Project Notebooks

Perspectives on Project Notebooks

John Mahan, Electrical Engineering

Project Notebook Content

"In my project notebook, I keep all my research. That's where I work everything out and write down all my ideas. This prevents me from losing work when I invested time and effort. I also include drawings and I even clip and paste information. I always have someone sign and date my notebook so that I have a witness to my work."

Dave Alciatore, Mechanical Engineering

Project Notebooks Versus Lab Notebooks

"A project notebook is a documentation of a design or project's process. It includes many sketches and justifications. Basically, you're justifying the decisions you've made and you're presenting the results of any analyses and testing you've done, as with a prototype you've built. It fully documents a whole design evolution and everything that goes into it. "

"Lab notebooks record testing done in a lab or testing a product that's already been designed. In the lab, the product is put through different lOops, running it through different temperature variations or putting it on a table that vibrates to see if it falls apart. The data included here includes observations about how something performs. "

Group Work and Project Notebooks

"Your entries are personal documents and may include comments or sketches you don't want to share with others. On the other hand, you might discuss your ideas and sketches with other group members because your observations will improve a project or design. In fact, after reading parts of entries to one another, you might even refer to those ideas in your own notebook."


"Sketches in project notebooks don't have to be very precise. You want to show the basic form of an object, maybe even some rough dimensions to give an impression. You may also include some detailed drawings. As you get more specific with your project or design, your sketches will be more precise. For instance, to depict how two things fit together, you'll show how far apart the two components have to be or how large holes have to be. These don't have to be neat, but they will have more precision in them, like hard dimensions."

Kate Kiefer, English Department

Good Versus Bad Project Notebooks

"A good project notebook is useful to the researcher. If scientists/engineers record enough detail about the on-going project, they can not only complete progress and final reports with the data and ideas collected in the notebook, but they can also hand a project to a new researcher assigned to the project if that should ever be necessary. "

"A bad notebook might be less useful because it doesn't include enough detail to help write reports or recreate the way the project developed because it doesn't keep entries ordered for quick access. "

Why Keep a Notebook?

"You should keep project notebooks for two main reasons. First, on large projects, you usually work under the supervision of a faculty member or other accredited professional. Showing the work contributed to the project may be crucial to the successful outcome of the project, to the recognition of individual contributions to the team, and to the long-term accountability of the project supervisor. Grades and job recommendations, too, may depend on the project notebook as evidence of the work involved on a project. "

"The second reason for keeping a project notebook involves learning to think like a professional in the field. As you work with project notebooks, you reinforce the learning that may seem abstract in a course, but that becomes concrete through the project. Interacting daily with the ideas of the project helps you gain expertise in the field's work. "

Project Notebooks and Audience

"The scientist or engineer working alone keeps a project notebook primarily for himself or herself. The notes and speculations are largely to jog the memory and record ongoing problems and successes with the project. The project notebook is also a guide when preparing interim and final reports on the project. "

"When scientists/engineers work in groups, however, the project notebook can be a collaborative record of the project. In this case, entries must be clear and complete enough not only for the writer, but also for other team members. In many work settings, a supervisor might also look at the project notebook to gauge a project's progress. "

"As a student, you project notebook is primarily written for yourself, but it will also be reviewed by the project supervisor or faculty advisor. You should not forget this important audience for notebook entries. "

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