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I was in a Polish language class last week and so I was obviously sketchnoting my notes for the class. However, there was a problem I came across that I doubt I’m the first person to experience. There were too many things to record in a short space of time. I didn’t have time to get my spacing right as you can see below.

Now, with a conference it’s acceptable to miss some information and even with a class, you could choose to prioritize which words you focus on, remember and learn. However, I don’t get many classes and I wanted to make sure I got every word down, after all, this is one of my best chances to acquire new words during the week.

I remember Mike Rhode’s old mantra, Ideas not art and went for simple images that would capture those ideas for me to review later. But after the class, I realized I could polish up my Polish notes (pun intended) and so I would get my “art” after all. This made me think that it was really a case of Ideas, then art.

Ideas, then art

This isn’t really that much of a new idea. In the first book on Sketchnoting — the Sketchnote Handbook — Mike Rhode describes a “two-step” sketchnote approach, where you draft a version, perhaps in pencil first, and then you draw over that in pen or on a new piece of paper. This is basically the same idea with a minor adaption for the context of rapid information which is all important.

Of course, in this context, there was the added benefit that I got to revisit and revise my old notes and so I was better prepared for my class. So here’s my simple two-step approach

Step one: Get the idea.

The most important part here is to get something down which you can reference later. It doesn’t have to be a perfect idea but something identifiable.

  • Misspelling a word isn’t a problem,
  • Not having a picture isn’t a problem.
  • not having items organized neatly isn’t a problem

What is a problem, is not understanding what you wrote down.

Get the ideas down.

Step two: Organise and refine your art

The first draft can now be your reference point. You’re free to change the order, the picture you used, the spelling everything. For language vocabulary sketchnote I do have a couple of suggestions for organizing and laying out your sketch notes.

  • place synonyms or antonyms near each other and show the relationship
  • Don’t just write a word, write down an example sentence or describe the picture you sketched.

Not always the best approach

Usually, I don’t think a two-step solution is always the best approach to sketchnoting. In fact, the vast majority of the time I adopt a one-step, done and gone approach so that I have to focus more on what a person is saying and identifying the key points. However, with a lesson or other situation where you have a lot of information coming at once which you need to get it all, it isn’t a terrible idea to make temporary notes to refine later.

You also have revision built in, another bonus.

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