New and Improved Engineering Notebooks

This past weekend my team was at the NWVRC hosted by the Super Sonic Sparks of Carroll County MD. While there we had the chance to align with team 3077 Zinc Iridium for the elimination rounds. Team 3077 won the judges award for the day so my kids started asking about their engineering notebook. It was gorgeous. My kids are so motivated now to have proper documentation. However, this leads to my question. We have a very stinky engineering notebook from June until this weekend. We want to start a new notebook. what should we do about our old notebook? should we share with the Judges or just start fresh as if we never had the disaster of a notebook? What would you all suggest we do?


Don’t start over!! Your post is exactly what judges want to see. All the judges I’ve spent time with recognize that most students would much rather spend time reiterating their robot than spending time on their documentation. It’s just like real life.

Your students are now motivated to do even better than they were doing. This is the great advantage of going to multiple events. Have the students document at the end of the current notebook what they decided after the last event. And then you can start a new one or a new chapter, but keep the old one too!

i agree, with our notebook we did something a little different, we have an a3 art folder, where everything goes in … there are sub folders in there, and we can add more, and more … we havent ever removed any documents, even if they are wrong, because you can show the judges and say how you have learnt from mistakes etc … keep all of your stuff … never throw it away !

Here is a link to thread about how we approached this last year:

Let us know if you have any questions.

would you draw every screw in your robot into the engineering notebook?

We only have a few sketches and our engineering notebook is why we have 2 world championship qualifications. Working sketches are great, but we have discovered that a well documented thought process is essential. Make sure if you have your code printed and in your notebook that you have plenty of comments in the code to explain it. Also if you have made changes to your robot explain why. Document your failures and what you did to correct problems and overcome them. They don’t expect page one to start with a perfect robot or professional drawings, they want to see an evolution of your design. For example a lot of robots have their motor controllers just hanging loose, explain that you secured yours to the chassis so it would act as a heat sink.

I think a drawing such as a flow chart to illustrate a process has more influence than a drawing of a part. You do want enough drawings of the design to prove that you didn’t just grab some parts and build a robot.

They also LOVE math, so any lift equations etc. need to be included.

The link to the SunDevils notebook is a great example, their notebook is/was world class.

I hope this helps.

There is no secret trick when it comes to good documentation. It needs to be clear and organized as its actual purpose should be for the team to reference their successes and failures throughout the engineering process and learn from them. Anything that will be useful for the team to study their previous design process (sketches, pictures, code, etc.) should be included. **From reading the notebook you should get a good idea of the problems you faced, the thought process behind solving them, and the effectiveness of the solutions. **Drawing every screw is not necessary, in my opinion, to demonstrate these. The more of your thinking and problem solving, the more **useful **the notebook will be. We try our best to convey this, and have succeeded in winning the design award at every single event we participated in this year (5 as of now). If anyone would like another example of a possible notebook layout, feel free to PM me and I’ll be happy to provide a sample entry.

Detailed representations (CAD models, for example) do have their uses. They can be a problem solving tool to test part layouts before building in order to speed up and streamline the building process. If you do something of this sort as a tool in designing your robot, it is a great idea to include it in your notebook. If you don’t make or need anything terribly specific, don’t just make make something after you are done to make your notebook look nicer. That would not be useful to anyone.

First, thank you Buck (How I missed this post last October I don’t know) for the kind words about or notebook back then. I am glad to hear that it motivated your team. This is actually the first year we have had a really outstanding notebook.

For us it took one person who stepped up and decided that she was going to make sure we had a excellent notebook. It was not a one person show however; she quickly learned the skill of needling details out of the other members of the team to share what they were working on at a given time.

This student also turned out have excellent technical drawing skills. I have no idea how much time she took drawing alone. Some may go with camera pictures and paste them in. The hard part there I think is leaving the correct amount of space.

One thing that we also decided to do was to also create a non engineering notebook that had our team bios, team organization, documentation on our scouting process, the outreach and fund raising we had done this year, the events we went to and results (with pictures), etc. This was collected in a 3 ring binder so we can update as needed and could be organized by topic in stead of just chronologically like the engineering notebook should be. This project was spearheaded by another team member.

The take away is document as much as you can, in multiple formats if needed. It not only is a record of your work; it is how you can tangibly pass on lessons learned. And winning major awards partly because of it should only motivate them to do even better documentation next year.

I guess the whole process worked cause we won Design at the Mid Atlantic Vex Championship are headed to Worlds!


Also I would love to hear the story behind this some time!


Document EVERYTHING possible. The judges want to see your entire thought process that you took when making your robot. We like to split our notebook into design process, approaches taken to play the game, parts we used/why we used them, goals for meetings, accomplishments at meetings, problems faced, how we fixed them, pictures, sketches, CAD (if possible)(judges LOVE CAD). We have an excellent journalist. Make sure to keep everything neat and organized though. I would never suggest that you start over, but possibly just reorganize. Good luck!

Our design notebook is the reason we qualified for world, so it can be important. This year though, we have one main design notebook and three satellite notebooks, one for our base engineer, scoring mech engineer, and programmer. We made sure to document our building process with daily progress logs and pictures, and made a semi-official report for each problem we faced.