Diary Versus Journal: What’s the Difference?

A journal is more than a synonym for a diary. This article compares the diary versus journal and explores the differences between both.

I’ve kept both digital and paper diaries and journals over the past 20 years or so. I’ve also read a lot of journals and diaries by famous authors to study their approaches.

Let’s dive in.

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What is Journaling?

Diary Versus Journal: What is the difference

The Oxford Dictionary describes journaling as kind of like a newspaper or magazine, a daily record of personal news or events.

It can be public, for example, blogging or vlogging. Journaling can also be private, exploratory and more in-depth, for example the Zettelkästen Method

It’s something you do in a password-protected file on your computer or even in a traditional paper-based journal. 

Typically journaling involves more than a record of daily events or daily routine. A good journaling practice also incorporates analysis of how you felt about a particular event or about what happened. 

Journaling is introspective. It involves your emotional reactions to events that occurred in your personal life, work, or relationships. 

Sometimes people engaged in journaling will simply free write about whatever comes to mind for 15 or 30 minutes.

What Should You put in A Personal Journal?

What should you put in a personal journal?
Good journaling practice also incorporates analysis of how you felt about a particular event

The answer depends on how public or private your journal is.

You can journal about a book you read or a film you watched and what it meant to you. 

Or you could write about whether you agreed or disagreed with the ideas in the book or the film. Some like to write about what a piece of music or art meant to them. 

Journaling is a type of meditative or mindful activity. You wake up early in the morning, sit down at your desk in front of a journal and write for 15 or 30 minutes about whatever comes to mind. 

It’s kind of like exorcizing of your demons and getting negative thoughts out of your head and onto the blank page before moving on with the day.

You can also use journaling as a type of record or a logbook. For example, when I was training for the Dublin City Marathon a few years ago, I kept a training journal. 

I recorded each of my training runs, how far I ran and what my pace was. I also wrote a short entry reflecting on how these training runs went and what I could do better next time around.

A journal is useful for exploratory writing practice. If, for example, you’re writing a book about a challenging topic, you could use journaling to explore the idea and your thoughts about it. 

If you’re unsure, ask yourself open-ended questions and see where the blank page takes you. Some people also like to doodle or write poetry in a paper journal and see where their creative mind takes them.

What Is A Diary?

What is a diary?
Diary can be used to keep track of what you did, when and with who

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a diary is basically a book within which you keep a record of daily experiences. 

Diaries are usually private, and the most famous example of a diarist is Anne Frank.

I’d argue the Diary of Anne Frank is more like a journal despite the title. It contains lots of reflective writing. You probably already have a diary, whether you use one or not. 

Your Google Calendar or Outlook Calendar represents a type of diary. It contains a general record of how you’re spending the week and with who, as well as what you did or plan to do.

Basically, a well-kept diary these days is a snapshot of a daily routine.

What Should You put in A Diary?

It depends on whether you’re keeping your diary in a digital tool, in a calendar app, or using a traditional yearly planner or diary. 

You can use a diary to plan. You can also use a diary to share your working week with others.

For example, you could record your kids’ and partners’ birthdays and dates for holidays and other big life events. If you work as part of a team, chances are team members share their work diaries to plan meetings and agendas.

You can also use a diary to keep track of what you did, when and with who. Later on, review these old diary entries to see how you spent your time during a given week, month, or year. 

It’s also a good tool for a weekly review.

Diary Versus Journal: The Final Word

The terms diary and journal are used interchangeably. That said, there’s a subtle difference between a diary and a journal. 

A journal is introspective and reflective, whereas a diary is a record of events. If you’re serious about journaling, I’d recommend using a dedicated journaling app like Day One or a password-protected file on your computer. 

It’s best to use a digital diary that works with the tools you use every day, e.g. Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar. 

A journal and a diary will help you keep track of how and when you’re spending your time and even become a better writer.

Journaling Resources

The Best Journals to Buy

How to Write a Journal

Adam Jelic interview, the creator behind MiGoals journals

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.