What the heck is “Doodling?”

Can I tell you a secret?

I don’t like the word “doodling.”

I’m never offended by anyone calling me “a doodler” or calling my work  “doodles,” and I’d never correct anyone in the moment, but… it still kinda irks me!

I’m a BIG words gal. I love scrabble, crosswords, NYT word puzzles, and I’ve always been pretty stellar at spelling. To me, words matter. Their meaning matters. And the word “doodle” is SO often misused! Doodling isn’t synonymous with “drawing,” and just because a drawing has a hand-drawn aesthetic doesn’t mean it’s a doodle.

Here’s the actual definition of “doodle:”

doo·dle /ˈdo͞od(ə)l/

Verb: scribble absentmindedly
Noun: a rough drawing made absentmindedly


Absentmindedly definition: lost in thought and unaware of one’s surroundings or actions. tending to forget or fail to notice thingsgiven to absence of mind.

From Meriam Webster:

intransitive verb:
1) to make a doodle
2) Dawdle(to spend time idly)Trifle (something of little value, substance, or importance)

Essentially, a doodle is a drawing without any meaning or purpose. Think of doodles as drawings like this:

Doodles could be patterns, marks, coloring, designs, objects, people… but they’re all made without a plan, purpose, or theme. Doodling is actually a VERY creative practice- it’s truly creating in a flow state, often without regard for quality or results. I’m not here to villainize the action– I just want to educate others about the definition! Doodling is a good thing! 

At the same time… doodling is the complete opposite of what I do as a sketchnoter and illustrator.

When I make a sketchnote, every drawing has a job. Each illustration helps add context, explain, clarify, remind, or add humor. If I added doodles to my sketchnote (aka, drawings that don’t directly relate to the content), I’d be doing the audience a disservice. Adding unrelated drawings would confuse people! “Wait, why is there a unicorn in this leadership session’s graphic recording?”

When I draw an article illustration or create an illustrated infographic, every illustration and aspect of the drawing needs to relate to the subject being portrayed. Could you imagine a comic in the newspaper having a random swirl in the corner? The readers would wonder what it meant. Or if you saw an infographic about the tech industry, you might wonder why there are some flower drawings hanging out in the corner. 

When it comes to sketchnotes, infographics, and illustrations, every drawing is expected to have meaning and purpose. Our job as visual communicators is to clarify, not confuse. 

So… what do we call it if it isn’t a doodle?

I think a “drawing” is the best substitute word because it covers many industries and styles.

Doodles are okay to do! But Sketchnoting isn’t doodling if we’re going by the word’s actual definition. 

…But if you want to say “doodle” to describe a sketchnote, illustration, graphic recording, or infographic… I won’t hold it against you. 😉