General Engineering Introduction/Notebooks/Writing Pattern
The goal of an engineer is respect. The notebook is going to be read by other people. Old engineers as well as peers are going to want to see it. Lawyers, government inspectors and potential employers are going to want to see it. You are going to show it with pride or hide it. The best way to gain respect is to show respect. Start by showing respect for this process, these rules and the notebook itself.
Don't spill water on it. Don't bend and fold it. Don't make it ugly.
Do cover it with stickers. Do add personality. Do be truthful, but respectful.
Don't write anything you don't want the public to read.
Page Numbers 
The pages have numbers on them. Why? Book pages are numbered. Put your engineering hat on. Respect the notebook. The numbers exist to prove that pages were not added or removed. Page numbers are useful in court, patent fights, expert witness testimony, whistle blowing, Food and Drug certification, etc.
Every engineering company has different rules for writing in a notebook. Learn the rules quickly. This document describes the rules for this class.
Odd Even Pages 
Don't write on even pages. Just write on odd pages. Write in pen. Draw horizontal lines through mistakes so they can still be read. Do not erase. Put a single big X through an entire page if you don't want people to consider it .. but still leave it in the notebook. Your false starts, mistakes and wrong thinking turn into a finger print that add respect to the notebook. Use the even pages to make comments about the odd pages after they have been written on with different pen colors. Or use the even pages as scrap paper … to practice drawings … to estimate numbers.
Respect starts with respecting the notebook. What are the two heavy green lines down the side for? Put your engineering hat on. Suppose you designed the notebook. What would you guess the green lines are for? Write between them. Suppose you try to game the notebook grading system and change the margins. The instructor points this out in red ink on the even pages. Are you going to show this to future employers? No.
White Space 
Skip one line between paragraphs. Mix up lists, paragraphs and drawings.
Do not randomly skip lines between paragraphs and lists. Use white space intelligently to communicate something. Using more white space than necessary indicates something wrong, not respect.
Use diagonal lines to indicate space you do not intend to write in. This is most often done AFTER signing out. (See Signing out below).
The font size must fit between the lines. The instructor must be able to read what you write. You must be able to read what is written by your instructor. If either of these is impossible respect goes down. Engineers practice making their handwriting readable by others. Don't choose the opposite.
Notebook versus Electronic Documentation 
The notebook will go with you after the class is over. The electronic documentation stays and helps restart the project next semester. Both help win engineering competitions. Every team's goal is to figure out what is needed to push the project forward. For this reason there is electronic documentation in the form of wiki pages, digital photos and video.
Personal Chaos 
The physical, hand written material in your notebook is supposed to be chaotic; disorganized. It is supposed to reflect the inspiration, sweat, and frustration of actual project work. It is yours to take with you. It describes your work on the project; not other people's work on the project. The notebook is “I.” The notebook is about you, not your teammates. There is a weekly individual electronic summary you will be writing about during the project that includes links to all electronic files created. The electronic documentation is expected to be ordered, to be rational, and to push the project forward. Scattered through the notebook in a chaotic fashion are the details to back this up.
Working together on a project is dangerous. Almost always, one person is hanging around doing nothing. The notebook is how the instructor figures out who is doing what. If the word “we” appears in the notebook, grades go down. Even when working together, people are doing different things. For instance, when pair programming, one person is typing and writing in the notebook. The other person is looking over the shoulder, watching, pointing out typos, asking ‘why’, ‘what if it was done this way’, and writing in their notebook. The instructor expects two different points of view from the two people. If every word in both notebooks is the same then transparency, respect, and confidence made is lost by the instructor.
Chronological Integrity 
Chronological integrity means that the dates and times in your notebook display a pattern, discipline and style that can be trusted. Establish Chronological integrity by:
- giving a title to your work
- signing in
- writing while working
- consistently using white space
- filling up pages sequentially
- writing in pen
- putting lines through mistakes so they still can be read
- intentionally choosing that the work is over and signing out
Center the title. Titles are always at the top of pages. Do not mix up projects on the same page. A page has only one title. Choose what you are going to work on. Give it a name. Professionals like doctors, lawyers and engineers bill for their time. They will not get paid unless this is done. Clients (the people who pay you) will not trust you without such documentation. Do not mix up who you are working for (most engineers work on multiple projects) on the same page. Do not include stuff totally unrelated to the project on the same page anywhere. Signout, draw diagonal line, start a new page with a title if you are changing projects.
Most people in the introductory engineering course will only be working on one project at a time. However you can include in your notebook physics, math, and software class homework notes as projects. Don't do the homework in the engineering notebook. Practice Problem Writing. Write about the homework, turn where you are getting stuck into a problem, propose multiple solutions and test them. This will give you a chance to switch titles.
Write the word SignIn in the left margin. Include date, time and initials. SignIn means you are now spending your time working on an engineering project. Treat this time with respect. Do not record going to the bathroom. Do record who you are communicating with and why ... as long as it is related to the project. Minimize all non-project related interruptions.
It is expected that you will signin during class when you begin working on a project. It is expected that you will signin at home when you are working on a project. Working on a project means total attention, total focus, tunnel vision. It does not mean listening to someone talk.
Most introduction to engineering students cheat themselves by not signing in and documenting the time doing the following activities:
- travel to and from shopping and shopping itself
- internet searches for starting points, tutorials, names of things,
- doing simple tutorials, reading manuals, following instructions of someone else
- trying this, trying that, searching through junk piles for inspiration
Carry your engineering notebook with you at all times. You never know when you might have some free time and the inspiration to work on a project. Keep it next to your bed at night. The person who invented the sewing machine had a dream that he was being boiled alive in a soup. The people that were going to eat him were poking at him with spears. The spears were unusual in that the pointed tips had holes in them.
Do Not Write After the Fact 
Do not try and write in the notebook after the fact. Do not estimate the time, sign in at some past date, write something and then sign out. Eventually the dates and times will get confused. Recreations after the fact are obvious. The mood is the same so the handwriting is the same. The ink flows through the pen in the same way because the writing was done quickly. The same thing is written over and over again to fill up space. The handwriting will gradually shift from readable to unreadable.
Do not try and write in the notebook after the fact. The writing will be structured like an English class outline. There will be fewer mistakes. Problems and the single successful solution will be recorded rather than many solutions and testing failures. There will be no alternative discussions. You will be unable to remember the confusion and thinking that led up to an important breakthrough. The writing will read like an email, a summary or a report. Engineering will be trivialized. Writing will not be fun and could even be painful. And you will not get credit in this course for what you wrote.
Learning On Your Own 
Engineers create the first tutorials. The notebook is the starting place of these tutorials. The engineers goal is not to create the worlds most polished, perfect tutorial. The engineers goal is to only find a starting point, record frustrations and then pull out of the notebook chaos a tutorial that can provide a starting point for another engineer. This tutorial might be very usable. So the next engineer has the responsibility of polishing the tutorial/documentation. The next engineer writes in their notebook what works and doesn't work, what needs to be changed/improved/deleted in the next version of the tutorial.
An engineer learns from nature, from the human behavior and the work of others. There is no formal text book. This is the toughest part of engineering. Traditional education says “Learn this, then you are valuable and can get paid.” Engineering says … “please pay me to learn something that no-one else knows.”
You may spend an entire week learning Google Sketchup (a tool) in order to make a simple electronic drawing. You will not contribute much to the project. But you will have found a collection of tutorials, youtube videos and discovered some stuff on your own. All this is recorded in your notebook. The next step is put all this together in an electronic tutorial. You may spend the entire semester creating tutorials rather than directly contributing to a project. Your weekly project summary will be "these are the tutorials I created."
Most of the world doesn't understand this about engineering. They want a list of your certificates and experiences. When you say you can learn something new faster than anyone else, employers think you are bragging about unchangeable gifts that you claim to be born with. This is not true. Speed reading, gorking detail, leveraging the tension of frustration, are skills that can be learned.
Trust Process 
Signing out, Analysis, and Testing force one to stop the creative flow. It is similar to choosing to go to bed at night rather than passing out. A person that has played their entire life without boundaries is going to have a hard time stopping. Have confidence in the world around you. The following is true. Believe it:
- You will get an opportunity to be an engineer again tomorrow.
- The brilliant thoughts floating around in your head will reappear if they are important.
- What you let go of will return 10 fold, but only if it was important.
You will gain more respect and be given more opportunities by letting go rather than clinging. Before signing out, always write an analysis or testing. The discipline of writing builds the engineering ego, confidence and practicality although it does not seem like it in the moment.
Fill up Notebook 
The average is one page per hour. There are approximately 70 pages in the notebook. This typically indicates 70 hours or about half the semester. Of course time is spent on other things such as electronic documentation, taking these quizzes, listening to presentations, so not all homework is in the notebook.
Fill up a page and then move on to the next one. If writing under the same title, don't put it at the top of the page.
If more than one line is skipped at the bottom, then use a diagonal line. Typically the instructor will give you a bonus if you fill up an engineering notebook. Typically 5-10% of the class fills up a notebook during the semester. One student filled up 5 notebooks in a 15 week class.
Bring your notebook to every class. Don't expect to get in the classroom without your notebook. If lost, purchase another one. If found, do not alternatively write in one and then the other. This violates chronological integrity. If found, save it for a future class or future project. Do not expect the instructor to add pages from two different notebooks to get filled up points.
Do not work or think about a project without making an entry in the notebook.
New Page 
There are two reasons to stop in the middle of a page, sign out and draw a diagonal line to the bottom of the page: new day, new title.
Sign in and out on the same line if taking breaks during the same day, working on the same project. A day changes when you sleep, not at midnight.
This is not an english writing class. This is not a technical writing class. Writing in your notebook does not require correct spelling, sentence diagraming, or even complete sentences. It has to be readable. It is better to make english mistakes. These mistakes become a unique signature like a finger print that establishes integrity. And after a while you will voluntarily type “technical writing” or “dangling past participle” into google just because you want to improve .. and discover english grammar is as fun as math.
Signin is easier than Signout. Stopping is harder than starting. If you are using the notebook properly, time will fly. Time also flies when playing. Playing can result in light bulb, ahah discoveries like engineering. The difference is the notebook. The notebook will cause these discoveries to happen more frequently. Re-reading the previous work on the project will put you in the same creative, inspirational place to begin working again. Details not in your memory fill begin to find a place. New words, new symbols, new sound bytes needed to describe the engineering will emerge like a sculpture. Playing leaves no such trail. Your notebook becomes your muse. And you will carry it around like a lover. This is why the engineering profession has the highest job satisfaction. Your notebooks are the source of an engineering super power that makes you special.
Benefits to Expect 
The real world of food, sleep, relationships and other classes ... one has to stop engineering. It is important to make a choice to stop, otherwise engineering is just another addictive drug. There are three beautiful skills that will result from making conscious, disciplined decisions to stop and sign out. One is time management. The second forces facing the natural OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) that is related to “shoot the engineer”, hording and letting go.
But the most important reason is learning Engineering. Before signing out, you must write a RANT (see Project Writing). Children have to be taught boundaries such as don't get too close to the stove. Engineering is like walking out on a rotten log. How far can I go before it cracks? Each step is a boundary. Testing occurs. “Is it going to crack?”. Playing has no boundaries. “Let's try this. Wait this might be better. Let's try that.” Within a few hours the freshman engineering lab is a total mess, everything is broken, nothing has been written in notebooks. Sitting in the middle of the room are some very happy freshman. It is a real struggle to call them engineers.
Writing Pattern Rubric 
Approximately once a week your instructor will quickly scan your notebook to see if you are following the above rules. If not, the instructor will write on the even page the name of the rule you are violating and ask:
- Have you read the wikibooks engineering notebook pages?
- Would you read this section of your notebook to me?
- What kind of respect are you trying to earn with this?