Virtual vs. Hand Written Engineering Notebook

I have noticed that it is a lot easier to have a virtual engineering notebook (in MS Word etc.) then have a written one.

(I am a programmer and I do some CAD for my team so I am always around a computer.)

At a tournament that I went to (during Gateway) the judges were not pleased with a virtual notebook.

I would really like to have a virtual notebook for these reasons:

  1. It is easier to write entries and easier to update as I go
  2. I can add pictures to my entries a lot easier
  3. It is way easier to color code different parts of the entries

I switched over to a written notebook halfway through the season but this year I will be doing more programing and CAD so I thought it would be easier if I could use a virtual notebook.

My question is, Will the judges look down on my notebook because it is on the computer rather then a hard copy?
Does it matter what kind of notebook I have?
What do you guys think?


We used a virtual notebook this year for many of the reasons you mentioned and just printed it out as the year went on. As far as I could tell, all the judges at Worlds (including the ones for our Design Award interview) loved our notebook. It was much more easily organized, it was color coded, and just looked cleaner than a regular notebook while still documenting our entire process. I would suggest going the computer route. It was much easier to format and faster to update than a regular notebook (we used a regular one for Round Up).

We used a virtual Engineering Notebook in the form of a OneNote document divided into many sections – we’ve found that it’s easier since most of our pictures, CAD designs, planning and strategy discussions are online. Judges don’t seem to mind the fact that it’s on a computer. Yet, we rarely win judged awards (those ALWAYS go to our Exo friends 10D, and they have a physical notebook).

By virtual notebook, do you mean a digital copy printed out, or showing an electronic reading device with digital file to the judges to look at?

Having a hard copy makes it more flexible for the judges. You can leave it with them, and they won’t worry about it being stolen (unlike leaving an iPad, laptop, or e-reader with them). It’s also easier to take a quick visual overview on paper than digitally – no worries about navigation, having to learn to use someone else’s unfamiliar device, etc. I realize that you’d probably present your notebook during the interview, but if they want to see more on their own time (a good thing), you want to make it as easy as possible.

I don’t have a strong preference of hand-written vs. e-copy printed out on paper, but some people might.

I do the engineering notebook for my team. I have used only composition bound hand written notebooks. The hand written form is much more professional even though it is less logical for you.
The easiness of editing the computer versions is the exact reason why the judges at that tournament didn’t like your notebook. On the computer you can just edit stuff in and then take something else out wherever you want at any time which is not what an engineering notebook is for. It is for documenting your team’s progress over the year in order.
I would suggest using a composition bound notebook for hand writing and then numbering all the pages.

We used a Virtual Engineering Notebook as well. The judges seemed pretty impressed by during the Design Interview, as well as when they came by our pits to interview us. They were easily able to flip to different sections depending on what they wanted to see.

There was no noticeable displeasure about a virtual book from them. Although, it can be debated whether they would have preferred a hand written one, as they are more professionally accepted.

A Virtual one often tends to mix with a Design Report.

While we find that a virtual notebook with pictures, movies, CAD files, ect… is a lot more useful, since you can ctrl-f things, judges seem to be more impressed with something tangible. I would suggest copying parts of your virtual notebook (equations, pictures, renders) to a physical medium. and presenting that to the judges as well.

“useful” implies a specific use, not all possible uses.
A virtual notebook computer presentation is like a marketing pitch.
A printed copy of a virtual notebook is like a marketing brochure you can leave with the customer.
But you know how believeable (or not) those can be.
They sound like great resources to provide to robotics contests that require a marketing pitch (like some BEST Hubs require).

Some old-school judges will be more impressed by Notebook that is hand-written, bound (composition book is good enough), dated, signed and witnessed daily, showing periodic meetings, progress, failures, test results, brainstorming, iterations, etc.
Pictures and nice graphics can still be pasted in physically.

My view is that an engineering notebook is distinctly different from a marketing pitch.

We used a combined approach for our notebook. We did our work on the computer and had the document available on line for all team members to work together and review it. We also could log in our meetings for members who might have missed a meeting. We then printed a copy for the judges and explained to them how it was put together. We included in one section, our hand sketches from the various brainstorming sessions.

I’m with X-Factor on this one, the bound notebook is a lot more professional.