5Ws to create your own sketch note

Sketch note collage by Sam Warburton

Whether you work in the Creative Industries or not, you can use sketch notes to problem solve, better retain information you’ve learned from your continuous professional development, communicate inside or outside your organisation, and much more!

I’m a huge illustration nerd, and I love drawing. As a professional illustrator, I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it… but here’s the brilliant thing about sketch notes – you don’t need to be good at drawing because they combine pictures with words. Find a method of sketch noting that works for you. It can be as simple as highlighting key words on a mind map, or detailed works of art that convey your idea. Here’s my five-stage approach that I refer to as the 5Ws.


What’s the purpose of your sketch note? Is it just for yourself, or will you share it with others? Where will you share it? This will help you to decide the dimensions of your sketch note – the space you can play around in.

As well as the level of refinement you need. If the sketch note is just for you, it’s okay to use jargon and faintly reference ideas, because it’s enough to trigger information you already have stored in your brain. But if someone else is looking at your sketch note for the first time with no context, the ideas need to be simple and clear as a standalone visual.


I don’t know about you, but I think in words first. When an idea pops into my head, it usually appears as text. I brain dump key phrases anywhere on a plain page as I think of them (if I’m sketch noting my own ideas), or as I hear or read them (if I’m sketch noting ideas from others).

Works of art

As you write down key phrases, keep moving your pencil and draw an icon or illustration that represents or complements the idea in that key phrase.

Wrangle your ideas together

Whether you do this in your head or in front of you on the page, look for patterns in your key phrases and group ideas together. Then stand back and look at the bigger picture. Are there any key themes or recurring ideas that you could use for the overall design of the sketch note?

Whittle down

Hooray! You’ve filled the page with your sketch note and it looks lovely. You’ve done a great job. Now leave it for about 15 minutes and come back with fresh eyes to proof it. Can you simplify it any further? Have you removed all the unnecessary words? Does your sketch note make sense as a standalone piece of content? If possible, ask someone else to look at your sketch note and see if they understand the key ideas. I’m sure they’d love to see your visual summary.

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