More and more people seem to be sharing their colorful sketches and presentation notes on Flickr. Sketching is on the rise! I enjoy seeing how people combine words and drawings to capture information or explore an idea-using what I call a storytelling approach to note taking.

Many of us first think of mind maps when we think of visual methods for note taking. Who hasn’t been to a conference or a meeting where you sat next to someone who was taking notes by creating a mind map? Some of my former colleagues used mind mapping software to take meeting notes. I tried it too – for a while.

According to Tony Buzan, a mind map is a thinking tool that reflects our radiant and associative thinking. However, for notetaking I no longer use the mind mapping technique of starting with a central concept and branching out from there. I guess that when I ran out of space to branch out, I became frustrated with the branching form. On top of that, while I was trying to fit all my branches on one page, I couldn’t focus on the presentation!

I do think that a mind map is a good tool for learning and retrieval, for clustering information, and for grasping a concept by visualizing its elements. The mind map is also a good technique for review. For example, I often ask my seminar participants to work in groups to create a mind map as a review on the second or third day of a seminar. This allows teams to capture and share their knowledge and insights.

For notetaking, I now use a free-flowing form to capture information, key words, and sometimes a quote. I use colors to highlight important points, and create drawings to clarify a concept or often just for the fun of it. Taking colorful notes is not only a pleasure, but the process also helps me reflect on the information and improves my thinking. The more I practice this form of colorful note-taking, the more confident I become in my drawing abilities. After all, the artistic sketches that we see shared online are most likely done by people who started drawing a while back and have honed their skill over time.

My own experience has been that once I got started with my notebook and colored pens, I began to enjoy the process of combining words with pictures. My drawings have improved with practice, and I believe my thinking has, too.

Further reading

Rapid Viz: A New Method for the Rapid Visualization of Ideas
by Hanks and Belliston

Image: Social Media Camp by Dean Meyers licensed under CC BY 2.0