Three simple rules to help you write legibly on a whiteboard or flipchart

Like many people, I used to have shameful penmanship skills when at a whiteboard or flip chart. However, I wanted to improve this as I was beginning to facilitate more groups, and I didn’t feel my scrawl was acceptable.

I had the good fortune to mention this to someone on a training course I was on who taught me a straightforward and easy-to-implement approach to improve my writing style.

There are three rules:

  1. Don’t write in CAPITALS
  2. Think 1-3-1
  3. Move and write up-hill

Don’t write in CAPITALS

This can be the default for people who have bad writing. The reality here is that writing in capitals can give better results because it slows you down, which means if you slow down with your regular writing, it too could get better.

Not only this but the more significant reason not to use them, other than in titles, acronyms etc., is that it’s harder to read for the people who are trying to read what you’ve written. If you want to write in capitals because it’s better for you, you are putting your desires over those you are trying to communicate with. What is more important, what you want when writing, or getting the message across?

Think 1-3-1

You write using the proportions 1-3-1, i.e. the body of a letter like “a” or “o” should be 3 units in size, compared to the tail or neck of letters like “y” or “h”. The best way to describe this is in this picture, where I’ve added the 1-3-1 lines to demonstrate.

1-3-1 writing on marked-up paper

By making the core body element of the letter larger and reducing the other parts, it makes it easier for the eye to flow along the word. Also writing single letters and not joining them up makes it easier to read and again slows you down slightly, which gives you time to take more care.

Move and write up-hill

When we write on a broad large format area like a whiteboard, you can sometimes find that your writing goes downhill. There is a simple answer, the length of your arm!

An example of writing that is dropping downhill over the width of a white board.

As you start to ‘run out’ or arm reach, your writing line starts to follow the curve created by your shoulder and elbow joints. To overcome this, mix a combination of little side steps as you write, and think about writing uphill at the extremities of your reach. You do not actually want to go uphill, but a little compensation can adjust and reach a neutral level line.

By also considering the position of the following letter, as per the imaginary lines shown above in 1-3-1, you can keep it straight.

Putting it into practise

Even when I first was taught this, and in line with the shortness of this article, it’s a five-minute discussion, I saw immediate improvement. With a little practice at my desk and in front of the television at home one evening, I improved massively. Now using this every day it only gets better. If I compare what I had done before to now they are poles apart.

Before and after I learnt the 1-3-1 rule

If you follow the rule to the letter, you’ll cut short some of the tail to keep within the rules. While I don’t follow this exactly when I’m writing now, I am generally within the rules, particularly keeping the body large and clean.

Over time I have improved my speed and maintained the quality. Not as fast as my default scrawl across the page, but the value gained is higher and this is what is important. I am no longer ashamed of my writing working with teams.