Should we take notes in a simple text file or should we take it in a fancy Excel sheet?

How can we take effective notes that can be helpful while revisiting a testing module or application?

  • 2
    Seems like a reasonable question to me, not sure why so many downvotes and close votes.
    – c32hedge
    May 28, 2019 at 13:02
  • 1
    I didn't feel like the question was answerable, as it wasn't a "here is my problem, what is the solution" type question... but your post has proven me wrong! Retracted.
    – dvniel
    May 28, 2019 at 14:05
  • 1
    This is a valid question, Note taking can be a very important underrated skill for a QA so... Retracted Jun 7, 2019 at 8:14
  • A simple notepad never disappointed me. May 29, 2020 at 17:17

6 Answers 6


It really comes down to who is consuming the information contained in your notes and what that information will be used for. If your testing found a bug, for example, you would likely want to write up steps to reproduce, information about your environment, and other information that would help find and fix the bug. If you are reporting on what you tested to management, you might jot down things you tested, things you didn't test, and potential problems you found. If the notes are for your own purposes, another thing you might want to include are ideas for future testing.

As for format, again, it really comes down to what is most helpful for you and your consumers. If you find that an Excel spreadsheet or some other template is helpful for organization, by all means, use it! On the other hand, if there isn't a need for a lot of formal documentation, you might find it's better to keep it simple and find a format that provides value without imposing a lot of documentation burden.

Here are a couple of resources that might be helpful:

  • 1
    I think you hit the most important point for format. If the information you gather winds up in a place that isn't useful for people consuming it then you're limiting its usefulness. How a tester take their notes before this point is whatever makes the most sense for them.
    – Cherree
    May 28, 2019 at 13:39

Should we take notes in a simple text file or should we take it in a fancy Excel sheet?

I am used to carrying a notebook with me, it's my childhood practice. I believe as a human being I can't remember every point, I discussed with the teammates. I have all the things with me like a personal digital assistant, laptop, desktop, Personal Server, personal cloud, smartphone, etc. Then why use notebooks?

  • They are portable & easy to have consistently available.
  • They never crash.
  • They never forget to auto-save.
  • They remember my mistakes.
  • They don't have batteries.
  • You don’t have to turn them On/Off.

How can we take effective notes that can be helpful while revisiting a testing module or application?

When I take notes, I keep a few points in my mind.

  • Never believe that you can remember any small point.
  • Don't write down every single word.
  • Focus on important points.
  • Be a good listener/reader.
  • Use abbreviations or short-hand writing.
  • Use multiple colours of different context.
  • Revise your notes as early as possible.
  • Be consistent on key points & topic.
  • Forget spelling and grammar.
  • Duplicate notes are allowed.

How can a software tester improve their note-taking skills while doing exploratory testing?

Excel provides helpful structure. Note books have the advantages Nitin has outlined.

In terms of improving note-taking skills beyond those two factors:

  • Consider using a voice recorder plus voice transcribing software (which has improved greatly)
  • Have a quick way to do screenshots. Use desktop integration that automates cloud uploads
  • Use a tool that lets you mark up ('draw on') screenshots with arrows, circles, underlines, etc
  • Learn the business domain well so that notes reflect it when you use them to communicate
  • Consider using markdown format which is simple for plain text editing with formatted output
  • Use a cloud storage solution for notes, e.g. dropbox, so you can access one truth anywhere
  • Ask a friend to review. Just like code, notes can improve by learning from others input
  • Avoid IDEs or non-plain text solutions that will 'require' you to use a specific product
  • Consider maintaining a wiki with guidelines and examples for exploratory testing
  • Create a file structure that will allow you to categorize information over time
  • Proofread and edit your notes several times to improve their quality
  • +1 for explaining the usage of digital notes. Jun 13, 2019 at 3:16

As for format, again, it really comes down to what is most helpful for you and your consumers

That is true! For us we had some struggle with our customers. Because the customer was complaining that testing was not "visible" within the department. Hence we decided also to add exporatory testing but with Kanban Board (at the same time it was also our bug board)to make testing team more visible.

In our case we used the way as described below:

  • We made notes - not in excel - just on simple small papers. The steps had the similiar procedure as in Elisabeth Hendricksons article Eploratory Testing in an agile context. The testing team was also visible in somehow a "testing war room" where we also created a Kanban board. All our test cases were visible on a big board. This was good for management, so we could explain what we did after the session. During the test week (we tested before Go-Live and after Go-Live just to doublecheck) we discussed our learnings.

How did we wrote the test scenarios? We actually adapted the idea & suggestions from Elisabeth:

Explore area with resources to discover information (source: Elisabeth Hendrickson) Explore a story, feature, area or system with resources, constraints, heuristics or other features to discover information (also source: Elisabeth Hendrickson)

This means that we didn't write to0 specific test cases in our notes. Like "Exploring the webshop (payment system) with german customer to discover if his profile has the descripton "Herr" instead of "Mr" (somehow like that)

Furthermore we

  • We considered the idea from Lisa Crispin and made a mapping. Example mapping exploratory testing So we added and expanded our Kanban board and we had several small notes on our board. Afterwards we deciced which test cases should be considered for regression testing. This was a good lesson, because we involved all our testers and surprisingly this also established the team work between testers. Furthermore the management was curious about that and were also impressed about our lessons which we learned.

  • A screenshot capture & replay tool called FastStoneCapture helped us to create screenshots when the test steps (or bugs) during eploratory testing procedure was not clear

  • Later we added our exploratory test sessions with a tool called Tricentis, here we were able to capture all our test steps and it even created a test case and screenshots. This was very helpful also for bugs which temporarily appeared and disappeared (we got some problems testing with different browsers

Text files and Excel sheets are fine, as long as you have an agreement with all the members of your team on the format. Definitely not the notebook - it’s extremely inconvenient when someone needs to replace you in this task for any reason and has no access to steps you’ve done beforehand, especially in exploratory testing.

Do you use a QA management tool in your company? We use Practitest, and they have a module designed for exploratory testing specifically - you actually create notes there and manage them. You can add setup or leave a question for other members to answer, and, of course, to open bugs straight away during the process. Also you can add screenshots and other attachments to your notes, and since the tool is SaaS we still have access to them even now that we all work from home. That’s why we dedicate less time to the “art of making notes” because we can categorize them, and also there is a “Guide points” section in the module that can be saved for future reference.


When we are performing exploratory testing in a software qa company there are many areas that a tester validates. In-order to make effective notes, below-mentioned points can be useful:

  1. Write one liner test cases whenever a scenario is validated.
  2. Always focus on important functional areas first.
  3. Prioritize the notes i.g. critical, major, minor.
  4. Excel would be more useful as it provides rows and columns and helps in creation of tabular format.
  5. Screencast should be created for the notes that are scenario based and are unique.

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