I use a different method for events than if I am taking notes solely for myself.  I will review the agenda first of all, so I have an idea of what types of topics might need to be considered. I will plan to create multiple quick sketches in the live environment and spend a few days distilling them down to create one sketch note a few days later. I’ve created sketch notes for many events I have been a part of, and always feel I remember these events with more clarity than those I haven’t sketched.


As you can see from the above examples, I’m not much of a drawer, that being said, I engagement is always great with the sketch notes as they are easy to pick up and read. They transcend language barriers, and time barriers- if you don’t have time to read a long paper, or watch the video recording, you can at least pick up the sketch note and review the session in a really quick way.

Tip 3: Make your mark!

The scariest bit is making the first mark on the paper, and that is why I always start with the title of the event. Not only does it let people know what the visual is from, it is also a really easy first mark to make, and then the fear is gone, I can just get on with drawing.

I hope I’ve inspired some of you to get in to sketch noting, or even just to check out some online. For health care related ones, Sonia Sparkles (@sonia_sparkles) is a great person to follow, creating some inspirational sketch notes.

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