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Diary Vs Journal: What's the Difference?

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The main difference between a diary and a journal is the format in which the entries are written. In a diary, an entry follows a certain system or structure to keep track of day-to-day activities. On the contrary, a journal entry is more personal, free, loose, and random. The two get interchanged more often but there are quite a number of differences that separate one from the other.

What is a Journal?

What a personal Journal may look like: a summary of ideas and thoughts

A journal is a record of personal experience and ideas. In a journal, a person could write anything under the sun. Ranging from doodles to scribbles, a person can put anything in it because it is private. A journal is a free space wherein a person can jot down extremely honest thoughts, wildly creative ideas, or just sketches of random figures. There are no exact rules or themes that one has to follow when writing a journal. People can freely express their thoughts and opinions honestly.

In a journal, one can map out or explore ideas further. It is a creative outlet for people who need clarity and space to assemble pieces of ideas for the desired outcome. A journal can help a person keep records of their own thoughts, experience, and memories.

What is a Diary?

The Diary of Renia Spiegel, a Holocaust victim

A diary is an organized record of day-to-day happenings. In a diary, a person could write routines and activities to keep track of certain information. A person can write or record important data in an organized, structured, and systematic way in a diary. This manner of writing is done to ensure easy and accurate tracking of a detail. For example, a person can track sleeping schedules and patterns, expenses, weight loss journeys, and other quantifiable information that the writer wants to understand and discover more of.

In a diary, a person follows a certain format. A person should write dates, timestamps, quantities, and measurements to ensure tracking of day-to-day activities. For example, if a person wants to keep a diary for daily water intake, a page should contain the date, the time and intervals between drinking water, and so on.

Differences Between a Diary and a Journal


Technically, diaries and journals are both personal, but diaries are more detail-oriented than journals. In diaries, a lot of factual information can be seen in the entries, like time and dates, measurements, intervals, meeting agendas, places, etc.

Journals, on the other hand, lean towards the creative output. In a journal, a person could express, vividly or vaguely, thoughts and ideas freely. For some, journals are a safe haven. This is because a person can be truly honest in writing personal opinions here.


In a diary, an entry must follow a format to accurately keep tabs on certain information. This is to ensure the accuracy and validity of the information that a person is keeping an eye on. As for the format itself, there are no standardized guidelines on how a person should write a diary. But the information has to be quantifiable and measurable.

A journal is a blank canvas. Anything can be put in a journal. Scribbles, doodles, a lovely distant memory, poems, or even song lyrics. A journal is a private and personal creative space wherein a person can be real and honest. The only limit is the writer’s imagination.

Frequency of Entries

Again, both in journals and diaries, there are no rules or guidelines to be followed. So, it is up to the person how often the entries are written. However, writing a diary is a routine. Diaries should be at a regular interval. It doesn’t matter if the entries are written every day or every week. It should be done methodically and periodically to maintain the consistency of the data being tracked.

Entries don't have to be done regularly in a journal. A person can write without pressure and only when has the urge to. After all, journals are outlets for creativity, and creativity comes naturally.

Types and Examples

There are no official or arbitrated examples of journals and diaries. In fact, they are kind of private. So, people use journals and diaries for personal purposes. However, there are some common uses for each.

Since diaries are meant to track data, they are very helpful in recording details about a routine. Some examples would be dietary plans, symptoms of an illness, sleeping schedules, and so on. On the other hand, journals can be a compilation of experiences, opinions, thoughts, or drafts for a personal writing project.

Comparison Chart: Diaries Vs Journals

Layout and PresentationSystematic, organized, detail-orientedFree, random, no formal organization
ContentImportant details, dates, measurements, quantities, factual dataUnbiased, honest, creative outlet (doodles, diagrams, scribbles, sketches, etc.) 
Frequency of EntriesRegular intervalsUnscheduled, based on impulse or urge to write
ExamplesFitness diary, food diary, gratitude diary, and so onWritten thoughts and experiences, motivational quotes, song lyrics, and others

Similarities Between Diaries and Journals

Both journals and diaries are personal records of the goings-on in a person’s life. They can both be used to write down important events to serve as reminders. For example, a mood tracker can be done in a diary or in a journal. A mood tracker can be presented in a systematic, detail-oriented way or a narrative, conversation-type entry.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better, a diary or a journal?

It really depends on the person and the intention of recording. If a person wants to have a creative outlet, a safe haven, wherein there are no constraints of formatting and frequency, a journal is ideal. But if a person wants to record in-depth, detailed, and quantifiable amounts, surely, a diary is much better.

What about Scientific Journals?

Scientific journals are written by researchers and experts for re-analyses of research, opinion in certain areas of studies, and dissertations. Hence, Scientific Journals are the exploration of ideas, explanation of a concept through information. That’s why they are called journals.

Is the Diary of Anne Frank really a diary?

Again, there are no official rules when it comes to categorizing the manner of recording information or events. However, since the book is talking about personal experience, it is slightly more of a journal than a diary. But again, both are interchangeable.


Recording personal information and experiences is a good practice to understand oneself. Diaries or journals, both can be used to understand and keep track of a person’s daily life. After all, the intention of writing is more important than format and layout. 

Feel free to comment and discuss about the article in the comment space below if you have any information or remarks to add. If you think we made a mistake, you can also report it there.
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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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