Sketching is like technical communication, at STC Summit

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2019, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). I’m blogging my notes from the sessions that I attend. Thanks and all credit go to the speakers. Any mistakes are my own.

The title of this session drew my attention: How Sketching Is Like Technical Communication, presented by Elizabeth Alley.

Elizabeth noted that this session was for visual learners and non-visual learners. I guess that covers me then. 🙂

She also gave us copies of a little sketch notebook that she’d made specifically for this session. I’ve included photos of some parts of it in this post.

How is sketching like technical communication?

As an artist and a technical writer, Elizabeth thinks about this every day. Sketching from life requires you to understand your subject. Doodling and other types of sketching require you to understand relationships between things.

Sketching is a tool for ourselves It helps us improve our attention or memory, and to help us understand a subject better. It also helps us remember to perform certain tasks.

Taking the art out of sketching

Barbara talked about bringing drawing back into our lives or expanding on what we already do. She touched on three types of drawing:

  • Practical sketching – Use basic shapes and lines to convey a word or idea. This is a tool That we can use in various parts of our lives, including work and planning a meal, for example. Barbara mentioned a few books that teach people how to doodle and sketch. She showed examples of a task list, a map, a plan for an artwork installation, a menu, the steps and ingredients in a recipe, and more. If we draw a map, for example, we’re more likely to understand and remember it.
  • Conscious doodling – For example, doodling during a lecture (“sketch notes”) can help you recall the content and make more detailed notes if necessary later. The technique of doodling is proven to improve your memory (retention of facts) and concentration. Doodling can also help you stay relaxed, for example on an aeroplane.
  • Observational drawing – This is also called sketching from life, or drawing the thing in front of you. You can do this very quickly, so that it takes under a minute, or you can add more detail and take up to an hour. Sketching strengthens the hand-to-brain connection. It strengthens your attention to detail. It captures what you felt at the time. When sketching from life, you need to look hard at the subject and capture it in a limited amount of time. (This is its relationship to technical writing.)

Elizabeth Alley, How sketching is like technical communication

While discussing the above topics, Elizabeth showed us a number of sketches and drawings, and drew examples from a few books. She listed the books on the “Resources” slide of her presentation.

We also saw how to take measurements and estimate relative sizes, in order to draw a mug (as an example).

How to get started with sketching

This was a question from the audience. Elizabeth recommended the book Doodle Revolution., by Sunni Brown. Elizabeth also said we should start with common objects like a coffee cup, a mobile phone, a keyboard. Elizabeth sketches these all the time. She’s curious how long it will take her to reach 100 coffee mugs!

In conclusion

Thank you Elizabeth for a lateral look at technical communication.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 7 May 2019, in STC, technical writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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