Logbook Writing

by Michael C. Kelly, MA


Keeping a log book helps organizations: 

- list and remember what needs to be done on a work shift 

- communicate seamlessly through shift transitions 

- attend to the due diligence process

A logbook helps workers keep accurate records of events like breakdowns, work condition alerts and workplace roster changes. There are four requirements for good log book entries. They must be:

Legible - entries must be clear enough to read

Signed - with the name of the author

Dated - with the date of the entry

Numbered - as in the page numbering format 1 of 5, 2 of 5, 3 of 5, etc.

We might add that they must make sense too. Often when there is a problem making sense of a logbook, it's because the entries are convoluted, cryptic or assumption-based.  

No Convoluted, Cryptic or Assumption-based Notes Please!


Imagine reading this note at work:

Pursuant to your request of a fortnight ago, and not withstanding the exigencies of matters like the one I am about to elucidate, I humbly inform you of the following ...

Who writes or talks like that? Probably not many people we know. Such a note is said to be convoluted which according to the Oxford English Dictionary means extremely complex. The words in the above are made complex by the pompous writing style. They only cloud the author's meaning.


Other entries, while not pompous, are cryptic - meaning mysterious or obscure in meaning. This occurs when the author uses words or sentences with difficult to interpret multi-meanings or mysterious references. Cryptic entries can come in the form of single, meaningless words or short, difficult to decipher phrases. For example, an entry simply stating


is meaningless. Is the loader broken, or is the author somehow mystified by the presence of the machine? Does the question mark cause the author to wonder which machine? What's wrong with it? All is not clear.


Often when we write entries we assume the reader will know what we are talking about, but what if they don't? How much time and effort will it take for the reader to decode what we've written? In the decoding process, how many unnecessary trips, wasted minutes or potentially dangerous errors will the reader endure? These are the costs of many cryptic messages.

It is best to eliminate convoluted, cryptic or assumption-based entries. Instead, write as if the reader doesn't know what we're talking about. That way we will be more likely to spell out precisely what we need to say. The reader, in turn, will be able to accurately get to the heart of the matter.

The CBC Rule

One way to avoid convoluted, cryptic or assumption-based entries is to follow the CBC rule. Canada's public radio station is usually referred to as "The CBC." (1) Journalists on this station, so we're told, generally write at about a grade four level, which means the programs are straight forward and simple to understand. Nothing convoluted, cryptic or assumption-based! All logbook entries should be written as if they were for a CBC broadcast.

A Selected List of Things That Might Be Entered in a Logbook

In addition to the above, here is a selected list of a few things we might include in our logbooks.

  • vital information important to problem-solving and decision-making
  • faults in safety, equipment or production
  • incident logic
  • safety determinations, including immediate and root cause issues
  • mechanical problems
  • observations of abnormal, unusual or changed set ups
  • circumstances and conditions under which data was collected and presented
  • interesting observations
  • ideas, thoughts or suggestions

Oh, and one more thing. Make log entries in a timely manner, before the facts of a situation are forgotten.



  1. Depending on where you live the rule can be changed. For example, our Irish brothers and sisters could call it the RTÉ Rule. In the US it might be called the NPR Rule. The CBC, RTÉ and NPR are public stations.

© 2011  Michael C Kelly