General Engineering Introduction/Notebooks/Project Writing

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blank engineering notebook opened to page 62,63.
An Open Engineering Notebook.

Project Writing Triplet

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Project writing requires three words written in the left margin: GoingToDo, Doing and RANT. The instructor reads these and then counts them. See the course syllabus for more detail. No points toward your grade will be awarded without RANT. Many short triplets get more points than one long triplet. RANT a lot.

The goal of GoingToDo, Doing and RANT is to encourage writing before, during and after working on a project. Do not write after the fact. It will read, look and feel artificial. Project writing will initially feel slow, in-efficient and pointless. After several weeks, re-read. Then the value will become apparent. Playing will turn into engineering. The impulse to learn will come from the inside rather than from the world outside. The slowing down will pick up steam and speed past non-engineers. Writing will improve. Start now. Don't fight it.


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Typically it comes from the previous RANT. Sometimes it is totally different. Don't worry about being logically consistent. The notebook is expected to be chaotic. It is not a book. Others may read it. The chaotic nature improves chronological integrity, it commands more respect. It is real. Our memories are much more logical than the reality of the moment. GoingToDo should capture intention.

GoingToDo does not capture or justify time spent. Do not write down trivial things unless there is an engineering reason. Do not write down: "Going to upload graphic" unless you have never done this before. Writing the same thing 40 times in your notebook will not get you 40 triplets points. Expect "work" project points in the electronic documentation.


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What is done doesn't have to match GoingtoDo. The goal is to do something. This is the place to draw pictures. Drawings in the notebook should be quick sketches, tables, stick figures. Before 1980, the first course in engineering was how to draw … blueprints. Today, learn to draw on a computer. Write notes about the computer work. Describe the drawing, the name given to the file, how it benefits the project, where it belongs in the project wiki.

Web quests (see research wiki page) should be documented here. What keywords are you searching for? What patterns are there in the results? Why or why not was a particular search abandoned? This is how to prove a negative … to prove that something does not yet exist. Doing this properly is the quickest way to build respect. If someone doesn't trust you and feels the need to check themselves, you have lost respect. This will always happen if you do not record the Web Quest. A Web Quest consists of many GoingToDo, Doing, RANT triplets, not one.

Doing should document the programming process. Outline the unit tests. Describe which one you are working on in the moment. Describe the packages downloaded from GIT. See programming projects for more detail about the process.

Record the costs, the product description, where purchased, and quantities. Draw pictures of the tools. Describe how the tools are operated safely, configured, and stored.

Engineering starts with playing, moves to doing it first, then into design and finally problem solving. Doing is where the transition to design is made. Engineering design is where you begin to organize the issues, leverage patterns, and synthesize new creations. The deliverable is typically a computer file created by an appropriate design tool.

good RANT

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RANT stands for Reflect, Analyse and NexT steps.

At a minimum, RANT is a quick dump of what to do next ... before signing out, eating lunch, or another break. The goal is to remember where one was at before the break.

RANT is the most important of the three. Without it, there is no path through the forest of confusion, fog and uncertainty. If stuck, try answering the applicable questions below:

what went right/wrong
why something went wrong 
what is the error that is built into the number
if had more time would have done .......
a better tool for this job would have been ........
if could do over again, would have ........
how this could be done more accurately ......
if could automate, would improve data by ........
this is what was expected
this is not what was expected (what was expected ??)

RANT sets up the next GoingToDo.


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RANT typically goes bad when ever the word “I” appears.

  • "I think it won't work, because I didn't have enough time to do it. Five hours is over. And I didn't make the second cylinder. So I think it won't work."
  • "I am happy and I think I will finish soon."

RANT is not reflection. Below are two examples of reflection that should not be in the notebook.

  • "By doing this project, I learned that we should prepare earlier because it will help us not do things in a rush."
  • "I learned that we should have a complete plan before we started to do it."

Bad RANT replaces fact with Opinion

  • "Bending coat hanger was more difficult than predicted."
  • "Took much delicate work."
  • "This will work. The rack will run and water will go on it, and the pressure will go on it too, so it will make the rack run."

Good RANT sticks to the facts and lets the reader draw conclusions.

  • "The displacer moves up and down fairly smoothly and the nail does a good job of keeping the rod straight and still."

Good RANT sets up the next triplet.

  • "Need to think of something to keep the crank from moving side to side while it turns."

Typical Grading Rubric

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Typically the instructor asks for the entire teams notebooks. The Writing Pattern is first scanned. The average is about 3 triplets per page which represents about an hours work. More triplets per page are often trivial and will not be counted. Longer triplets will result in the instructor admonishing you to split them up. The triplets are then counted (trivial will be discounted) and multiplied by the point value for each triplet.

Usually all of the project teams notebooks are graded simultaneously, in class, in front of other people.

Don't write after the fact

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The biggest hurdle is learning to write before, during and after doing something on a project. If you go to a store looking for parts, carry your notebook with you. Write in your notebook in the store. Trying to remember and write afterwards results in fewer triplets and fewer points.

Don't create a book

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This is not an English class. Messy, half formed, crossed out, wrong, totally wrong, stupidly wrong thoughts, ideas and pictures are expected. Most everything in an engineering notebook is wrong. When things go as expected, then electronic documents are created and writing in the notebook stops.

Don't try to write a perfect book that someone can read.

Others will read your notebook looking for what you tried that did not work. They are looking for descriptions of where you were stuck so they can compare to where they were stuck. They are looking for your steps that lead to random success.

Remember success is a very minor part of an engineering notebook.