Paper Notebook & Pen – Ultimate Guide to Taking Notes

A Paper Notebook & Pen has been the standard way to take notes for decades as it is trusted in both criminal and civil courts. Although most investigators are choosing to go with an Electronic Notebook like Forensic Notes, many individuals continue to love the feel of a good pen when taking notes.

If you plan to make handwritten notes, then here are a few tips to ensure your notes are accepted within civil and criminal courts.*


  • Bound paper notebook
    No ability to add/remove pages
  • Numbered pages
    Printed on every page
  • Lined

When writing in the notebook, you should utilize a high-quality pen following the ELBOWS model:

E – No Erasures

L – No Leaves torn out

B – No Blank spaces

O – No Overwriting

W – No Writing in margins

S – Statements to be written in direct speech

For general details on how to write your notes, refer to our Top 12 Best Practice Guidelines for Recording & Documenting Evidence.

Top 12 : Best Practice Guidelines for Recording and Documenting Evidence : Infographic by Forensic NotesTop 12 : Best Practice Guidelines for Recording and Documenting Evidence : Infographic by Forensic NotesTop 12 : Best Practice Guidelines for Recording and Documenting Evidence : Infographic by Forensic Notes

Detailed Guideline for Criminal Investigators


The UK Government provides a very detailed guideline for criminal investigators in Immigration Enforcement (IE). The guideline covers how to obtain, use and store an official notebook used during investigations and is useful for anyone looking to properly use paper notebooks.

As stated within the document:

Contemporaneous notes means notes written either:

  • at the time
  • as soon as possible after the event

If you do not complete a notebook entry as soon as possible:

  • it may not be regarded as contemporaneous
  • you may not be permitted to refresh your memory from it at court

Version 8.0 – Published October 11th 2017

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Guideline Contents Overview

Contents – 2

About this guidance – 3

Contacts – 3

Publication – 3

Changes from last version of this guidance – 3

The purpose of a notebook – 4

Issuing notebooks – 5

What criminal investigators do if the usual issuing officer is not available – 5

Using notebooks – 6

Keeping contemporaneous notes – 6

The contents of a notebook – 8

Basic entry information – 8

Recording time of entry – 8

Effective use of the index – 8

When to use a separate page – 9

Blank spaces and deletions – 9

Comments or replies made by suspects – 9

Recording diagrams – 10

Taking notes if unable to use official notebooks – 11

When you may not be able to use an official notebook – 11

How you record these notes – 11

Evidence or observations taken on a Dictaphone – 11

Recording notes from SMS text messages – 12

Recording sensitive information – 13

Checking notebooks – 14

Why notebook checks must be done – 14

Keeping and storing completed notebooks – 15

Taking notebooks out of use – the officer – 15

The issuing officer – 15

Lost or stolen notebooks – 16

What the officer must do – 16

What the issuing officer must do – 16

How notebooks can be used in evidence – 17

Blue Line Magazine


Blue Line Police Magazine - Police Note-Taking

“Sloppy police note taking is bad for the incourt credibility of a police witness. It undermines
the successful prosecution of a case.”

~Former Crown Prosecutor Bradford Smith

August / September 2015

Click here to download ]

* Always check with your local courts to ensure the advice and information you find online meets the needs of the legal system in your area. The information provided in this article is not meant to be legal advice.

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