Multi-page VS Single-Page Sketchnoting - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual note-taking, graphic recording, doodling

Multi-page VS Single-page Sketchnoting

Is it better to give yourself as many pages as you need when taking notes (especially visual ones), or limit yourself to just one?

Both approaches can be useful in certain situations and my hope for you is that by the end of this exploration you have a better sense of the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you know which to use when. Let’s get into it.

Multi-Page Sketchnoting

Let’s start by looking at the multi-page approach.

I think that this approach can be useful when you’re uncertain of the total amount of information that’s going to be coming at you and you want to capture as much of it as possible.

This is often the case in a lecture or conference environment when you might be listening to someone talk for an hour or so, and your goal is to capture as much of that information as you can. In that case it would be silly to limit yourself to a single a page.

When using the multipage approach I suggest going with a small to medium page size. That way, not only is easier to move from one page to the next, it also makes it easier to fill the extra space that you might be left with on the final page of your notes.

That might seem like a cosmetic thing to worry about, but for me I know that I like to feel a sense of completion, and when using small or medium page sizes I can always fill that extra bit of space with one final quote or image or just info about the event, or me – my website and social media accounts if they’re notes that I plan on sharing.

Multi-page Sketchnoting - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual note-taking, graphic recording, doodling

When it comes to specific note-taking processes that I think are well-suited to the use of multiple pages, two come to mind.

The first is a top-to-bottom approach. As each new idea comes in you give a row. Sometimes that row will contain a single image, sometimes an image with some text next to it, sometimes just text, and sometimes a small diagram.

Since you know you want to be capturing as much information as possible, this process makes it easy to move quickly and not have any trouble transitioning from one filled page to the next blank one.

For similar reasons the brick road approach could work well here too. Like the top-to-bottom process, you’re focusing on chunks of information at a time and placing those chunks in impromptu rectangular sections as you fill up each page.

Let’s take a look at an example of some multi-page sketchnotes. Here are some notes that I took recently while watching Tim Ferriss’ latest TED Talk:

In this case I used a small moleskin notebook and the top-to-bottom approach on each page. Even though it was a relatively short TED Talk I still wanted the freedom to be able to capture all of the ideas that were important to me, and since I had no clue about the structure of the talk beforehand, this multi-page approach made the most sense.

For some reflections on the content of that TED Talk, check out this post.

Single-Page Sketchnoting

Let’s now move from multiple pages to a single page and note the differences that we find.

First, if you’re going to limit yourself to a single page, then I think you’re going to need to shift your mindset from a place of capturing as much as you can to instead just capturing a handful of the ideas that you find most interesting.

For that reason the total amount of information you’re exposed to is kind of irrelevant, because with a single-page approach any sense of comprehensiveness goes out the window, which can be very liberating in the right context, like when you’re watching something just because you’re curious and want to learn something new.

Since you’re choosing the constraint of a single page, don’t make it too constraining with a small page size as well. Opt instead for a medium or large size. That gives you the best of both worlds – the helpful constraint of a single page but still some room to play.

Single-page Sketchnoting - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual note-taking, graphic recording, doodling

When it comes to the processes that are well-suited to the single-page approach, I think focusing on the connections between multiple ideas is the way to go. For that reason either a mind-map approach or a flowchart approach are two good options.

Here’s an example of some single-page flowchart notes that I took a while back while listening to The Fizzle Show, my favorite podcast on the subject of independent entrepreneurship:

This was an hour-long show, and my goal was not to capture everything, just what I found to be the most interesting and useful. I remember enjoying the slow pace of filling this page throughout that hour while focusing more on the connections between the ideas that were coming up as opposed to the minute details of any single idea.

I also want to point out that the two processes that I mentioned for multi-page sketchnoting can also work well for single-page sketchnotes.

By adding columns to your large-scale paper you could use the top-to-bottom approach, and there’s nothing stopping you from using the brick road approach on just a single page, as I did with the notes I took of the interviews from Chase Jarvis’s 30 days of Genius series.

What’s worth mentioning, though, is that with multi-page notes it’s much harder to focus on the connections between ideas (since those ideas are spread out over multiple pages). For that reason I think it’s worth leaning toward mind maps and flowcharts when going with the single page approach.

Your Turn

Where that leaves us, I think, is with this question: which is more important to you – emphasizing the connection between the ideas you’re capturing, or emphasizing the quantity of ideas that you’re able to capture?

If it’s connection, go with the single-page approach. If it’s quantity, the multi-page approach will probably suit your needs better.

Multi-page VS Single-Page Sketchnoting - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual note-taking, graphic recording, doodling

I encourage you to take these ideas and experiment with them yourself and fill in the gaps that I’m sure I left in my own exploration of this question of multi-page versus single-page sketchnoting.

Good luck!

-Doug

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Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

If you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.

And if you want to create new personal and professional opportunities by sharing the authentic journey of your skill development online, check out Learn In Public.