How to write legibly on a whiteboard or flip chart

I, like many people, used to have a shameful penmanship skill when standing 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 be a very simple and easy to implement approach to improve your writing style.

There are two rules:

  1. Don’t write in CAPITALS
  2. Think 1-3-1

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 normal writing, it too could get better.

Not only this, but the bigger 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 that of those you are trying to communicate with. What is more important, what you want when writing, or actually getting the message across?

Think 1-3-1

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

a marked up page with the 1-3-1 dividers and some sample letters

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 on 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.

Putting it in to 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 practise 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.

Example of my improved writing before I learnt the 1-3-1 and then after

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.

5 thoughts on “How to write legibly on a whiteboard or flip chart

    • I personally find that not only do these spacing rules help make the letters easier to read, but it slows me just down enough to allow me to break the normally scrappy writing. Hope this helps.

  1. Are there any dvds that you have? I would like to practice this method at home with a small white board. If not, are there any workbooks that I can order? I would really like to improve on my writing skills.

    • Hi Tai. No there’s nothing I have like that, but you could easily make your own practise sheets as I did initially on some paper with a ruler. You’ll find you don’t need them for too long before you get in the habit of doing it this way without the grid underneath. Let me know how you get on.

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