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What Size is The Right Size For a Notebook?

One of the things that got left out of my recent series on single vs. many notebooks was the topic of notebook size.

So what is the right size? It of course is a matter of what works but here’s my observations:

Small notebooks – pocket size or 3″x5″ or so.

  • Easiest to carry, and it fits in most pockets. Not always convenient in a bag, as it can move around and end up on the bottom.
  • Requires small writing, and a narrow pen or pencil. I found this to be fine as long as I wasn’t planning to use that pen for regular writing, but a real fine point is not the right choice for everything.
  • The books fill up quickly. Very quickly. Sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. For myself I prefer to have more history.
  • it’s hard to shoehorn a full size sheet in them, like an agenda for a meeting or the like. It has to be folded more than once, which makes it thick to put in the book, and ugly once it’s unfolded.
  • They’re easy to conceal, and they feel more private.
  • It feels a little silly to sit one on a conference room table and take notes.
  • Small drawings are possible, but diagrams, org charts, and things with writing can be challenging to fit.
  • The pages aren’t big enough to devote to one thing. Any list that’s long enough to need to be written down is likely to be more than one page.
  • Too small to have much history, unless I write in very terse language.
  • Ok for lap writing. Really, I have to balance the book on a thigh.
  • Easy to buy – they’re everywhere, and they are cheap. This also seems to be the most popular size for specialty books, like music, storyboard, etc.
  • Easy to devote to a single purpose.

Medium notebooks – 5″x8″ or thereabouts

  • A familiar size, and they don’t look silly on a conference room table.
  • Easy to buy – if the store has notebooks, they’ll have them in this size.
  • A letter sheet can be folded in half and stuck inside. It might hang out at the edges, depending on the book.
  • A page is not quite big enough for some purposes. For example, a page devoted to listing all the books I plan to read might end up being two or three pages.
  • A good size for lap writing, like in a car or plane.
  • Big enough to have some history. A book might last 6 months or more, if I don’t draw much.
  • Won’t fit in many pockets, but will fit some. An outside suit jacket pocket will likely be ok, but not inside.
  • Better behaved in a briefcase or other bag, but it can still move around, rotate, etc.
  • Painful to have devoted one to a single purpose, and end up not using it.

Full size notebooks – 8″x10″ and larger

  • Not going to fit in a pocket.
  • Stays where you put it in a bag.
  • Doesn’t feel silly to carry by itself.
  • Doesn’t look sill on a conference room table.
  • Not always good for lap writing, especially in cramped quarters.
  • Harder to find.
  • It feels less private. I don’t know why, since my writing is the same size, but I feel like it’s easier for the person next to me to read.
  • I can write in large letters, lots of room for diagrams.
  • Seems more likely to be available in larger page counts.
  • Hold letter size sheets without folding, but many “full size” books are 8×10, which means a sheet overhangs.
  • More expensive. A pocket size book might be $10-12 for a premium brand. A full size book might be $30. Although the price per square inch of writing area is probably a better deal on the larger book.
  • A single page is large enough for many purposes, without worry that more pages will be needed.

Bigger is better for the journal, so far

My experience has been that while the pocket size books are very attractive, as soon as I went to the mid size I couldn’t go back to pocket. I tried, but it was just too cramped. Three to five words on a line makes it hard to write coherently. Now I’ve gone up to an A4 (actually a little larger), and I wonder if I will be able to go back to a mid size again.

For other purposes I think full size books are too big and expensive, and too much to haul around. However, I’m finding that I’ve rolled at least one of my special purpose books into the large journal – I no longer freewrite in a separate book. An average freewriting exercise is at most two pages, so it’s not taking up much of the book. I also haven’t replaced the mid-size (their size large) Leuchtturm1917 Jottbook that I’d been using for blogging material now that it’s full, and have been writing those things in my journal instead.

For the first time in several years I’ll be traveling with the family, and that means I will be using my journal in a lot of new situations and carrying it around a lot more. I haven’t done this with a big book before, and I’m not certain whether I will end up still loving it or hating it.

What size have you settled on, and how did you get there?

18 comments… add one
  • Jesse March 23, 2012, 8:22 am

    My main notebook is a medium size Moleskine. I got over actually liking the brand some time ago, but I had stocked up on these and am still working my way through the pile…what I do like is the size, I find the ~5×8 to be big enough to get entire trains of thought out on one page, but it still fits in any bag I might be using. Once I go through the remaining Moleskines, I’ll be on the lookout for a similarly sized notebook, but hope to find one with better paper for using a fountain pen.

    • Steve March 24, 2012, 7:38 am

      Hi Jesse,

      5×8 is a pretty sweet size. Its portability is what makes it so nice.

      I wish you luck on finding paper that will reliably take any fountain pen and ink, and will be found in a notebook. Try the paper from Stillman and Birn – some might consider it card stock, but if your pen bleeds through that stuff, it’s the pen, not the paper 😎

  • Aisazia March 23, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Lately my go-to paper size is 5×8 but I use the pocket(notes and such) and larger size(long length writing/diagrams) as well. It’s convenient to carry around and is large enough for me to write or brainstorm on. Need to use different sizes to see which I prefer. lol I don’t seem to go through them fast enough.

    • Steve March 24, 2012, 7:42 am

      Hi Aisazia,

      Oh, do I know that feeling! It’s very hard for me to change notebooks mid stream unless there’s a very good reason. I really, really like having as much history with me as possible because I go back to old entries a lot. Small notebooks make that hard, but changing books makes it impossible.

      So, I feel I have to wait until the book is full. I remember when I first started journaling it just killed me to have to wait. Now I actually start writing less (I think, haven’t actually measured it) when I get to the end of a book, now that I’m better at choosing books I like.

  • N. Booker, Esq. March 24, 2012, 12:22 pm

    I think the choice is more complicated for men (at least, men that don’t carry a “man bag”). I carry soft cover pocket-size notebook in a leather cover, because I can fit it in a front pocket easily, and thus ALWAYS have it with me, unless I’m swimming. I don’t need to record much in it: Random thoughts I have on the go, sort shopping lists, and the like. Since I don’t use it for work, the largest papers I have ti put in it are usually receipts, prescriptions, etc.

    I might like to carry a personal/work/journaling notebook with me all the time, but for that I would need something larger, and I just know that if I carried something too large to fit in my pocket, I’d lose it because I would set it down (while shopping, for instance), and forget to pick it back up.

    I use larger notebooks at work (since I can carry them in my briefcase) or leave them at the office.

    • Steve March 24, 2012, 2:31 pm

      The issue of carrying the book around is what I’m interested to see on an upcoming vacation. I usually carry a bag of some sort, even more with kids, but a 9×12 notebook needs a pretty large bag.

      I carry a briefcase to work, and I don’t carry my journal everywhere I go so size has not been an issue so far.

      I’m going to bring a few different books along, to see which works best.

  • Kevin K March 27, 2012, 7:15 pm

    I have moved to B5 for notebooks that I write in. It’s just between medium and large, and works for me. Get them from Jetpens or Muji.

    • Steve March 28, 2012, 5:58 am

      Hi Kevin – thanks for the comment. Is there are particular brand you like?

      • Kevin K March 28, 2012, 10:40 am

        Steve,

        I really like Muji a lot. They are very inexpensive, but they look professional AND they work with a fountain pen. I have very little trouble with feathering at all. Amazing little books.

        • Steve March 28, 2012, 11:23 am

          Kevin – just had a look. Those are some interesting books. Very reasonably priced as well. How do they hold up?

          • Kevin K March 29, 2012, 8:09 am

            Beautiful. I actually use them to create journals for my kids, to give them when they grow up. They aren’t archival quality, obviously, but I’ve had great luck with them.

  • Eric May 15, 2015, 9:44 pm

    I can’t find the comments to this post. They seem hidden on my iPad.

  • Sarah July 27, 2015, 12:00 pm

    You seem to be overly concerned with looking silly. What others think of the size of your notebook (or anything else for that matter) is their concern.

    • Steve Duncan October 11, 2015, 7:24 am

      Well, I am and I’m not. The only place I get concerned is at work. In the modern corporate office small details can get analyzed and hashed about, and one never knows where that kind of crap can lead.

      However, in June I started a new job within the company, and I’m less concerned now.

  • Susana August 18, 2015, 4:37 am

    I’ve used all sizes possible, from a 200 page giant sized sketch book to a normal sized notebooks. No notebooks with brand, I just look for something that is bound and that will withstand all kinds of things glued to them (photos, tickets, wedding invitations). I don’t decorate much and I love using simple gel pens (I run through them too quickly).
    After some time I got tired of the weight of my journals, and whenever I decided I’d go to write out, it was the main reason to go digital.
    At first I used a video camera, then a computer (program called Evernote) but storing and safekeeping those journals was very difficult. A lot of footage was simply lost, and sometimes I couldn’t work offline.
    I was first deciding on a pocket soft cover Moleskine, then on a Ciak pocket, when I run into the Midori Passport. I’m still not settled. All I can tell you is that I no longer want to carry a lot of weight, otherwise it’ll stay home.
    The Midori has the advantage of carrying several inserts at once. But having so little pages is discouraging, each insert would last me a month or so, a fortune on inserts.
    Thoughts would be appreciated. One Moleskin pocket every six months is a good compromise. I don’t write every day, just when something is bugging me or there’s something important to record.

  • Pets October 11, 2015, 5:07 am

    I really love the Bespoke Goods Notebooks. Those are amazing leathers!

    • Justin White October 14, 2015, 12:38 pm

      Hmm… Just looked these up. Not a fan of the over stuffed looking leather note book. Call me tasteless, leather note books do nothing for me.

  • Justin White October 14, 2015, 12:35 pm

    I use Medium, ~5×8 Moleskine’s just because they’re almost always available at the art store I frequent. I actually have a large leuchtturm and I hardly use it because it’s so damn big. Less private, looks ridiculous in a conference room, and it’s just too damn big. Medium Moleskine or Leuchtturm, my go-to notebooks.

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