So a few days ago my Makers Notebook showed up.


All in all as for the design of the notebook, it's fantastic. While some of the information in the back of the book may seem obtuse or just silly it's all there in either good fun or because it really is important. In fact it pretty much fills the requirements of what I'd want in an engineering notebook to a T with a few nice little extras (sticker swag anyone?)

So first a list of things I look for in a notebook.

  • Hard bound book with impossible to remove pages
  • Grid paper
  • Isaac Asimov's three laws of robot behavior (ok... I admit that ones new)
  • A place marker
  • Relatively portable size (I'm looking at you, giant ass staples engineering notebooks...)
  • A good way to keep it closed (in this case a giant rubber band did the trick)
  • Page Numbers
  • Space for a Table of Contents (this isn't required but it is pretty handy, alternatively you can sacrifice the first 2 pages to this and get the same effect)

The reasoning behind this should be pretty easy to figure out. But I'll fill in the blanks anyway after I address the few simple rules that I follow when working with an engineering notebook.

  1. Never attempt to remove a page from the note book. That's your hard work your attempting to destroy, if it doesn't work make a few notes why and move to the next page.
    Never scribble or white out anything, if it's spelled wrong cross it out with 1 line and rewrite it. On the other hand if it's just incorrect, make a note that it is and where in the note book the correct information can be found.
    Make sure you sign and date every page you do work on. This is especially important for shared notebooks but it's also applicable to ones stored in company vaults. In that case you typically leave an area for you and a quartermaster to sign and date it. This can save your but in case of things like patent disputes so don't shirk the responsibility.
    Place a note at the top of every page noting which project or sub-project (if the whole notebook is for a single project) that page is dedicated to.
    Do not use one page for more than one subject.
    For a personal notebook it's not usually necessary but if your performing intricate math steps, write them down. This may be your notebook but it's also a map of your ideas in solving a problem, if nobody else can read it then it's kinda useless.
    When using a notebook for multiple projects note the last page that project was worked on and if you can remember to do so, note the next one. This will let you traverse your notebook in a more sane manner.

Now this is all pretty straight forward but there's a few things that might need some explaining. First why use a hard bound book instead of one of the build your own notebooks where you can freely add or remove pages punched with a special hole punch. Because you can remove the pages, it may seem convenient to be able to keep all of your notes in order by adding them to the back of the section they are in but this isn't always a good thing. For explanation by example I'll give you a few scenarios where this would be bad. First, the addition and subtraction of pages from the notebook immediately disqualify it from being used as a running record of your work as it can no longer be used in patent cases and the like. This is because it's now to easy to doctor (by a significant margin). Second, pages can fall out; how awful would it be to solve a problem on the train and lose the brilliant solution on the way from the station to the office?

Why would you want a relatively portable size? you may ask. But if anyone has ever owned a really big engineering notebook (or say... the NSA Red Book) you already know the answer to that. It fits in nothing, the books are about the size of a 17" laptop and nowhere near as useful. They are as likely or more to get in your way as they are to be useful for actually storing a brain dump of info.

For the vast majority of people these measures for a notebook will appear to be overkill, and... they are. If you don't have a need for a solid replicable and provable notebook you can happily write the post off as the ramblings of a mad man and you'd be acting pretty fair. If you need a notebook I recommend visiting your local staples or book store. They will undoubtedly have a wide swath of wonderful notebooks that you don't need to apply any of the above requirements or rules to and be perfectly happy. I actually have a few notebooks of this nature storing things like meeting notes that I plan to digitize or process and chuck. My sketch book is a bit more robust but is just a big bound pack of blank paper so not much more helpful.

Brass Tacks:
For dyed in the wool note takers these measures probably aren't nearly enough and I should have covered suggestions and rules for creating volumes of work and proper guidelines for digitally backing up your notebooks with a scanner. If your requirements are this high or strict, you don't need my advice, keep on trucking. For people who are just trying to find some sane and easy to follow rules for a technical notebook (or any notebook really, but I don't go thru this much effort unless I'm trying to build something) then these rules will get you most of the way if not all the way to where you need to go. Take what you need for this blog and discard the rest, like any set of guidelines not everything here will cover all of your requirements and may infact get in the way depending on what your trying to do.