Most of the blog posts that I tend to write are as a result of reading other people’s work or watching an interesting video – This one follows the same trend.
I’ve just finished watching John Stevenson’s (@steveo1967) excellent Whiteboard Testing (@WhiteboardTest) YouTube video explaining the Cornell Method of taking notes – I’ve heard of this method in the past and watched a few similar YouTube videos on the subject but have never really applied it to my day to day testing activities. The truth is, I have never really formally been taught how to take good notes – It sounds strange that I would want that but for me it would have given me the foundations earlier on in my life so that I could then change, adapt and develop my own style into something that worked for me.
My past experiences…
Most of my previous working life I was made to carry with me, at all times, a Notebook and Pen – I was asked to show this to the Corporal, Serjeant, Etc. every day on the first Parade of the morning until it became just a normal pattern of life to have these items on you. When I was promoted, I would be asking the same question and punishing (restriction of privileges) the soldiers that did not produce these.
Looking back, I couldn’t see the reasons and importance of having a Notebook and Pen with you – This was vital for daily life in barracks during the various classroom-based lessons and also on Operations and Pre-Deployment Exercises, taking down important information that could prove life-saving in certain situations. I know that now but back then when I was a boy soldier of 17/18 years old, I just didn’t get it, and was going through the motions.
Selection of Notebooks that I’ve kept from my time in the Army
I’ve kept many of my old Notebooks from that time of my life – I like to look through them to see, not only the types of notes that I was taking but how my style developed as I gained more military experience while progressing through my career.
Some of these notebooks included:
- Helpful mnemonics and abbreviations
- Instructions on Specific Infantry Radio Systems and Frequency ranges
- Packing Lists for Exercises or Operations
- Patrol Orders including the Mission, Commanders Intent, RV Grid References, Etc.
- Ammo States of the Sections taken during Platoon and Section Attacks
- Quick Sketch Drawings for a Range Card and Arcs of Fire for the Sentry position
Doing a very small amount of research while thinking about this blog post I came across a perfect article which displayed the pieces of equipment carried by Soldiers throughout the years – I’ve chosen a few examples and as you can see, a Notebook was a very important part of military life over many conflicts.
1815 Private Soldier, Battle of Waterloo (bottom left) 49 – 1807 British Army drill regulations and leather covered notebook
1916 Private Soldier, Battle of the Somme (bottom right) 8 – Notebook and Service Warrant Card
1982 Royal Marine Commando, Falklands War (bottom centre) 18 – British army notebook and pens, compass and protractor, which were used for marking maps, for example, plotting minefields.
2014 Close-Support Sapper, Royal Engineers, Helmand Province (top centre) 5 – Notebook
How good are the notes that I take now?
Note taking is a skill and like any other skill you need to practice it – If you’re not prepared to put the effort in, then the notes that you take during your exploratory sessions are meaningless and don’t tell the story of your testing. Rob Lambert (@Rob_Lambert) mentions in one of his posts about making your notes 60 Days proof – This means that you can pick up that notebook or open that file and still be able to recall exactly what you meant when you first made that entry. I’m not amazing at doing this but i’m working towards getting there and looking at ways to improve all the time. Internal Company presentations and also short TED Talks are great ways, that i have found to practice note taking skills.
I continue to fight with myself over what works well for me and my own style has changed and morphed over the last couple of years, I’ve used different bullet points, checklists, mind-maps and also created templates in order to keep things consistent but i haven’t found the one thing that fits me….yet. That’s what I love about learning and experimenting – you tend to do it for every aspect of your testing, i don’t think i will ever stop trying to improve on what i’m currently doing.
I would love to hear from people and hear the way they take and capture their testing notes. Are there certain applications that you find useful (Rapid Reporter, Evernote, One Note, etc.). Do you consider who the audience is when writing notes? How did you find your style or if they are like me, are still trying to get there?
Please feel free to get in touch!
A few great resources about taking notes and techniques to improve your note taking:
Michael Bolton – http://www.developsense.com/presentations/2007-10-PNSQC-AnExploratoryTestersNotebook.pdf
Rob Lambert – http://thesocialtester.co.uk/explaining-exploratory-testing-relies-on-good-notes/
Alan Richardson –http://blog.eviltester.com/2013/09/10-experiments-to-improve-your.html
Shmuel Gershon – https://testhuddle.com/resource/recording-your-story-note-taking-in-software-tests-with-shmuel-gershon/
Nice article Danny. Like yourself, I’m still trying to get there – but I’m not completely convinced there’s a *there* to get to. I see my note-taking as basically an extension of my brain, which is always changing and evolving based on my experiences and the context within which I’m using it. It seems natural to me then, that my note-taking will change and evolve along with it.
By way of tooling, I’m a big fan of Evernote and also other Notepad type apps that keep things clear and simple. Sublime Text e.g. currently. I’m also finding increasing traction in just using a lined notepad – again. Which is where I was around 6-7 years ago!
Thank you for taking the time to comment Simon – much appreciated.
I agree with you, I don’t think there is a “there” – if i ever reach it I’m sure that I will still be finding new ways to try and improve. Note taking is one area that I would have loved to have spent more time perfecting earlier in my life, it feels like I’m in catch up mode now but it’s a great journey and one that I can honestly say, I’ve seen a vast personal improvement.
I’m loving Evernote more and more, it suits my needs perfectly and also integrates very well with other applications that I use for other areas of my work. Good tagging is very important though!!
Thanks again and hope to see you soon!
What a post! My memory is very bad. I have paper diary what I wrote as 14-16 y.o. and I keep virtual diary since 2003. When I read it I do not recall the stories. But with my bug reports is different, I can repeat the test few month later without problems. Lately I think about smth else – how to visualise my testing thought chain for new or non-testers. I need too much references to explain it.
Thank you for your comment Kristine!
I think this is something that I’m going to be tweaking and changing until I’m happy with what I’m producing and also happy reading back through things in years to come and understanding exactly what I did.
It’s a skill that absolutely needs to be worked on but I’m willing to put the effort in to get the results I want!