Notes and paper

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Notes and paper

I always take notes. I find however I spread my notes across too many pieces of paper. Often a piece of scrap A4 is used for diagrams/sketches of software architecture. Other times it’s Post-it Notes as they were closest to hand. However I eventually end up with lots of notes spread everywhere. I realised a while back that I need to consolidate all my notes into one book. Then I always have all my notes with me.

First rule was no Post-it Notes.

Second rule was always have my notebook on the desk when I arrive at work so it’s to hand. This prevents me reaching for Post-it Notes.

I recently got back into mechanical pencils. I was buying and testing all types however I found out what Adam Savages favourite mechanical pencil is. It’s the cheap disposable PaperMate 0.7 mm Non-Stop. This was revolutionary and once I got my hand on one I soon fell in love.

The pencil is made of plastic therefore non conductive when the lead is retracted so it’s useful as a pointing/articulation device for electronics or code see below picture.


The rubber is a key part to a pencils usefulness over pens, any pencil without an attached rubber is useless to me. I tend to make a lot of mistakes in written writing where my brain is working faster than my hands. A writing implement which is erasable allows my notes to be edited and maintained like electronically typed notes on a computer.

Coincidentally I recently also started reading Adam Savages new book “Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It”. In the book he details his note taking techniques. I was again instantly understanding and wanting to try it for my self. I have used several note taking methods previously. Mostly lined paper with ticks at the end of lines I have completed.

The technique Adam showed allowed for even more information to be displayed. That is partially complete tasks. Previously I would note a tilde ~ to show partially complete items.

I wasn’t strict enough on myself with notes but I was working towards improving them already. Adams book confirmed my suspicion that note taking should be taken very seriously and thus the rabbit hole begins.

I noticed this new note taking system would work well with squared paper. I see Adam using plain and square paper in his examples. I was pondering which paper is the most universal. That way I was sure to only need one notebook. The paper needs to work for strongly typed notes (spaced nicely to the page), loosely typed notes (annotations), not to scale diagrams, to scale diagrams and drawings.

I did a bit of research on the different paper types. I started with my own notebooks. I noticed some interesting things. Lined paper isn’t always the same line spacing. Rite in the rain have a special “universal” format which I cannot find anyone else doing. It’s lined with dotted less visible grid. The grid avoids visual overload but its there when required: Click here for example

USA notebooks use inches for spacing. UK was mm spacing. Germany has a standard of 6mm line spacing.

In the USA they seem to have “College Paper” and “High School Paper”. I know we do something similar in the UK and my Lithuanian friend confirmed they also do this. Basically in schools they start with paper which has a large line spacing. When the child gets older they get paper with standard line spacing. It makes it easier for them until they have improved their hand writing. There are also various special paper types which aid hand writing.

Hardback notebooks are better in general because I carry them around in my 5.11 backpack. This prevents damage and it makes the book much easier to read and write on because it remains rigid.

Square paper spacing varies. 5 mm² seems to be the most common. 10 mm² is around for school use.

The paper shouldn’t bleed when using felt or fountain pens.

Digital notes are useful but not practical for diagrams or annotation unless using a very expensive tablet with a proper digitizer. I do however type documentation up in Markdown and use for finalised architecture diagrams.

Pens I will discuss at some point in the future. Mostly using Zebra F-xMD and the PaperMate 0.7 mm Non-Stop.

“Lined Paper” is also known as “Ruled Paper”.

“Squared Paper” is also known as “Grid Paper”.

Engineering paper is basically fancy graph paper. There are several types of graph paper which vary in the amount of quadrants.

Paper spacing

Below is a table of various notebooks I have and their line spacing. All besides the “Rite in the Rain” and “Lemome” are from the UK to my knowledge.

Name Pattern Size Metric spacing Imperial spacing
nu: era lined A5 8 mm 5/16 in
nu: craze lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Amazon basics squared A5 5 mm² 3/16 in²
Rite in the Rain 935 universal 3x5 in 6.35 mm 1/4 in
Unknown brand orange lined A6 8 mm 5/16 in
Office depot lined A5 8 mm 5/16 in
Office depot lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Lyreco refill pad lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Unknown brand refill pad lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Hamelin Paperbrands lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Pukka Pads Jotta lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Pukka Pads Jotta lined A5 8 mm 5/16 in
Lemome Thick Classic lined A5 7 mm 9/32 in
Unknown circa 1988 lined/graph A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Staples Manuscript lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
The Consortium squared A5 5 mm² 3/16 in²
The Consortium lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Oxford squared A5 5 mm² 3/16 in²
John Dickinson squared A5 5 mm² 3/16 in²
Hamelin Paperbrands squared A5 5 mm² 3/16 in²
Hamelin Paperbrands lined A5 8 mm 5/16 in
Hamelin Paperbrands lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Rhino squared A5 7 mm² 9/32 in²
Rhino lined A4 8 mm 5/16 in
Rhodia Yellow Page No19 lined A4+ 7 mm 9/32 in

I also saw on Amazon that Cambridge, Oxford Campus and Oxford Black n’ Red notebooks use 8 mm line spacing.

Oddly enough there isn’t currently a United Kingdom subheading on the Wikipedia ruled paper page for line spacing. I have since updated the Wikipedia page.

For school books ruling codes see:

Lab notebook

I don’t touch too much on this topic in this post because science laboratory notebooks normally have a specific format and they’re more focused on scientific research including a hypothesis, experiments and proof of work. This is somewhat in contrast to engineering where we focus more on practical implementation options, contention points and architecture diagrams or meeting notes. However there is some useful pointers we can glean from science lab notebooks.

I agree with adding a date, subject heading and a index or in my case a page marker aka filing flag for long running or often revisited sections.

Research videos

Useful tools

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