I was thinking about qualities people look for in notebooks:

  1. Portability: How easy is it to carry one of these notebooks? How easy is it to carry multiple? Are there sizing options?
  2. Writing comfort: Does the notebook get in the way of your hand when writing?
  3. Reading comfort: Does the book sit open to a page? How easy is it to flip through the pages? How easy is it to find one page among many? What’s the max number of pages you can look at, at once?
  4. Paper durability: Does the paper rip out? Does the paper resist ink / lead when pressed? Does it bleed?

The reason for thinking about these things is that I personally hate a few kinds of notebooks / never use them and I was trying to figure out why people even bother.

Composition books

Today I hate composition books even though I used them exclusively for a long time. They have some big weaknesses:

  • Won’t stay open unless forced or pressed by heavy thing for a while.
  • Pages don’t rip out cleanly.
  • Mostly wide ruled.
  • Always hard covered which means the whole thing is inflexible.

Why I still used them:

  • Cheap or free.
  • Relatively easy to write in.
  • Wide ruled is good for kids and people with bad handwriting.
  • Teachers love them because carrying a stack of them is easier than a stack of spiral-bound notebooks, where the spirals tangle with each other.

I hate legal pads but I know so many people who swear by them. I chalk this up to difference in working style. I tend to write things down for later reference, and in my notebooks I always add an index so I can quickly look things up instead of leafing through all the pages. Legal pads, to me, are for throwaway work. And I have a whiteboard / post-its for that.

I’ve seen people take extensive notes on legal pads though and try to refer to older notes, flipping up a mass of pages. Have you seen the curl in the top quarter of the legal pad’s pages due to the flipping? As you write deeper into your pad of poorly-bound paper, all of your previous paper curls. If you’re using a legal pad and not ripping pages off after writing on them, imho you’re using it wrong.

TL;DR Legal Pads are only good for scrap paper.

Spiralbound Notebooks

I used to hate spiralbound notebooks. I’m a lefty, so writing on the convenient right-side page is a PITA. The spiral gets in the way of my wrist and generally feels bad. Furthermore being a bit of a messy bessy when I shove the spiralbound in my backpack still open to a page instead of the cover, I end up losing / tearing / ruining pages of my notebook.

I noticed my coworker using a spiralbound a few years ago though and was amazed at how she could leave it open to a specific page and carry on every day at her desk – not transporting it solves the portability problems. And I’ve slowly learned that certain spirals don’t actually bother me (spiral:paper ratio has to be right to avoid too much of a spiral drop).

Spiralbound notebooks have some huge strengths that I’ve now realized / lead me to prefer them:

  1. Sits open to a page very cleanly
  2. Compact when open (you can open to a single page without ruining the book)
  3. Pages are removable in a manner that is clean / separate from other pages
  4. Can still be cheap as composition books albeit at similar low quality
  5. Easy to leaf through
  6. Paper quality in general is good enough

My favorite spiralbound is still this Miquelrius but I kinda hate the 6-subject now that I’m an adult and tend to use 1 subject at a time rather intensely. I also think it’s easier to look through 6 1-subject notebooks than a single 6-subject, but that’s just me.

Bound Journals

I like some bound journals. Again, as a lefty, writing ease is important to me and a traditionally bound book helps because there’s no coil getting in the way of my hand.

However there’s only a few bound journals I like because bound tend to be bound too thick which makes it hard to write or stay open. Write too close to the spine – oops you’re out of space and just made it look really bad. The problem gets worse the further into the journal you get.

I don’t like hardcover bound journals. Over time I find that their covers come off due to their weight which hurts the integrity of the binding. Softcover bound journals (e.g the moleskine softcovers or cahiers) work super well in general, at least for me.

The big tradeoff is that all bound books don’t sit open cleanly or open to a single page, which is actually a big drawback if you just need to jot notes down at your desk every so often and don’t move the notebook much.

Current Preferences

I use a college-ruled spiralbound at work for notes, and leave it on my desk. It isn’t very portable but it is very functional.

I carry around a softcover moleskine for my bullet journal. It doesn’t need to sit open.

I prefer gridded spiralbounds for all my other notes, but since work has hardcover engineering composition books for free, I’ve continued to use them despite their drawbacks for various notes (e.g my fishing notes are kept in a 70-page grid composition book).