Visual note-taking

I was asked recently on Twitter if this picture of my notes from Steve Wheeler’s keynote at LILAC 2013 could be used in a student skills session as an example of good note-taking:

learning 2.0 by ekcragg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  ekcragg 

I was delighted, and of course said yes. The request made me think whether I’d ever written anything on this blog about my visual note-taking. A quick search brought up this post from 2011, in which I wrote about a new approach to note-taking that I wanted to try. Given now how hooked I am on the technique I think it’s interesting that I’ve not followed-up on the original post…. until now.

When I started out I used a pad of plain A4 paper and a Sharpie. Later, to keep everything together I progressed onto a spiral bound sketchbook. In the beginning I wouldn’t say my notes were particularly visual and I don’t think that mattered. Anyone can do this, you don’t need to be an artist. I included the odd image used as a memory aid but found that the most liberating factor in this new technique was the move away from a linear style of note. With visual notes, and crucially a blank canvas, I could easily make links between ideas from different points in a talk. It also made my notes more concise and appealing, and therefore more likely to be returned to in future.

Here’s an example of one of my earliest notes:

Notes from ’Social Media and the Academy by ekcragg, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  ekcragg 

In the past year or so the tools that I use for note-taking have changed; I’ve gone digital. I now use the Upad app on my iPad and a Bamboo stylus. I find this gives me much more flexibility and ultimately gives me a much more useful note.

Over the years I have been developing my own visual note-taking style and I’ve found some great resources to help with this. First up is the wonderful Sketchnote Handook by Mike Rohde. I’ve learnt a lot from this and it is also one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. Finally, for anyone thinking they’d like to give visual note-taking a go I’d encourage you to start with this TED Talk from Rachel Smith:


  • Lucy

    Do you do any editing of your notes afterwards or do you do this all during a talk?

  • Emma Cragg

    I try to complete the note during the talk. I prepare the page with title etc beforehand so I can get straight into the content. I think if you’re worried about keeping up you could sketch rough sections in and complete later. I often go back to sections at later points during a talk.

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