Mynlo | Do You Write a Diary or a Journal? Stop Assuming and Know The Small Difference.

Do You Write a Diary or a Journal?

Stop Assuming and Know The Small Difference.

Updated: 27/03/2019

Diary = Journal = Confusion

There exist many notions out there how a diary differs from a journal. What is mainly said is that these two terms are interchangeable. Then other people believe, the main difference to be, that a diary is something that girls keep and a journal is the equivalent medium for boys. Others assume that a diary is personal and a journal is more technical. Perhaps, you heart that a journal is on a more emotional level and a diary is fact driven, or was it the other way around? If you are starting to get confused, you are not alone.

I thought there should be an easy way to distinguish the two words. In my search for the truth, I resorted back to take a look at what a dictionary of reputation thinks about this question.

Following the meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary:

A diary is a book in which one keeps a daily record of events and experiences.

synonyms journal, memoir, chronicle, log, logbook, weblog, blog, vlog, day-by-day account, daily record, history, record, moblog; daybook

A journal has two meanings according to the same dictionary:

1. A journal is a newspaper or magazine that deals with a particular subject or professional activity.

synonyms periodical, publication, magazine, gazette, digest, professional organ, review, newsletter, news-sheet, bulletin

2. A journal is a daily record of news and events of a personal nature; a diary.

synonyms diary, day-by-day account, daily record, log, logbook, weblog, blog, vlog, moblog, yearbook;

You can see that a diary overlaps with a journal and are also referred to as synonyms in both instances. A journal can have a broader meaning. The term is used often in professional publications and magazines. This doesn't help us a lot. When you start writing a diary or a journal your intent is to write personal thoughts in it and both these words can be used to describe your writings in this form. I didn't start my journal with the motif to create a newsletter out of it. I wanted to keep it secret. There must be a difference that makes more sense.

How about the roots of a diary and journal?

Okay. A deeper search has to be made. The past is always a good source to find the beginnings of something. I searched for the meaning of diary and journal in old languages and made a find in the dead but still used, in some circles, the language of Latin.

Following are the meanings of the words journal and diary in Latin according to the Etymology Dictionary.

journal (n.)

mid-14c., "book of church services," from Anglo-French jurnal, from Old French jornel, "a day; time; a day's travel or work" (12c., Modern French journal), properly "that which takes place daily," noun use of adjective meaning "daily, of the day," from Late Latin diurnalis "daily," from Latin dies "day."

The meaning "book for inventories and daily accounts" is from late 15c. in English (14c. in French); that of "personal diary" is c. 1600, also from a sense developed in French. Meaning "daily publication" is from 1728. Classical Latin used diurnus for "of the day, by day," and also as a noun, "account-book, day-book."

diary (n.)

1580s, "an account of daily events, a journal kept by one person of his or her experiences and observations," from Latin diarium "daily allowance," later "a journal," neuter of diarius "daily," from dies "day"

Sense of "a book with blank leaves or dated pages meant for keeping a daily record of events" is from c. 1600. Related: Diarial; diarian.


Oh yeah, this made it all clear :) At some point reading about the etymology of a journal, I thought I was reading about the roots of the word diary. This was a dead end, but I will not give up the quest until I succeed at offering an easy answer to explain it all. I could say at this point, to call your writings however you like. Touche, some things can't be explained and this is one of those things. I'm a grown-up Man and think this task is in my powers. So hold on.

How do they differ?

My journey to find a solution, brought me to read comments, articles and common beliefs about this question. After my research was done I found a small but defining difference. Both words can be used interchangeably and have been used to record daily events. I will layout each of those terms, describing the purpose they are fulfilling and perhaps you will detect the small difference too.

What is a diary?

A diary serves as a log book of daily events and thoughts as they happen and is often arranged by date. You can track data in a more disciplined way because you write daily in it. You record moments answering to "what" happened on this day. You are saving for future use what you have done today and what you will do tomorrow to follow your present action.

What is a journal?

A journal doesn't need to be recorded daily to fulfill its effectiveness. You write in it notable experiences and expand further on them, describing your associated feelings and reactions. Your journal has usually a deeper purpose and is often divided into specific topics, like a travel journal, gratitude journal, dream journal and so on. It answers your question, "what" activity took place and "why" it did. You are keeping alive what happened on that day and why it made you feel, gathering not only the event but also your opinion and deeper thoughts about the event.

A diary and a journal are terms that overlap on each other. In the end, a journal is a diary in some sense but isn'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. It adds another dimension to what happened in your day, by giving an explanation to why you decided to approach things in such a way.

Is there really a difference in real life?

How about real life? Do people prefer to use one word over the other or do we observe the same neutrality? A diary has a more childish reputation, in contrast, a journal has a more professional touch. Both observations come from my gut feeling, which gets confirmed when searching for the most popular keywords combinations. For a diary, some of the usual upcoming search results are, "the diary of a teenage girl", "the diary of a wimpy kid", "the diary of Anne Frank". For a journal at the top you will find, "scientific journal", "index journal", "start a journal today", "big life journal" and so on.

The 5 year trend for the keyword "journal" on the Google Trend page is as follow:

We can observe a recent decline in searches with the keyword "journal", but the popularity is hovering around the 62 marks. We have also to consider here the broader meaning of the word, which could be also searched for professional publications. So, without knowing exactly how much people are looking for each distinct meaning, I will just divide it by 2 which gives us an average search preference in the 31 marks.

What about the same time span for the keyword "diary"?

This is an interesting result. The keyword "diary" has been searched over the years about the same, retaining a pretty average graph around the 30 marks. There has been an uncharacteristic peek during the end of March 2017 timeframe, but it doesn't hold on for long. We see, that in another area, these two words are in comparison close to each other, without any of the two getting a bigger separation.


I hope to have helped you realize the small difference between the two words. Whatever you decide to call your book, it will not matter much. Writing a diary or a journal is a personal and private act. You can go by the letter and distinguish between the two depending on whether you write solely about the what's or if you elaborated additional to the why's. You have to feel comfortable either way, in calling your book a diary or a journal.


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How to Write a Diary - Your Guide to Mastering a Long Diary Writing Career

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