Sketchnotes | AUA Blog

Back in 2015, I was at a conference in Edinburgh in 2015.  I was attending a breakout session and was sitting waiting for the first speaker, conference-centre branded notepad and pen in hand. I had not planned to record my notes in an ‘unconventional’ way,  but something made me turn the pad on its side and start jotting down some of the key messages from the session in a more visual way – using different handwriting, bubble-writing, a mixture of capital letters and lower-case. I separated the messages using different types of lines to create borders and I drew a couple of small images – a question mark and a lightbulb. I took a photo of my ‘doodle’ on my phone and I shared it on Twitter using the conference hashtag. A few people liked it.

I had unwittingly created my first sketchnote.


Katrina Swanton (FAUA)
Head of Quality and Enhancement
Edinburgh Napier



Sketchnotes are rich, visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn shapes and visual connector elements, such as arrows, boxes and lines (Rohde, 2013). As the next speakers got up to talk, I tried again and at the next conference I attended I sketched some more. I gradually got more confident, and started introducing more drawing elements and my notes became a little less wordy, and more recently they have even got colourful. I continued to share them on twitter and people continued to like and to retweet them.  I began to follow other visual note takers on social media and have tried to learn from them, trying out new approaches and techniques as I have gone along, I am always striving to get better.

There are many personal and professional benefits to sketchnoting.

First and foremost I enjoy creating them and I find it a fun process.  

Second, I believe that it really helps me to focus and to listen more attentively. The process of sketchnoting requires me to listen actively, to analyse the concepts being discussed and to map how they might translate in a visual way on paper.  There is evidence that the cognitive processes involved in producing sketchnotes lead to higher levels of memory retention (Cuevas & Dawson, 2018). I also find them a helpful output to aid reflection. While the majority of my sketchnotes are drawn in real-time as the speakers talk, my most polished sketchnotes are the ones I have created to pull together and curate the key ideas and concepts after the event. 

Another major benefit is that sketchnoting has also extended and strengthened my professional network.  I chose to share my notes on social media, and my notes have been retweeted by conference organisers, speakers and delegates. This has resulted in more followers (and more people to follow) and a wider network to draw upon professionally. Away from social media, my notes have been included in materials distributed throughout the sector, for example a GuildHE newsletter and QAA materials. I was also proud to have one of my sketchnotes published in a book (Yorkstone, 2019).

I now try to share my approach to sketchnoting (when the day-job allows) by delivering practical workshops to teach some of the techniques to visual note-taking. I enjoyed delivering a brilliant session at last years’ AUA Conference, and it was so rewarding to see delegates giving it a go for themselves after the workshop.  I find it incredible that so many opportunities have opened up for me (and I hope will continue to do so) because I chose to adopt a different way to take and share my notes.

If you’d like to see more of Katrina’s Sketchnotes, visit her Spark page.

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