Most of us know that different people have different ways that they learn best. These ways are usually cited as visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. But did you know that, “in order to really chew on information, we have to engage at least two of those modalities [or methods], or we have to engage at least one of those modalities coupled with an emotional experience”? This is what Sunni Brown suggests in her TED Talk, “Doodlers, Unite!” As she makes her case for doodling as a legitimate practice for the workplace and really any area where you’re taking in information, she tells us that doodling engages all four learning modalities simultaneously, with the possibility of an emotional experience.
I have been suspicious that this might be the case ever since a college friend of mine scored far better on tests, when I knew for a fact that she took minimal notes during the three-hour lectures, doodling and sometimes solving sudoku puzzles! Meanwhile, I furiously took pages and pages of linear, bullet-pointed notes.
This is precisely why I think learning to hand letter can help you learn better! As you listen to a lecture or read a book, creatively lettering out the concepts as you’re learning them can really help you to digest the information and retain it better. I have been benefitted by this for years, and have most recently been enjoying lettering and note-taking through Thomas Watson’s A Body of Divinity, which is basically a simple summary of basic Christian doctrine, following the format of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Whenever I read or hear something I really want to absorb, I start lettering through it, including scripture. It has been invaluable to me.
Creatively lettering through what you’re learning can be literally anything you want it to be! In fact, I’ve been reluctant to apply terms to my own note-taking, but to describe it to others, I’ve said, “It’s like mind mapping, crossed with sketch noting, crossed with a calligraphy-focused version of art journaling?” The question mark is probably the most important part of that sentence.
So, make it whatever you want, and don't feel intimidated by the terms “mind mapping” and "sketch noting.” Here are some suggestions to help you get started.
Level 1: Start With Titles & Headings
If you’re anything like me, you’re really tied to a linear layout. Maybe you look at other sketch noters and mind mappers and think, “Wow, that’s far too complicated or free-flowing for me!” Well, start small. Hand letter the title of the chapter, section, or sermon, then write normally for the rest.
As you start to get more comfortable, you can leave room in the middle of the page (perhaps even marking it out with pencil) for one main quote to hand letter. Or, if you’re studying a subject that has a lot of terms and definitions, you can hand letter the term and write out the definition beside it.
Level 2: Experiment With Different Layouts
Start slowly breaking away from linear note-taking by visually (or with a pencil) dividing your page into four sections, then filling those four sections in clockwise or counter-clockwise. Use arrows to connect concepts and sentences if you run out of room.
Then, experiment with putting your titles in the middle of the page, and creating your main points in calligraphy, spaced around the outside of the title. Fill in details with normal handwriting around those.
Level 3: Incorporate Doodles & Sketching
You do not have to reach this level if you don’t want to! Again, make this process what you want it to be, and it will be more enjoyable.
Start adding accents like boxes, borders, banners, and bubbles. Add these for titles, main points, and sub-points. You can also use these to set aside a really good quote from the lecture or chapter. In my opinion, I find my notes to be more visually identifiable, as well as easier to review later, if I format all the points of a certain level with the same accent or box.
For example, this is the general format I used for one of the pages I’ve included in this post:
Point 1 (Cloud Shape)
Sub-point 1 (all caps)
Point 2 (Cloud Shape)
Point 3 (Cloud Shape)
Sub-point 1 (all caps)
Sub-point 2 (all caps)
Point 4 (Cloud Shape).
All of the main points are in a cloud shape, and all of the sub-points are in all caps.
At this step, you can also start adding “real” doodles and sketches or really simple icons! I am less of a doodler and more of a letterer, but I’m trying to branch out in this area and get better. It’s all a process, and again—there’s no wrong way to do it! Just enjoy learning and hand lettering!
As always, I have a Pinterest board dedicated to this topic! Follow the board for ongoing inspiration; I’ll be collecting other notes and note-takers that inspire me.
If you’re interested in block lettering (the non-script components of my notes), I learned by tracing tried-and-true computer fonts. I made this process into a free workbook, which you can access here.
Finally, if you’d like to get started with script lettering, or being able to create calligraphy with no tools required (whether or not you know cursive), checkout my favorite free resource below!
The dot grid notebook pictured is from Fabriano. It’s built more like a writing pad and not a notebook, so the binding isn’t built for longevity. I like it, because I tear off each note and paper-clip it to the inside of the book I’m reading to keep for later. If you want to keep all your notes in one place long-term, I’d recommend something like this Leuchtturm1917.
My all-time favorite tool is the Tombow Fudenosuke brush pen. I love both hard and soft tips, but recommend the hard tip for beginners. I linked to a package that has both!
The pen I used for the regular handwritten portions of these notes is the Tul Retractable Gel Pen, 0.5mm. This is my favorite for comfort, but they only come in massive 12 packs on Amazon. My favorite for a very thin line, though, is the Pentel Hybrid Technical 0.3mm.
Paper flowers from Linen & Cake!