Authors & Contributors

Teacher Comments: Advantages of Project Notebooks

Carmen Menoni, Electrical Engineering: Sometimes it's very difficult to tell students to actually record their observations. It's something you learn to do it and it's part of the methodology of working. If you don't do it, I tell you your memory's path is very short and you forget. And so you have to get into the habit of writing. But there are some students who don't want to do it.

Derek Lyle, Electrical Engineering: It's even more than that. It can take on legal implications if you get into patent situations. If it's something that gets contested, having written documentation dated in a notebook comes in becomes a very big part of the [picture].

Patrick Fitzhorn, Mechanical Engineering: There's one other writing component I forgot to mention. Those are Design Notebooks. Those are real-time compilations related to specific projects. Many companies require engineers to keep Design Notebooks for potential litigation needs or patent concepts to decide who did what when to determine patent things. At our last engineering conference, Design Notebooks took one-fourth of the time as to what makes a good notebook.

Dave Alciatore, Mechanical Engineering: For projects, we do require Design Notebooks where they document everything they've done for their project--any sketches; it's like a journal also, a brainstorming session. Another purpose is that it serves as a document because you've written down things that you didn't think were important back then; you can now go back and remember.

Patrick Fitzhorn: Project history is included.

Dave Alciatore: And that history helps drive future [work].

Patrick Fitzhorn: Attributes to a good Design Notebook are real time entries, the fact that it almost reads like a diary, it contains personal thoughts, the contexts surrounding what's going on. It may contain things the writer doesn't want other people to read, and in fact one of the reasons why I very selectively pass out pages of my design notebook is because I'd be embarrassed because I write what I feel and a lot of times I'm not feeling very good. More and more emphasis is being put on Design Notebooks.

Dave Alciatore: Design Notebooks are not very rigid. These are your personal records.

Patrick Fitzhorn: These are very loose and very fluid. My guess is that if you actually ask engineers who keep these documents on a regular basis, they couldn't live without them. Whenever I start on a project, I start a new notebook. That's my historical record of what I'm doing and where my loose ends are so if I come up with solutions, I can go back and re-read the context that gave me those loose ends, so now I'm back up to speed almost immediately rather than having to rethink the entire project.