If you’re not a doodler, hearing the word “doodle” probably conjures up an image of first graders scribbling with markers. Little kids doodle, but so do adults. Twenty-six U.S. presidents were known doodlers, including Roosevelt, Reagan, and Kennedy.
Doodling might seem mindless, but it’s not. In fact, doodling is how some genius inventions are born. For instance, in 2014, UNC graduate student Liz Morris was doodling on her thesis paper and realized she’d invented a waterless, portable toilet she calls the Dungaroo. Her goal? To provide third world countries with proper toilets that don’t require plumbing. Her invention uses a plastic bag to hold the waste, seal in the odor, and antimicrobial pellets kill bacteria, making conditions too basic for pathogens to survive.
Doodling improves attention and recall
Historically, doodling has been viewed as a sign of distraction when it’s actually a sign of attention.
In 2009, psychologist Jackie Andrade performed an experiment where forty participants listened to a two-and-a-half minute long dull, rambling voicemail message, and were asked to monitor the message for the names of people coming to a party. Half the group was asked to shade in printed shapes while listening. The other half simply listened. The group that doodled recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test, proving that doodling can be beneficial.
Although science supports doodling, your professors may not see it that way when you draw a stick figure reenactment of the Civil War in the margins of your assignments.
Your professors have the final say about your grade
If you’re writing a persuasive essay for English class, and your topic is proving the benefits of doodling on class assignments, then doodling in the margins would be a funny way to make your points visible. However, if you want to pass your classes, don’t doodle on papers you have to hand in for a grade.
Your professors have the final say in what grade you get. Unless your assignment was to doodle in the margins, rational arguments won’t save you from getting marked down.
The same logic holds true for other aspects of presenting your assignments, including how well you keep your papers intact, and the way your reports are printed. Almost everyone has turned in an assignment where the last page was barely readable because the printer ran out of ink, and most people have turned in papers with ink smudges instead of reprinting the page. In high school you can get away with this, but not in college. If you think you’re getting away with it, you may want to revisit your grades. Are you sure you earned a B+ on your last report, or was your paper downgraded because of folded corners?
Take pride in your paper presentation
Skip doodling in the margins. Don’t fold down corners. Be precise when stapling, and if you need to print a project that requires special folding, skip your home printer and print your assignment professionally. When you need to have a report stapled, folded, or bound, it will look better. Do whatever it takes to avoid turning in an inked up, messy project.
You don’t need to doodle on your assignments – really
Some might argue that they need to doodle on their assignments or they’ll go crazy. It’s a scientific fact that doodling improves concentration for some people when they’re being given verbal instructions. Doodling relieves stress, and for budding artists and future graphic facilitators, it’s a natural outlet for expression. Your reason for doodling is valid, but it doesn’t need to happen on your assignments.
Take a pro tip from a fifth grade teacher and compromise by doodling on a separate sheet of paper, or invest in a small sketch pad. Having extra paper on your desk is useful in many situations. For instance, extra paper comes in handy when you need to scribble your pen to get ink flowing, or when you’re trying to work something out, and there’s no room to do it neatly on the paper you’ll be turning in.
Of course, for some tests and quizzes, you’ll be prohibited from having extra paper on your desk. In that case, if you really can’t function without doodling, talk to your professor in private and ask if you can have a single piece of scratch paper on your desk that you’ll happily turn in with your assignment so they can make sure you weren’t using a cheat sheet. They might oblige, but if not, you’ll just need to save your doodling for later.