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Personal journal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A diary or journal is a book for writing discreet entries arranged by date reporting on what has happened over the course of a day or other period. Such logs play a role in many aspects of human civilization, including governmental, business ledgers, and military records.

Diaries by type and function

Diaries run the spectrum from business notations, to listings of weather and daily personal events, through to inner exploration of the human psyche, a place to express one's deepest self, or record one's thoughts and ideas.

Some use the words "diary" and "journal" interchangeably while others apply strict differences to journals, diaries and the practice of journaling (dated vs. undated, inner focused vs. outer focused, sporadic entries vs. regular entries, etc.). While traditionalist preferred the use of the term diary, the current preference (based on book and article titles) is to use the word "journal." The phrase "journaling" is often used to describe such hobby writing, similar to the term "scrapbooking."

Some diarists think of their diaries as a special friend, even going so far as to name them. For example, Anne Frank called her diary "Kitty". There is a strong psychological effect of having an audience for one's self-expression, a personal space, or a "listener," even if this is the book one writes in, only read by oneself. Friedrich Kellner, a justice inspector in the Third Reich, thought of his diary as a weapon for any future fight against tyrants and terrorism, and he fittingly called his book "Mein Widerstand" - "My Opposition."

More than 16,000 diaries have been published since book publishing began. See List of diarists.

Additionally, the diary is a popular form for works of fiction. See List of fictional diaries.


The word diary comes from the Latin diarium ("daily allowance", from dies, "day", more often in the plural form diaria). The word journal comes from the same root (diurnus, "of the day") through Old French jurnal (modern French for day is jour).

The oldest extant diaries come from East Asian cultures, pillowbooks of Japanese court ladies and Asian travel journals being some of the oldest surviving specimens of this genre of writing. The 9th century scholar Li Ao, for example, kept a diary of his journey through southern China.

Sales of "page a day" diaries go back hundreds of years (Letts, for example, is over 200 years old). At first, most of these books were used as ledgers, or business books. Samuel Pepys is the earliest diarist that is well known today, although he had contemporaries who were also keeping diaries. (John Evelyn for one.) Pepys also was apparently at a turning point in diary history, for he took it beyond mere business transaction notation, into the realm of the personal.

Until, it seems, around the turn of the 20th century, with greater literacy and industrialization throughout the globe, particularly the Western world, diary writing was mostly limited to the members of the higher social classes. In the West, at least, a high proportion of historical and literary figures from the Renaissance to the 20th century seem to have kept a diary. (see List of diarists)

Tristine Rainer's 1978 The New Diary expanded awareness of diary-keeping as a literary genre, particularly among feminists. Acknowledging key figures in the resurgence of diary writing such as Carl Jung, Marion Milner, Ira Progoff and Anaïs Nin, she identified techniques that people use either spontaneously or have employed in their daily writing to explore themselves and their experience of the world. Rainer's idea, as expressed in the title, is that a diary is much more than a dry record of weather or daily events--it allows the writer to communicate deep and often spiritual realizations. Social historians were particularly interested in this, as it expanded greatly the number of historical texts available to them.

In the United States during the 1990's various K-12 educators used a variety of journals across subject areas to encourage and document student progress, including pre-literate picture journals and "math journals" to aid in developing mathematical concepts in an individualized way, in accordance with Lev Vygotsky's concepts of instructional scaffolding. Another popular adaptation of the diary is the personal use of time management tools such as the Filofax or Franklin Planner.


One of the most tempting things about diaries is that writing one is accessible to anyone with pen and paper. The only educational prerequisite is literacy. Proper spelling or grammar are not required; some of the most beautifully and powerfully-written published diaries were kept by persons who had neither. Some people describe feeling driven to keep a diary, often as a way to put their existence into perspective or to record witnessed or experienced injustice.

The word "diary" has fallen into disrepute in recent decades. The modern Western stereotype of a diary is a record kept by teenage girls, usually concerning such matters as school, parents, and immature attempts at romantic liaisons. For many years, the only inexpensive diaries on the market featured pastel covers with naively romantic cover art and flimsy locks and keys, thus perpetuating this illusion. However, this type of diary and the accompanying cultural associations did not exist until the 1940s. As of 2006, many people, particularly women, prefer the word "journal" so as to avoid this stereotype and to expand the diary's use beyond a mere catalog of events.

Keeping a record of one's daily life provides the diarist with a tool with which to "time travel" to times gone by, providing a snapshot of past thoughts, feelings, and life events. In this case, the diary or journal can be used not only as a tool to fuel nostalgia, but also as a cure for nostalgia; if one feels nostalgic for certain times gone by, then he or she may use the journal to see his or her perspective of those times as they were being experienced, perhaps casting light upon negative features that the diarist had previously overlooked due to idealism.


See also: List of writing techniques and List of books on diaries and journals

In the 1960s Ira Progoff pioneered the use of diaries in psychotherapy, publishing on his Intensive Journal Method in 1975. Rainer and Progoff's work helped to increase the use of journals in personal or psychotherapy, and a small library of books on various journal techniques, into the present day. The Intensive Journal Method is the most famous, but there are dozens, mostly building on techniques mentioned or described by Progoff and Rainer. Many of these books focus on using the journal or diary for "self-awareness", "finding your true self", and healing from any number of personal troubles (including physical illness and trauma). Popular among creative writers, several of these entered into the formal teaching of composition as "prewriting" techniques or adapted for notetaking.

Internet diaries

Main article: Online diary

As Internet access became commonly available, people adopted it as yet another medium with which to chronicle their lives, with the added dimension of having an audience (negating, to some, the very definition of diary). Apart from the odd tangent on USENET and posts to proprietary forums on the earliest Internet service providers, the first online diary is believed to be that of Carolyn Burke, which debuted on the web in January 1995. The number of people publishing web journals grew quickly; but, for some time, the practice was limited to people who had both Internet access and a familiarity with HTML. Several diverse communities of web diarists eventually developed.


Web-based services soon appeared to streamline and automate online publishing. But the great explosion in personal storytelling came with the emergence of weblogs, also known as blogs. While the format was first focused on external links and topical commentary, widespread weblog tools were quickly used to create web journals—though as of short, spontaneous entries rather than crafted essays. The weblog community was more naturally comfortable with networking and linking, creating a thriving online community. As had been the case in the web-diarist community, there were cliques and protests over a supposed A-list of authors. Like online journals, "personal weblogs" are frequently maligned in the broader weblog community as a form of "navel gazing".

Some weblog services are small and offer simply a way to publish one's writing, while others have become true communities offering opportunities for feedback and communication with fellow diarists.

A study of blogging in the United States, released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in July 2006, found that 12 million adults (8% of U.S. Internet users; 4% of the U.S. population) kept blogs, while 57 million adults (39% of Internet users) read blogs. Thirty-seven percent of bloggers used blogs as personal journals, but 50% said their major reason for blogging was to record their personal experience; 54% were under age 30; men and women used blogs equally; 60% were white, while 74% of all American users of the Internet were white.[1]

While many of users of these online communities are presumed to be teenage girls and young people (who perhaps see them as a way to keep their inner thoughts secret from their families while expressing and exploring their feelings and the experience of growing up), there is a fair amount of evidence that the stereotype is fading with the growing prevalence of journals and weblogs on the Internet.

Travel journals

Main article: Travel journal

A travel journal, or road journal, is an initialliy blank book carried by a traveler for the purpose of documenting a journey. Clippings, tokens, or tickets may be included as they are collected. The journal may also include notes written by acquaintances.

Workout journals

A workout journal, or exercise tracker, is a journal were one registers what kind of workouts one has done. One usually also writes down the length of workout and writes a comment about the workout. Workout journals can also be online; one might be able to share experiences and find new workout partners.


  • The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity by Tristine Rainer, 1978.

See also

  • Inventor's notebook
  • Escribitionist
  • List of writing techniques
  • List of books on diaries and journals
  • List of diarists
  • List of dream diaries
  • Long Now Foundation

External links

  • First web announcement of an on-line journal (The Semi-Existence of Bryon)
  • The Diary Junction - links for over 500 literary and historical diarists.
  • Journaling Tips - How to start and maintain a journal.
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