Diary vs. Journal: What's the Difference?

Updated on February 26, 2018
Room of My Own profile image

Sadie Holloway is a writer and artist who uses the power of journaling to bring more peace, serenity, and joy into her life.

Here's how to decide which style of notebook is best for you.
Here's how to decide which style of notebook is best for you.

Is there a difference between the two?

Many people think a diary is the same thing as a journal. However, there is a difference between the two.

  • A diary is a book to record events as they happen.
  • A journal is a book used to explore ideas that take shape.

Learn more about the characteristics of diaries and journals to find out which style is best suited to your needs.

Topic or Theme
What You'd Put in a Diary
What You'd Put in a Journal
Food, Cooking, and Nutrition
A record of the food you ate today and how it made you feel
Notes about new recipes you want to try
Fashion and Style
An itemized list of what you wore today
Magazine clippings and pictures of designer handbags you want to own one
Work and Career
Appointments, meetings, and tasks completed at work
Big picture career goals, dreams, and aspirations
Fitness and Exercise
A record of the day's physical activity
Notes about how to do certain yoga poses
Here are a few topical examples of the difference between what you'd put in a journal versus what you'd put in a diary
A diary is a record of what happened on a certain day.
A diary is a record of what happened on a certain day.

How do they differ?

These two words—diary and journal—are often used interchangeably, but there is actually a difference between the two. A diary is something that is more likely to be used every day to record specific things that happened on a specific day. It can be used to record feelings, moods, and emotions. A diary can also track data to help you make an important discovery. For instance, writing in a food diary might help you uncover the source of your migraine headaches. Tracking your exercise habits may help you make a connection between your mood and whether or not you were physically active that day.

The contents of a journal, on the other hand, aren't necessarily constrained by the dates on a calendar. Journals can include random thoughts, lists, ideas, pictures, doodles, memories, song lyrics, and anything else that comes to mind.

The chart below shows how the content of each type of book might differ based on various themes.

What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.

— Walter Scott
A journal is where you would keep design ideas, sketches, rough drafts, and notes.
A journal is where you would keep design ideas, sketches, rough drafts, and notes.

Should you choose a diary or a journal?

It depends on how disciplined you are. If you want to write every day no matter what, then choose a diary with dated pages. If you want to have a more organic creative experience, an un-dated journal or notebook would be better for you.

Does it really matter if there is a difference between a diary and a journal? No. It doesn't matter which format you choose, as long as it works for you and your needs. Writing, whether in a diary or in a journal, can help you organize your thoughts and help you feel more balanced. Scientists actually agree with this statement. A study published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists claims that expressive writing can result in overall long-term improvements in both a person's emotional and physical well-being.

Researchers also believe that writing on a regular basis makes you smarter! To learn about how a daily writing practice can enhance a student's academic performance, read The Brain-Based Benefits of Writing for Math and Science Learning.

Regardless of whether you choose to write about the past in a daily diary or dream about the future in a meditative journal, the act of taking time out of your day and focusing your attention on yourself for a while can have positive mental and physical health benefits.

There's no right or wrong in the journal vs diary debate. Whatever notebook format you prefer is the right one!
There's no right or wrong in the journal vs diary debate. Whatever notebook format you prefer is the right one!

Whether you're keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it's the same thing. What's important is you're having a relationship with your mind.

— Natalie Goldberg

Which do you prefer to use, a diary or journal?

See results

© 2016 Sadie Holloway


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    9 months ago

    I'm a bit surprised by this apparently definitively summed up differece between the two. The dictionary gives much more freedom for both terms

    Mine is mainly a diary but has, according to your definition, many journalistic attributes.

    I write about what I feel and I write about what happens. I write about what i think and about how, through the writing itself, that changes. I write short poems or lyrics to songs and sometimes I discuss and pursue ideas and draw little sketches.

    Why must it be either one the other?

  • profile image


    18 months ago

    Realized that more people prefer Journal to Diary. I am using iPhone app named MemAide (free) to do my Diary. Really convenient.

  • profile image


    21 months ago

    Well, let me see; Journal is for thoughts, ideas, and feelings; is a little bit confused because there is a song by Bread: Diary, in this song, tells about the girl´s feelings that express around a relationship with a guy. And this guy starts to read with a lot of surprises.

    Thanks for your time. Ahh! my language is Spanish, and I'm trying to learn English.

  • B. Leekley profile image

    Brian Leekley 

    4 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

    For an example of a journal, search Google Images on journal of Leonardo da Vinci. His was full of sketches and notes. Tony Buzan credited da Vinci with pioneering mind mapping.


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