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What is an Engineering Notebook?

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  • Originally Written By: Dakota Davis
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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An engineering notebook is basically any sort of bound book that contains notes, data, calculations, and other information based on first-hand observations of various tests or experiments. Most professional engineers keep these sorts of logs as a matter of course in their jobs. The contents will necessarily be somewhat different depending on the specifics of the discipline; a civil engineer who focuses on building design and support will have different reflections and calculations than will someone whose focus is roadways, aerospace, or heavy machinery, for instance. Just the same, there are a number of recording standards that apply more or less across the board. Careful note taking is very often essential to the success or failure of most any sort of project, and uniform and well-archived notes can help leaders track progress and identify problems, too. In some instances these notebooks are also an important part of legal trials, particularly in cases of disputed liability for accidents or mechanical failures.

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Main Purpose

The primary purpose of this sort of notebook is to offer a sequential, written documentation of the efforts of an engineer or engineering team on a certain project. It provides an important record of an engineer or inventor's work, and can usually be thought of as the equivalent of a technical diary. In this capacity it has a number of important functions. An engineering notebook consolidates data for easy access, for instance, allowing an author to confirm conclusions, details, or dates. It can also reveal previous trends, and can provide useful information for estimating the time or effort required on future projects. In some cases it may also offer memory refreshment on points of fact or paths of inquiry that have been investigated, and can offer justification for future decisions or courses of action.

Recording Basics

In general all data should be recorded directly into the notebook in chronological order, including notes and calculations with as many details as possible. For experiments and inventions, explicit details and dates of an idea's origin must usually be entered, along with specifics about the development process and ways in which discoveries were made.

How information is recorded is often just as important as the data itself. Scientifically accepted guidelines typically dictate that the notebook must be bound and pages should be numbered to ensure continuity. All entries should be made in permanent ink by the author, and they should be signed and dated clearly. No blank pages or spaces should be kept and pages should never be removed; errors can be struck through with a single line, and a small, dated notation should refer to a page where the correction is located. If necessary, items may be taped into the notebook with a handwritten date and title.

Primary Contents

There isn’t any universal set of requirements when it comes to what an engineering notebook must contain, and a lot depends on the individual professional as well as the norms of his or her specific discipline. Sometimes these are kept more or less for personal reasons, as is often the case with inventors and people who work for small firms or on a freelance basis. In these settings the journals can provide a record of past work in much the way that a portfolio could, and can help a person keep track of thought processes and findings as they happen.

In larger firms and professional engineering organizations, managers and project leaders often have specific requirements for the things people on the engineering team must be recording. Details are usually very important. How a project or invention operates, experimentation observations, results, and other specific things the engineer notices are usually included.

In some settings important events or findings might need to be verified by a non-inventor colleague who witnesses the work that is done. This is often the case when engineers are seeking to get patent protection for their creations. In these instances the witnesses must usually make their own entries into the notebook, and then sign a "Disclosed to and Understood by" clause on relevant pages.

Legal Ramifications

Engineering notebooks are sometimes subpoenaed as evidence in court, and for this reason it’s very important that they be kept in a standardized and uniform fashion. Courts are usually most interested in the entries when they describe experiments or inventions that are subject to protection, often with a patent; they can also be useful in questions of disputed ownership. In liability cases a court may search notebooks to look for evidence of whether engineers followed proper protocol, often as a way of ascertaining whether problems with the final product were due to a technician’s negligence or improper procedures in the early stages.

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