Journal Writing: A Step-By-Step Guide for Beginners

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  • April 27, 2023

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Journal writing has been practiced for centuries, offering countless individuals a private space for self-expression, self-discovery, and personal growth. However, embarking on this journey can be daunting for many, especially if you are new to the world of journaling. That’s where this guide comes in, designed to help you navigate the ins and outs of journal writing and set you on the path to unlocking your inner world.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll explore different styles of journal writing, the benefits it can bring to your mental and emotional well-being, and the various tools and techniques available to make your journaling experience enjoyable and fulfilling. Whether you’re looking to improve your mental health, enhance your creativity, or simply document your life’s journey, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and inspiration needed to start and maintain a successful journal writing practice. So, grab a pen, a notebook, or your favorite digital device, and let’s begin our journey into the wonderful world of journal writing.

What is Journal Writing?

Journal writing is the practice of regularly recording thoughts, feelings, experiences, ideas, and observations in a personal, private, or semi-private format. Journal writing can serve various purposes, such as self-reflection , self-expression, self-discovery, personal growth, creativity, problem-solving, and stress relief.

People often use journal writing as a way to process emotions, explore personal goals, track habits, and document their lives. Journal writing can be done using physical notebooks, digital apps, or even voice recordings, depending on your preferences and needs. The act of journal writing encourages introspection, mindfulness, and a deeper understanding of oneself, making it a valuable tool for personal development and well-being.

“Writing in a journal gives me a place to report, interpret, argue, reflect, save, question, predict, unload, praise, compare, cry, laugh, draw, paint, and remember.” — Luci Swindoll

The Many Forms of Journal Writing

Journal writing can take many forms, each with its unique purpose and approach. The beauty of journaling lies in its flexibility, allowing you to create a journaling practice tailored to your unique needs.

A scene of journal writing with a laptop and open notebook.

Personal Journals

Journaling is a personal form or self-expression, from the traditional diary to more specialized journals like gratitude or mood journals. Whether you’re looking to document your daily experiences, explore your dreams, or improve your mental health, there is a personal journal out there that can help you on your journey.

  • Diary: A diary is the most traditional form of journal writing, where a person records their daily experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a chronological format.
  • Reflective journal : This form of journal writing focuses on personal reflection, introspection, and self-analysis. Reflective journaling encourages you to consider your emotions, experiences, and personal growth by asking yourself questions and exploring your thoughts in depth.
  • Gratitude journal : A gratitude journal focuses on regularly documenting things one is grateful for, promoting a positive mindset and appreciation for life’s blessings.
  • Travel journal : Travel journals document experiences, memories, and reflections from trips and adventures, often including photos, ticket stubs, or other memorabilia.
  • Dream journal : These are used to record and analyze dreams, often to explore the subconscious mind or improve dream recall and lucidity.
  • Mood journal : Mood journals focus on tracking and understanding one’s emotions and mental state over time. By recording daily moods, thoughts, and triggers, individuals can gain insight into their emotional patterns, identify potential stressors, and develop effective coping strategies. Mood journals can be especially helpful for those dealing with mental health challenges, such as anxiety or depression.

an example of an art journal sketch

Creative Journals

Journaling can help boost creativity and provide an outlet for self-expression. Creative journals, in particular, offer a unique way to explore and develop your artistic abilities, ideas, and insights. Whether you’re an artist, writer, or simply looking to tap into your creative side, here are few journaling ideas to try:

  • Art journal: These journals combine visual art with written thoughts and reflections, allowing individuals to express themselves creatively through various media like drawing, painting, collage, or photography.
  • Idea journal: Idea journals serve as a collection point for creative thoughts, brainstorming sessions, and inspiration. They provide a dedicated space for individuals to jot down ideas, quotes, sketches, or concepts as they arise, fostering innovation and helping to connect disparate thoughts. Idea journals can be useful for artists, writers, entrepreneurs, or anyone seeking to capture and nurture their creative impulses.
  • Creative writing journal: A creative writing journal can help you explore your imagination and refine your writing skills. Whether you’re an aspiring novelist, a poet, or a blogger, a creative writing journal can help you develop your voice and hone your craft. From brainstorming sessions to character sketches, a creative writing journal is an essential tool for any writer looking to cultivate their creativity and improve their writing.

A creative writing journal example

Productivity and Self-Improvement Journals

Journaling can help you stay organized, focused, and motivated. Whether you’re striving for personal growth, professional success, or a healthier lifestyle, are are a few types of journals that can help you achieve your goals:

  • Bullet journals: A bullet journal is a customizable organization system that combines planning, note-taking, and goal-setting. It often uses symbols, lists, and trackers to help individuals stay organized and focused.
  • Goal-setting journals: These journals focus on journaling goals to set, track, and reflect on personal or professional goals, helping individuals maintain motivation and achieve success.
  • Habit trackers: Habit tracking journals are dedicated to monitoring and improving daily habits, such as exercise, sleep, or nutrition, to promote a healthier lifestyle.
  • Fitness journal : Fitness journals are designed to help individuals track, plan, and reflect on their physical activities and exercise routines. By documenting workouts, progress, and personal goals, fitness journals can provide motivation, accountability, and insights into one’s strengths and areas for improvement. They often include information on exercises performed, duration, intensity, and even subjective factors like energy levels and mood, supporting a holistic approach to fitness and well-being.
  • Reading journals: These journals track books read, favorite quotes, and personal reflections on the material, serving as a personalized reading history and source of recommendations.
  • Prayer or spiritual journals: These journals are used to document prayers, religious or spiritual experiences, insights, and personal growth in one’s spiritual journey.
  • Self-care journal : A self-care journal is a tool used to prioritize and reflect on one’s self-care practices. It can include a range of activities, such as setting self-care goals, tracking self-care habits, and exploring personal values and needs. By documenting self-care practices and reflecting on their effectiveness, individuals can improve their overall well-being and develop a stronger sense of self-awareness and self-compassion. Self-care journals can also include prompts or exercises that encourage individuals to practice self-care in creative and meaningful ways.

The Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Journal Writing

Journaling benefits include numerous psychological and emotional benefits that can contribute to an individual’s overall well-being. Here are some key advantages of maintaining a regular journaling habit :

Improved mental health

  • Stress reduction: Journal writing provides an outlet for individuals to express their thoughts and feelings, helping to release built-up tension and stress. This process allows for emotional catharsis and can contribute to a sense of calm and relaxation.
  • Anxiety management: Journaling for anxiety can help individuals to identify and explore the sources of their anxiety, enabling them to gain a better understanding of their triggers and develop effective coping strategies. Writing down anxious thoughts can also help to organize and rationalize them, making them feel more manageable.
  • Coping with depression: Journaling for depression can offer a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to explore and process their emotions, which can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with depression. It can also serve as a tool for tracking mood patterns and identifying potential areas of improvement or intervention.

Increased self-awareness and personal growth

  • Reflecting on emotions and thoughts: Journal writing encourages introspection, allowing individuals to delve deeper into their feelings and thought processes. This self-examination can lead to a better understanding of one’s emotions, beliefs, and motivations.
  • Gaining insights and understanding patterns: By regularly documenting experiences and emotions, individuals can identify recurring patterns in their behavior, relationships, and decision-making. Recognizing these patterns can provide valuable insights that guide personal growth and development.

Enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills

  • Boosting creativity through unstructured writing: Journal writing can stimulate creativity by providing a space for free, unstructured expression. By writing without restrictions, individuals can tap into their imagination and discover new ideas, perspectives, or solutions.
  • Identifying and working through personal challenges: Journal writing can serve as a powerful problem-solving tool, enabling individuals to analyze their difficulties, break them down into manageable components, and brainstorm potential solutions. This process can lead to greater self-awareness and resilience in the face of personal challenges.

Journal Writing Techniques: Mastering the Art of Self-Expression

As you embark on your journal writing journey, exploring various journaling techniques can help you unlock the full potential of self-expression. In this section, we’ll dive into a range of journal writing techniques designed to enhance your ability to communicate your thoughts, emotions, and experiences effectively. From freewriting or stream of consciousness writing to reflective journaling and creative writing exercises, these methods will empower you to express yourself authentically and confidently in your journal.

“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” — Christina Baldwin

There are various journal writing techniques that cater to different needs, preferences, and purposes. Here are some popular techniques to explore:

  • Daily log: This type of journaling serves as a personal account or log of one’s daily life, capturing events, emotions, and reflections in a structured and consistent manner. The daily log journal serves as both a historical record and a tool for self-reflection, allowing individuals to track their progress, habits, and emotional patterns over time.
  • Daily reflection : Through the process of daily reflection , you can encourage contemplation, providing an opportunity to explore your thoughts, emotions, and experiences on a deeper lever.
  • Freewriting: This journaling technique involves writing continuously without stopping to edit or censor your thoughts. Freewriting allows your thoughts to flow naturally onto the page, fostering self-expression and creativity.
  • Gratitude journaling: This common form of journal writing regularly documents the things you’re grateful for, focusing on positive aspects of your life. This technique can improve your overall well-being and foster a more optimistic mindset.
  • Guided prompts and questions: Using journal prompts or questions can help structure your writing and explore specific themes or topics. Prompts can range from simple (e.g., “What made me happy today?”) to more complex (e.g., “How have my past experiences shaped my current beliefs?”).
  • Creative writing exercises: Engaging in creative writing exercises, such as crafting short stories, poetry, or character sketches, can help you develop your writing skills and stimulate your imagination.
  • Lists and brainstorming: Creating lists or brainstorming ideas can help you organize your thoughts, set goals, or generate ideas for future projects or journal entries.
  • Stream of consciousness : Similar to freewriting, stream of consciousness writing involves capturing your thoughts, feelings, and mental images as they come to mind, without worrying about grammar or structure. This technique can help you tap into your subconscious and unveil deeper insights.
  • Mind mapping: This visual technique involves creating a diagram to represent ideas, tasks, or concepts. Mind mapping can help you explore connections between different thoughts and make sense of complex issues.
  • Art journaling: Combine visual art with written thoughts and reflections, using drawing, painting, collage, or photography to express yourself creatively.
  • Dialogue journaling: Write a conversation between yourself and another person, a fictional character, or even an aspect of yourself (e.g., your inner critic). This technique can help you explore different perspectives and better understand your emotions.

These are just a few journal writing techniques to try. Feel free to experiment with different journaling ideas to create a journaling practice that you enjoy.

A scene of a desk with an open journal notebook and journey entry on a computer

Journaling Writing: Step-by-Step

Writing in a journal is a personal and flexible process, but if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to get started, here are 8 steps to try:

Step 1: Choose a journal.

Your journaling experience should be comfortable and enjoyable, so selecting the right journaling tools and format can play an important role in building a consistent and rewarding journaling practice. Select a physical notebook or journal app for your journal writing that suits your preferences and needs. Choose writing tools, such as pens, pencils, or markers, that you enjoy using and that inspire you to write.

A person writes in a journal

Tips for choosing a journal:

  • Consider your writing style. A comfortable format will encourage you to write more often, so choose a journal with a layout that suits your writing style, whether you prefer lined, unlined, or dotted pages. Maybe you prefer to type instead of handwrite, or perhaps you’d rather dictate your journal entries, so consider exploring digital journaling options. Digital journaling can offer a variety of input methods, such as typing, voice-to-text, or even drawing with a stylus, allowing you to choose a method that best fits your preferences and makes journaling more enjoyable and accessible.
  • Choose a journal with high-quality materials. A well-made journal, with durable binding and paper that doesn’t bleed through, will make your journaling experience more enjoyable and ensure your writing stands the test of time.
  • Factor in size and portability. Consider how and where you’ll be using your journal. If you plan to carry it with you, opt for a smaller, lightweight journal. If you prefer to write at home or need more space, a larger journal may be more suitable.
  • Evaluate the aesthetic appeal. Choose a journal design that resonates with you personally. A visually appealing journal can inspire you to write more often and make your journaling practice feel more special.
  • Explore digital journaling options. If you prefer to write on a device, such as your laptop computer or phone, try a journaling app like Day One that offers features such as customizable templates, end-to-end encryption, daily prompts, and syncing across devices.

Step 2: Create a comfortable and inspiring writing environment.

Find a quiet, comfortable space where you can focus on your writing. Light a candle or turn on some music to set the mood and inspire creativity. Minimize distractions by turning off notifications on your phone or other electronic devices. Surround yourself with items that bring you joy or stimulate your senses, such as plants, inspiring artwork, or a cozy blanket. By crafting an inviting and personalized writing environment, you’ll be more motivated and inclined to immerse yourself in your journaling practice.

A person begins a new journal entry

Tips for creating a journal writing environment:

  • Keep your writing materials organized. Having an organized space with all your journaling tools easily accessible can help reduce distractions and maintain focus. Consider using a storage system or designated area for your journal, pens, and other materials to keep your space tidy and inviting.
  • Optimize lighting. Make sure your writing environment has sufficient lighting to avoid eye strain. Natural light is preferable, but if it’s not available, use a combination of ambient and task lighting to create a well-lit space that encourages focus and creativity.
  • Prioritize ergonomics. Ensure your writing setup supports a healthy posture. Use a comfortable chair, adjust the height of your desk or table, and position your writing materials at an appropriate angle to minimize strain on your body.
  • Engage your senses. Stimulate your creativity by incorporating elements that appeal to your senses. Use scented candles, essential oils, or incense to create a pleasant aroma, play soft background music or nature sounds to set the mood, and consider textures like a cozy blanket or a comfortable cushion to enhance your physical comfort. By engaging multiple senses, you can create a rich and immersive writing environment that sparks inspiration.
  • Embrace flexibility. Don’t feel confined to a specific space; try writing in different locations to find what works best for you. Consider writing during your commute, in a nearby park, or at your favorite coffee shop to keep your journaling practice fresh and engaging.

Step 3: Begin with a simple warm-up.

Start your journal entry by writing the date and a brief warm-up, such as a single sentence describing your current mood or a brief summary of your day. This initial warm-up helps you ease into the journaling process, clear your mind, and establish a connection with your thoughts and emotions, paving the way for a more focused and meaningful writing experience.

A person uses a laptop to do their journal writing

Tips for a simple journaling warm-up:

  • Set an intention. Begin your entry by setting an intention or goal for your journaling session. This can help clarify your thoughts and provide direction for your writing.
  • Find a quote or positive affirmation. Begin your journal entry with an inspiring quote or positive affirmation that resonates with you. You can find these in books, online, or through social media. Writing down a quote or affirmation can help shift your mindset into personal reflection and provide a starting point for further exploration of your thoughts and emotions.
  • Practice gratitude. Start your journal entry by listing a few things you’re grateful for. This helps set a positive tone for your writing session and encourages an appreciative mindset.
  • Engage in free-writing. Start your entry with a short, unfiltered burst of free-writing. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes and write down whatever comes to mind without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or structure. This exercise can help clear your mind and stimulate your creativity for the rest of your journaling session.

Step 4: Choose a topic, journal prompt, or template.

Decide on a subject or theme for your journal entry. Your journal writing topic could simply be a record of the day’s events or your memories of a recent personal experience. You may also want to explore a reflection, goal, idea, or delve into answering a journal prompt you found online or in a book. Your journal is a versatile space for self-expression and exploration, so feel free to experiment with different topics and templates to discover what resonates with you and best supports your personal growth and self-discovery journey.

An open journal

More ideas for your journal entry:

  • Reflect on your day. Start your journal entry by briefly summarizing the events of your day or describing one key moment that stood out to you. This can help you transition from the external world to your internal thoughts and emotions, and set the stage for deeper reflection and personal growth.
  • Use a journal prompt. If you’re unsure of where to start, consider using one of these 550+ journal prompts to guide your journal writing. Answering prompts can help you focus your thoughts and make it easier to write.
  • Reflect on a recent experience. Write a brief description of a recent event, interaction, or observation that had an impact on you. This can help you transition into deeper reflection and exploration of your emotions.
  • Write about how you feel in this moment. Use your journal entry to describe your current emotional state or physical sensations. Journaling about feelings is a method of self-reflection that can help you connect with your present state, creating an authentic starting point for your journaling session and encouraging deeper exploration of your emotions.

Step 5: Write freely and openly.

Allow yourself to write without judgment or self-censorship. Let your thoughts and emotions flow onto the page, using your chosen topic or prompt as a starting point. Remember that your journal is a private space for self-expression and exploration, and allowing yourself to freely and openly write often leads to surprising insights, revelations, and conclusions. By embracing the process without judgment or expectation, you can uncover hidden aspects of yourself, gain a deeper understanding of your emotions and experiences, and ultimately foster a stronger connection with your inner world.

A person reflects on their journal entry

Tips for writing freely and openly:

  • Embrace imperfection. Accept that your writing doesn’t need to be perfect, grammatically correct, or polished. Focus on expressing your thoughts and emotions rather than creating a flawless piece of prose.
  • Create a judgment-free zone. Remind yourself that your journal is a private, safe space for self-expression. Give yourself permission to express any thoughts or emotions without fear of judgment or criticism.
  • Use stream-of-consciousness writing. Allow your thoughts to flow naturally, writing whatever comes to mind without stopping to edit or analyze. This technique can help you uncover underlying emotions and ideas.
  • Set a timer. To encourage free and open writing, set a timer for a specific amount of time, such as 10 or 20 minutes. Commit to writing continuously until the timer goes off, focusing on getting your thoughts on the page rather than editing or perfecting your words.
  • Experiment with different writing styles. If you find yourself struggling to write freely, try using different writing styles or techniques, such as poetry, bullet points, or even doodling. By mixing things up, you can stimulate your creativity and bypass any mental blocks that may be inhibiting your self-expression.

Step 6: Reflect and review what you’ve written.

After completing your journal entry, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve written. Consider any insights, patterns, or emotions that have emerged during your writing session. This process of self-reflection can help you better understand your thoughts and feelings, as well as identify areas for personal growth or potential solutions to challenges you may be facing. By actively engaging with your writing and taking the time to reflect, you’ll enhance the overall impact of your journaling practice, making it a more valuable and transformative experience.

A person tracks habits in their journal

  • Ask questions. As you review your journal entry, ask yourself questions that encourage deeper self-reflection. For example, “What is the root of this emotion?” or “What can I learn from this experience?” Asking thought-provoking questions can help you gain new perspectives on your experiences and emotions.
  • Identify themes and patterns. Look for common themes or recurring topics that appear in your writing. These can be related to relationships, work, personal growth, or any other areas that you frequently write about. Identifying these themes can help you better understand what you value.
  • Summarize your insights. After reviewing your journal entry, write a brief summary of your key insights or takeaways. This can help you distill your thoughts and feelings into clear, actionable items that you can use to inform your personal growth and development.

Step 7: Close your journaling session.

Finish your journaling session by briefly summarizing your main takeaways or thoughts. This could be a sentence or two, or even just a word or phrase. You can also make a simple bulleted list of words, phrases, or key themes that emerged during your writing. This closing practice not only helps reinforce the insights and discoveries you made while journal writing, but also serves as a useful reference point for future journal entries, enabling you to track your personal growth and development over time.

Journaling on a laptop instead of a notebook

Tips to close your journaling session:

  • Summarize your thoughts. Take a few moments to reflect on your writing session and summarize your main thoughts or takeaways. This can help reinforce your insights and solidify them in your mind.
  • Create a bulleted list. Write down a list of key themes, emotions, or thoughts that emerged during your writing session. This can help you quickly reference and revisit important topics or insights in future journal entries.
  • Express gratitude. End your journal entry with a few words of gratitude or appreciation for the opportunity to reflect and explore your thoughts and emotions.
  • Close with a ritual. Develop a closing ritual or habit that signals the end of your journaling session. This could be as simple as closing your journal, taking a deep breath, or saying a mantra or positive affirmation. Establishing a ritual can help you transition out of your writing mindset and into your daily life.

Step 8: Make an appointment with yourself for your next journaling session.

Finally, make a commitment to continue your journaling practice by scheduling your next writing session. Choose a time and place where you can regularly dedicate a few minutes to journaling, whether it’s in the morning, evening, or during your lunch break. By setting aside time for yourself, you’ll be more likely to maintain consistency and reap the benefits of a regular journaling practice. Treat your journaling sessions as a sacred time for self-reflection and self-care, and you’ll find that the benefits extend far beyond the page.

A planner and schedule for journaling

Tips for building a regular journaling habit:

  • Start with a small time block. Begin with a manageable commitment, such as five minutes per day or a weekly writing session. Gradually increase the frequency or duration of your sessions as you establish a consistent practice.
  • Schedule your journaling time into your calendar. Treat your journaling time as a non-negotiable appointment with yourself by scheduling it into your calendar or planner. This can help you prioritize your practice and ensure that you make time for it each day or week, even on busy days. Set reminders or notifications to keep yourself accountable and motivated to stick to your commitment.
  • Find accountability. Share your journaling goals with a friend or family member who can hold you accountable and provide encouragement and support.
  • Celebrate your progress: Take time to acknowledge and celebrate your progress as you establish a regular journaling habit. Celebrating milestones or achievements can help you stay motivated and committed to your practice.

Overcoming Common Journal Writing Obstacles

Journal writing can be a rewarding and transformative practice, but it’s not without its challenges. In this section, we’ll discuss some common obstacles that journal writers face and offer practical strategies to overcome them.

1. Writer’s block

Writer’s block can strike at any time, leaving you staring at a blank page, unsure of what to write in your journal. Here are some tips to tackle writer’s block:

  • Use prompts. Journal prompts can provide a starting point for your journal entry and help get your creative juices flowing.
  • Set a timer. Try writing for a set period, such as 10 or 15 minutes, without worrying about the content. This can help you break through the initial barrier and get into the writing flow.
  • Change your environment. Sometimes, a change of scenery can help spark inspiration. Try journaling in a different location, like a park or a coffee shop.
  • Establish a routine. Regularly scheduled journaling sessions can help train your brain to be more receptive to writing during those times.

2. Perfectionism and self-criticism

Many journal writers struggle with the desire to create perfect entries and the tendency to critique their own work. Here’s how to overcome this obstacle:

  • Embrace imperfection. Remind yourself that your journal is a personal, private space for exploration and growth, not a polished piece of writing for public consumption.
  • Write freely. Allow yourself to write without censoring or editing your thoughts, focusing on self-expression rather than correctness.
  • Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself and remember that everyone makes mistakes. Acknowledge your imperfections and view them as opportunities for growth and learning.

Privacy concerns can be a significant obstacle for some journal writers, especially when sharing living spaces with others. Here are some strategies to safeguard your privacy:

  • Choose a secure location. Store your journal in a safe, hidden spot, such as a locked drawer or a personal safe.
  • Use a digital app or online journal. If you’re worried about someone finding your physical journal, consider using a password-protected digital app for your journaling. An app like Day One also offers biometric logins and end-to-end encryption so your journals are always safe.

4. Consistency

Maintaining a consistent journaling practice can be challenging, especially when life gets busy or motivation wanes. Here are some tips to help you stay consistent with your journal writing:

  • Set a schedule. Dedicate a specific time each day or week for journaling, and make it a non-negotiable part of your routine. This can help establish a habit and create a sense of accountability.
  • Start small. If daily journaling feels overwhelming, begin with shorter, more manageable sessions or write less frequently. Over time, you can gradually increase the duration or frequency of your journaling practice.
  • Join a community or find a journaling buddy. Engage with other journal writers, either online or in-person, to share experiences, tips, and motivation. Having a support network can help you stay accountable and inspired.
  • Be flexible. Give yourself permission to adapt your journaling practice to your changing needs and circumstances. If you miss a session, don’t stress about it—simply pick up where you left off and keep going!

A person journals at a desk

Journal Writing: More Inspiration, Ideas, and Prompts

Sometimes, all you need to jumpstart your journaling practice is a little inspiration. Here are a variety of ideas, prompts, and resources to spark your creativity and keep your journal writing fresh and engaging.

Journaling themes and topics to explore

  • Personal growth and self-improvement
  • Relationships and connections with others
  • Gratitude and appreciation
  • Fears, insecurities, and challenges
  • Dreams and aspirations
  • Travel experiences and cultural encounters
  • Work, career, or academic goals
  • Hobbies, interests, and passions

Creative journaling exercises

  • Write a poem or short story inspired by a recent experience or emotion.
  • Describe a fictional character you would like to meet or befriend.
  • Create a vision board in your journal, using images, drawings, or collages to represent your goals and dreams.
  • Craft a six-paragraph memoir that captures the essence of your life story.

Inspirational journal prompts

  • What is one thing I’ve always wanted to learn or try? What’s holding me back?
  • Describe a time when I felt truly proud of myself.
  • If I could have a conversation with my younger self, what advice would I give?
  • What are three things I’m grateful for today, and why?
  • How have my values and beliefs changed over time?
  • Write a letter to someone who has made a significant impact on my life.
  • Reflect on a challenging experience and the lessons I’ve learned from it.

Journal writing resources

  • “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron
  • “Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal” by Alexandra Johnson
  • “The Power of Writing It Down” by Allison Fallon.
  • Websites and blogs dedicated to journaling (like the Day One blog !), offering inspiration, tips, and prompts.
  • Social media communities, such as the Day One Facebook group or Day One Instagram account, where journal writers share their experiences and ideas.
  • Online courses and workshops focused on journaling and self-expression such as the International Association for Journal Writing and National Journal Writing Month .

Wrapping Up: Journaling Writing and Your Voyage Into the Interior

Keeping a journal can be one of the most meaningful and rewarding undertakings in your journey of personal growth and self-discovery. By committing to this practice, you create a safe space for introspection, reflection, and creative expression that will help you navigate the complexities of your inner world and foster a deeper understanding of yourself.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques and approaches—remember, your journal is a personal and evolving space for self-expression and exploration. Embrace the process, and allow yourself the freedom to learn, grow, and transform through the power of the written word. As you embark on this voyage into your own interior landscape, may your journal serve as a trusty companion, guiding you towards greater self-awareness, resilience, and personal fulfillment.

About the Author

Kristen Webb Wright is the author of three books on journaling. With a passion for writing and self-reflection, Kristen uses her experience with journaling to help others discover the benefits of documenting their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In her role at Day One, she helps to promote the power of journaling so people from all walks of life can experience the transformative power of journaling.

Photo of author and journaling expert, Kristen Webb Wright

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10 Journal Writing Guidelines for Students to Learn and Use

Do you want to use journaling with your students? Check out our expert journal writing guidelines for students to find success in your classroom.

In the classroom, journaling can be a valuable way to get students writing, even if they are reluctant writers. On the elementary level, student journals often have fun writing prompts that encourage kids to write when they might be reluctant. As students move through middle school and into high school, journaling becomes more detailed and specific, often asking students to reflect on topics read in class.

Either way, journaling can help develop critical thinking skills that can be useful for essay writing. For help with essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers . Here is a closer look at student journals and some guidelines to help students write them well.

What is a Journal for Students?

How do you write a good journal entry, 1. choose the journal type, 2. ignore strict grammar rules, 3. use a journal writing prompt, 4. spend time reflecting, 5. state a topic sentence, 6. write without stopping, 7. be truthful, 8. draw a conclusion, 9. practice regularly, 10. try different techniques, what are the types of learning journals, what’s the difference between a journal and a diary.

What is a journal for students?

A journal for students is a journal that students use to reflect on their thoughts and feelings, to get writing practice, or to record their ideas about the subject matter learned in the classroom. Student journals can become the jumping-off point for valuable discussions in many classrooms. With journals, learners are given time and space to collect their ideas before opening the floor for discussions.

Student journals provide valuable critical thinking opportunities. They also provide a chance to practice writing skills. Finally, they provide freedom to write without fear of a grading rubric hanging overhead. Students who journal become better thinkers and writers overall, which is why teachers often incorporate this learning technique into their lesson planning.

A good journal entry will contain an analysis of the material the student is writing about, some self-reflection on the topic, or some of the emotions the writer is feeling. To write a good journal entry, students must reflect on the question and write their thoughts and feelings. Many teachers find they need to teach students these journaling skills because they don’t come naturally. You might also be interested in these articles about assessment .

Before students can journal well, they need to know what type of journal they are writing. A journal may have different types of entries that change based on the assignment, or it may have one over-arching journaling type that extends through the whole journal. The type of journal pages a student writes will dictate the steps to writing a good journal page, so this is the first step in writing a good entry. Some common journal types include:

  • Reflective journal: Reflective journals are personal records of a student’s learning experiences, according to Northern Illinois University .
  • Writing prompt journal: This type of journal uses a writing prompt given by the teacher. Prompts can be fun, creative writing-style activities or directly related to a subject taught in the classroom.
  • Self-discovery journal: The primary goal of this type of journal is to help the student discover something about themselves. A self-discovery journal might be used in a language arts classroom to encourage self-reflection and writing at the same time.
  • Subject journal: This type of journal reflects on lessons taught in a particular subject area, such as social studies or science journal. It can be a way to incorporate language arts and writing skills across the curriculum.

While teachers should encourage good grammar whenever possible, student journals are not the place for strict grammar adherence. Instead, they are the place for students to write freely and get their thoughts on paper. Allowing students to write in journals without strict grammar will encourage more critical thinking, and it will also encourage less fear of the writing process for many students. 

That said, the writing should still make sense. Teachers can encourage students to write clearly enough that the reader can understand it, but they should not grade grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax for journals. Leave this critique for more formal papers, and allow journal writing to be a type of free writing.

When writing a journal entry, students of all grade levels, from elementary school through high school and even college, can benefit from journal prompts . Prompts give the writer a starting point, which can help students overcome writer’s block and allow them to get their thoughts down on paper. A journal writing prompt will depend on the goal of the journal, but some ideas include the following:

  • What would you invent if you were an inventor?
  • Create a new animal or an alien.
  • Which animal most represents you, and why?
  • Imagine you’re in the zombie apocalypse. How will you survive?
  • Write a guidebook for your grandparents to understand your generation.
  • What modern issues concern you most, and why?
  • What do you remember most about (last year’s grade level)?
  • Do you believe in love at first sight/karma/law of attraction/similar ideas?
  • What are 10 things you know to be true?
  • What are the 10 best words in the English language?

Many of these journal prompts encourage thinking skills and self-discovery. They can be adapted for elementary, middle, and high school, depending on the age of the writers. Teachers can also choose subject-specific writing prompts if they require a subject-area journal. The key to a good prompt is leaving it open-ended, so the student can reflect and draw their own opinion on the topic.

Before students can write a good journal entry, they must gather their thoughts. Students must spend time carefully reflecting and reading the prompt before writing. They can use pre-writing techniques and brainstorming tools to get some basic ideas down before they start directly working on the journal entry. For example, the teacher could give the students a couple of minutes to create a mind map of the topic area, then have them start their journal.

Even though journal writing is less formal than writing research papers and academic essays, students should learn to use topic sentences in their journals. For many writing prompts, the topic sentence is the writer’s opinion or conclusion about the question. Then, the rest of the journal will build reasons behind that topic sentence. Learning to write good topic sentences in a journal will help students in other areas of writing. With the exception of narratives, most types of writing need topic sentences. Journals can be an excellent place to practice this skill.

The use of journal writing in school is an attempt to get kids to write, even if they’re typically reluctant writers. The goal should be for them to write as long as possible without stopping in the allotted time frame. After reflecting and brainstorming, they should write with minimal pauses. Set a timer, and then instruct the students to write continuously until the timer goes off. Three to five minutes is often enough time for a daily journal entry. 

If students wish to edit or “clean up” their journal entry, they should do so at the end of the writing process. During the designated writing time, all they should do is write. If you plan to collect the assignment, consider giving students time to erase stray marks or add punctuation, but don’t let them get bogged down on editing and proofreading. Too much time spent proofing or editing the piece will destroy the benefits of writing in a journal because they will become more focused on grammar than getting their thoughts on paper.

Students should be truthful when writing journal entries, even for school assignments. This is no different than if they are writing in their journals. Journal writing is primarily used to reflect on one’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs, even in regard to less personal writing prompts. To encourage students to be truthful, teachers should not judge their opinions when reading journal entries throughout the school year. The journal should be a safe space to explore feelings and ideas without fear of rejection or judgment of those ideas.

Whenever possible, students should be encouraged to draw some sort of conclusion through their learning journal writing activities. The journal gives them a place to work through their ideas, but at the end of the day, they should have a final thought or decision. 

If the journal is a self-reflection style, the conclusion may be more of a personal action plan. The student could discuss steps they will take if they face a similar situation in the future or to achieve a goal. If it’s a subject-specific type of journal, the conclusion could re-state their position or give one final reason why they made the choice they made for their answer to the prompt.

Few students are good at journal writing the first time they try it, but practice makes perfect. It takes thinking and writing skills to reflect on a topic and then write knowledgeably about it. Learning how to write a journal entry requires regular practice. Some teachers will have their students journal daily, particularly in language arts classrooms.

However, learning  to journal daily is challenging, and there may not be enough classroom time to dedicate to daily journaling. For this reason, other teachers will offer weekly journal assignments. Regardless of the frequency, the key to good journaling is including this writing activity in lesson plans so students get used to the process.

Try different techniques

Try different journaling techniques in a student journal that has a set focus. For example, one day, students could do a bullet journal, which isn’t written in paragraph form but rather as a series of short bullet points to get ideas out. Students can also do art journaling which incorporates drawing with their written words.

Stream-of-consciousness writing lends itself well to journaling as well. By incorporating different journaling techniques, students can keep their writing fresh and also explore writing styles that are appealing to them. This will also allow the teacher to see what their students can truly do with creative writing.

Journal Writing Guidelines for Students FAQs

Student learning journals ask students to reflect on what they have learned in a class or to write their opinion on a subject-related discussion question. Some common learning journals include language arts journals, social studies journals, and science journals.

Understanding the difference between a diary vs. journal is important to use these tools well. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a diary records daily experiences. A journal incorporates analysis, emotion, or self-reflection. It can include a record of the daily experience, but only if it includes emotions and reflection. Journals are often used in the classroom.

If you liked this article and want to put these ideas into practice, check out our round-up of storytelling exercises .

journal writing guidelines

Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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How to Journal

Your complete guide to getting started with journaling.

Do you want to learn how to journal, but are unsure where to start?  Or you want to know what to write in a journal?  Maybe you’ve heard of creative journaling and are curious what it is? Perhaps you’re a writer and want to journal to deepen your craft?

This comprehensive “How to Journal” article will answer all of your questions about journal writing. For example, what journal writing is, how you can use it, and what benefits you can experience from this type of writing.  It also includes many journal writing prompts to help you get started. Lastly, while journal writing is typically a solitary act, you don’t have to journal alone or in isolation.  This article will tell you where you can get some help and support for your journal writing, including being part of a journal writing community or group.

journal writing guidelines

This Article Covers:

What is Journal Writing?

What can i use journaling for.

  • How to Journal – What are the Benefits?
  • Getting Started with Journaling
  • Creating a Journal Writing Ritual
  • How to Journal – What To Write?
  • How Often Should I Write in my Journal?

Do You Need to Write Regularly in a Journal?

  • How To Journal Consistently –  Creating the Journaling Habit
  • How to Journal – What Help and Support Can I Get?
  • In Conclusion

image of person learning how to journal

Before we talk about how to journal, let’s look at what journaling is.

Journal Writing is the practice of taking time for yourself to write and reflect on your thoughts, feelings and life experiences.  There are many suggestions for how to journal and what to write about. However, the beauty of journal writing is you can do it in your own way. This means you can really make it your own creative and life enhancing practice.

There are lots of people who write in a journal.  I recently heard that 16% of the world’s population regularly writes in a journal. You could loosely test this claim yourself by asking a group of friends or family if they write in a journal and see what percentage say yes.

Each person will give a slightly different answer when asked, “What is journaling?” But in essence, journaling is the simple and profound act of capturing and understanding our lives through expressive writing and story. Expressive writing includes writing about our thoughts and feelings while gaining self-awareness and new discoveries along the way. Journaling is all about exploring and enriching life through narrative, words and creative self-expression through writing.

Journaling is…

  • a powerful tool for personal growth, self-discovery, improved health and creative self-expression
  • a fun and creative life enhancing practice
  • used by many successful people, including Oprah and Jack Canfield (author of Chicken Soup for the Soul books), to achieve success in life and work

“Journal writing is one of the rare forms of writing in which freedom of form and content support each other magically.”   –  Stephanie Dowrick

You can use journal writing to get to know yourself better, solve problems, make life decisions, improve your health and increase feelings of gratitude and joy.  Journaling can also help you heal from stressful life circumstances, deal with grief and loss, or other life transitions. Or just journal for the pure love it!

Journaling is a fun, nourishing and creative practice that simply requires something to write with and write on. Whether it’s a pen and notebook, loose paper, cue cards, you get to choose your journaling tools!

People use journal writing in different ways for a variety of reasons. One person might journal to heal a broken heart writing an unsent letter sharing what they wish they’d said to that person.  Someone else might journal to celebrate their accomplishments and make a list of their recent successes in their journal.

There are also a wide variety of journaling methods and techniques to get the most out of your journaling. You can use it for whatever matters most to you at this time in your life.

How to Journal – What are the Benefits?

There are many evidence-based benefits of journal writing from over 30 years of research in the expressive writing field.  Yes, journal writing is a field of work!

People use the journaling process for many reasons, including to:

  • stimulate a healthier mind and body
  • vent and express thoughts and feelings in a healthy, constructive manner
  • increase self-awareness
  • create clarity for decision-making
  • track progress and personal growth
  • celebrate successes
  • heal emotional pain and trauma
  • increase self-care
  • manage stress and prevent burnout
  • gain broader and multiple perspectives
  • practice writing in a non-judgmental setting
  • improve creative thinking
  • preserve memories
  • get closer to God or a divine energy source

Today, journaling is widely accepted as a means for cultivating wellness as part of a whole person health approach. This includes the emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of well-being. Journaling is also being used across various disciplines, such as education, psychology, leadership, business, health, creative writing, coaching and counselling fields, as a powerful tool for learning and growth.

How to Journal – Getting Started

Get organized.

One of the first things to do when you start a journal is get your journaling tools organized.

It can be fun to pick out your favourite pen and an inspiring journal. Look online or go into any book, stationary or office supply store and you’ll find all kinds of journals, pens, markers and other things you might like to use in your journal such as stickers or other creative touches.

So over time, you can experiment with your journaling tools. Do you like blank pages or lined? Would you prefer a small journal or a large sketchbook style journal?  Would you use the same style journal or mix it up and try something new each time you begin a new one?

Sometimes people use loose leaf paper and put their journaling pages in a binder, or write small entries on cue cards. And some people even use big 18 x 24 pages of paper for larger visual journaling entries. You can create a mixed media art journal and much more.

Image of hand starting to write in journal

Just Write!

The key is to pick some simple journaling tools to start with – a pen and notebook – and just start writing.

Your writing will teach you what you need. For example, I used to write in a small lined journal and over the years, my writing longed for larger, open, clear spaces to fill. Now I use an 8 ½ by 11 blank page sketchbook, spiral bound and I keep my pilot pen in the spine of the journal.

Find your own tools and make your own way as you write. The only way to journal, is to write. And then write some more.

Whether you’re an avid journal writer, someone who journaled in the past, or have never written in a journal before:

“There is a Spanish proverb which says: there is no road, we make the road as we walk. I would say the same thing about journal writing: we make the path as we write.” Christina Baldwin

How to Journal – Creating Writing Rituals

What is a journaling writing ritual.

Dr. James Pennebaker, author of Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma & Emotional Upheaval , suggests some conditions that help enhance the expressive writing process.  His research shows that creating a journal writing ritual is very beneficial.

Being focused, non-judgmental, and connected to your interior world fosters deeper writing. But, it’s not a frame of mind that everyone can simply switch on and off.

The idea behind creating a ritual is to create a unique environment and/or behavior which helps you sink into the best journal writing mindset possible. The purpose of the ritual is to take you away from everyday life. Your ritual contains the cues you create for yourself which help you become relaxed, alert, and reflective.

How do you Create a Journal Writing Ritual?

Here are some suggestions, but remember, the ritual you create to transition into deeper journal writing is uniquely yours.

  • Select some music that creates a sense of serenity. Play it for five minutes, focusing on simply listening to the music. Consider closing your eyes. Do not read your mail or straighten out your desk! You may want to have just one piece of music you use each time as your centering pre-writing ritual. Or choose three or four pieces you love for some variety.
  • Begin with several minutes of a meditation or a prayer. You can write just for the occasion or create something spontaneously each time.
  • Brew a cup of tea or coffee, or pour yourself some fresh juice. Perhaps a glass of wine? Spend a few minutes holding the cup, feeling the warmth, smelling the aromas of your drink and deeply enjoy those sensations.

Write in an environment that’s inspiring for your journal writing

  • This could be by a bright and sunny window or a softly lit corner nestled in a cozy chair.
  • Light a candle and while lighting the candle say an affirmation, your intention or make a wish.

Journal at approximately the same time each day

  • This doesn’t have to be at the same hour each day, but it’s helpful if it’s at the same time in your daily routine. For example half an hour before bed, which will work whether you go to bed at 10pm or at midnight.

The trick, of course, is to find the cues that help you settle in quickly. Initially, experiment with different rituals to see which feels best and then stick with the practice once you’ve found one you like. Remember to use as many of your senses (smell, sight, touch, hearing and taste) as you can when creating your centering ritual.

Image of woman journaling to create a ritual for how to journal article

How to Journal – What To Write

You can write about anything you want to write about. For example write about your day including your thoughts, feelings, problems, challenges, upsets, joys, successes and dreams. Here are some journaling prompts to help you get started:

  • Right now, I am feeling…
  • In the moment, I notice…
  • Currently, I am thinking about…
  • So far, the best part about my week is…

You can also write about what you don’t want to write about—and explore your resistance!

Resistance offers you information about where you’re feeling stuck, perhaps procrastinating, or simply not quite sure how to proceed. Here are some journaling prompts to play with around resistance:

  • At the moment, I don’t really want to write about (and then write about it anyways)…
  • I am feeling resistant because…
  • If I wasn’t feeling resistant, what might be different in my life right now…

You can free write (simply go to the page and start writing) or you can do more structured journal writing activities such as using prompts.

There are many other journal writing techniques and methods such as mind maps, cluster drawings, dialogue writing, captured moments, poetic writing and more that you can learn about and use to keep your journal writing fresh and interesting.

Access our free 7 Servings of Journal Juice for new ideas on what to write about in your journal. And you’ll also receive journal writing prompts, exercises, tips and our inspiring Journaling Museletter .

How To Journal – How Often Should I Write

There are no rules about how often you should write in your journal. Like anything, the more often you do something that’s good for you, the more benefits you get from it. I doubt you would go for one walk around the block and expect to experience significant health benefits from it.

The same is true for journaling. While that one walk would have offered you ‘in the moment’ benefits like time to relax, feeling good from moving your body, fresh air and more, the same is true for journaling.

You could gain a sense of relief, renewal and replenishment from just 10 minutes of writing about your thoughts, feelings and life observations.

Journal Regularly

Much like any other activity that’s good for you like brushing your teeth, meditating or eating a healthy diet, journaling can also be done regularly. Journaling makes a great healthy daily habit.

Set a Timer

I often facilitate timed journal writing exercises in workshops and retreats that I offer. It’s a core part of my Transformational Writing for Wellness Salon , a 6 week group coaching program that takes people into the heart and art of transformational journaling.

So often people say, “I can’t believe how much I wrote in just 5 minutes” or “I can’t believe I gained new insights when I just wrote for 7 minutes!”

Journaling to Cope

Many people only write in their journals when they are going through difficult times. Then once things are going better, they stop writing. This is also a valuable way to use your journal as a life companion to help you cope during stressful or troubled times.

The key is not to get too caught up in “shoulds”: I should journal today, I should journal more often. That’s because ‘shoulds’ can open the door for negative self-talk and feelings of inadequacy and shame. Instead, your journaling practice is best treated like a kind friend. You journal because you want to, and because it’s an enjoyable, or at least helpful, relaxing experience.

It’s a question that most journal writers face at some point. Does it matter if you write often in your journal? Well, whether you write regularly depends on your purpose for writing. Is it to preserve memories? To sort out issues? To track physical or emotional, spiritual, or intellectual progress? Track health symptoms?

If journal writing is pleasurable, then writing is its own reward. If journal writing becomes a task you “should” do, rather than something you enjoy, then you’ll write less consistently.

So part of the issue can be reframed by asking, ”How do I make journal writing pleasurable?” The answer to this question will help you find your own way to make journaling a consistent and enjoyable habit.

How To Journal Consistently –  Creating the Journaling Habit

Think of writing a journal entry as the lowest cost and highest benefit way of taking care of your health. Remember that writing about meaningful events or activities in your life has been proven to positively impact your overall health without major cost of time or money and without having to leave your home!

If you do want to write in your journal on a regular basis and truly create the journaling habit, here are a few ideas to help you keep writing consistently:

Make your journal writing more upbeat

  • Review the good things that have happened in your day—your attitude, your progress toward a goal, a minor victory, even a two-minute interaction with someone that went well.
  • Remind yourself about the good stuff in your life and your good qualities.

Write when you have difficult issues in your life that need to be resolved

  • Who doesn’t experience difficult times? Consider the time that you write in your journal as an oasis of self-nurturing in your day. It’s a time to vent, rant, reflect, and process just for you.

If possible, write at the same time every day

  • Incorporate your writing practice into a daily routine.

Make it short and fun!

  • Write a one-word journal entry that captures your day.
  • It’s a challenge to come up with that one word. You can think about it while you are doing some mindless life maintenance activity—like flossing your teeth, taking out the garbage, or folding clothes.
  • Then once you’ve determined that word, writing your journal entry takes almost no time.

Back to the question: Does it really matter that you write consistently?

Writing consistently helps you maintain your journaling practice. It means that when you re-read your journal, there are enough entries to have meaning and flow.

Your ability to write consistently in your journal will be determined by how you feel and doing what’s right for you. So, while you’re writing and when you finish, notice how you feel.

  • Did you like the process?
  • Were you feeling relaxed and soothed during or after writing?
  • Did you feel at times frustrated, angry, confused, despairing?

This whole spectrum of emotions is simply part of the process of journal writing. I know that I feel better most of the time after I write – like I’ve released a burden or relived a pleasurable part of my day.

How to Journal – What Help and Support Can I Get?

One of the best ways to learn more about how to journal is with the support of a like minded community. When we join with fellow journal writers there are regular opportunities to connect, learn and be inspired about journaling. People who like yoga connect in yoga communities, and the same is true for meditation, scrapbooking, running and more. There is a human instinct to find supportive communities who share our passion or interest, so we can learn and grow together.

At the IAJW, our journal writing community is for extroverts and introverts alike. Perhaps you want the inspiration and support of a community, but would rather sit back quietly and take it all in. Or maybe you want to chat with fellow journal writers live on our monthly Zoom Chats with guest experts. You can gain regular  help and support for your unique approach to journal writing.

People journal writing in group for how to journal article

Join our Online Journal Writing Community

We know there is power in community. So come join fellow journal writers in the International Association for Journal Writing ! We offer a learning and inspirational community for journal writers worldwide. Access monthly online writing circles, interviews with guest experts in the field of journaling and expressive writing, courses, journaling tools, e-books and much more.

We also have our Journal Writing Facebook group . Connect with fellow journal writers, receive journal writing tips and prompts to support you on your unique journal writing journey. Everyone is welcome!

Treat Yourself to a Journal Writing Retreat

Lastly, you might want to join one of our virtual Renew You Writing Retreats . Take 3 hours for yourself to journal in a guided and nourishing way. Whether you want to kick-start or reinvigorate your journaling practice, this retreat gives you time for creative self-care and renewal!

“Wow! What an awesome experience! I must admit I was a tad bit skeptical about an online retreat. But woah! Was I wrong! The Renew You Writing Retreat was so invigorating, uplifting, therapeutic, inspirational….just plain awesomesauce. Have you ever had an experience like that? You go in a little skeptical and come out blown away? Have you had the experience of being deeply inspired through writing and sharing with others? If not, you’re missing out! Thank you, Lynda, for creating such a wonderful space and experience.” Airial W. Dandridge, Certified Life Coach

How to Journal – In Conclusion

If you’ve read this far, I know you’re passionate (or at least curious about) the many benefits of  journal writing. Journaling is an empowering experience because you’re always the expert of your own life. Journaling helps you explore both your inner and outer worlds and make sense of your life experience.

As a Registered Social Worker and Certified Co-Active Life Coach, I have been immersed in human transformation, growth, change and wellness for the past 30 years. I’ve learned many different tools and techniques for self-care, healing and growth through my studies and first-hand experience. Journaling is my go to practice that helps me live an intentional, healthy and happy life. And it has helped many people to do the same! Including you, perhaps?

There is only one way to experience the many benefits of journal writing—pick up your pen and write!

“Writing was the healing place where I could collect bits and pieces, where I could put them together again…written words change us all and make us more than we could ever be without them.” bell hooks

May your journaling support you to live an incredible life!

Authors :  Lynda Monk, Director of IAJW and Ruth Folit, Founder of IAJW , partnered to write this How to Journal article, attempting to answer some of the most common questions that new and, in some cases, even seasoned journal writers have.


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Such a wonderful article. Thank you for sharing!

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Thanks, Diana!

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I went to write lots bits to remember and copied it almost word for word in my common place book,but I love to write and am trying to get back into it,I’m writing for recovery from am 8yr relationship with a covert gaslighting narcissist,and I couldn’t write,let alone relax,I have been out for almost 2yrs,and when I start to feel joy or something didn’t work out and I’m hard on myself,I swear I can feel his presence in my house,he doesn’t know where I am,I left him and moved 2hr away in a different state,the feeling is almost overwhelming

Hi Dixie, personal writing can help heal from painful relationships. It’s great you are getting back into it!

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Thank you both Lynda and Ruth for this wonderfully informative resource. Never too old to learn something new! Thank you both for bringing this to us.

Thanks, Lyn. Glad it offered some new ideas!

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Great article Lynda! You’ve covered so many bases – lots of work, and very informative and knowledgeable as always :) Emma-Louise

Hi Emma, thanks for your kind feedback!

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You two put together a beautiful and accessible piece here. It’s filled with all the vast experience and love you have for journaling. Thanks, Beth

Thanks so much, Beth! Your feedback means a lot to us.

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Lynda, a beautiful gift to receive, words combing thoughts, insightful expressions and creative suggestions. Thank you for sharing a writing world held in heart, pen or typing starts journaling what is seen, felt or sensed from a human inner essence. Whole ❤️ Namaste.

Thank you, Denise! Namaste.

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My name is Jacki Smallwood. I have been watching your sight on Facebook, and all the various gifts you have given while on the sight. I have been in a nursing home for 3 years and in quarantine for the past 11 months, not leaving my room, no guests, no funerals or graduation s. To keep my sanity u journal, I share my journaling with other residents through Messenger to help others cope. I don’t have access to copy machine nor anyone to take it out to staples. I am asking if anyone of your organization would donate material that would help me so much and then share with others. I get 45.00 a month from SS and need every penny for my needs. Anything you can do would be so helpful.

Seniors are a special group often ignored through this Covid.

Thank you for anything you could for me.

Jacky Smallwood

Hi Jacky, thank you for your note and request. I removed your mailing address from your original comment before publishing it for your privacy. I will reach out to you by email. I am glad journaling is helping you during this difficult time. More to follow, Lynda

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Lynda, I’m very grateful to have ran across this article. I used to journal a lot when I was younger and I write poetry and music pretty consistently for the last few years. I have been told journaling could be amazing for me to get over some of my past pains and nasty relationships and getting to know myself, growing into a stronger (as well as better person), and just for my general mental health. So, as I begin to journal this very day, I was writing down many things that I want to include and accomplish with this journal inside the front pages of my book and I happened to run across your article! Now I just want to give you a big thank you BECAUSE I attained a lot of information, ideas, and format to include in my new journaling experience! I’m very excited to embark and I just wanted to let you know again I’m grateful for running across your words.

Chelsea Venice, Florida

Hi Chelsea, thanks for your note and for sharing some of your journaling hopes! I love the serendipity that you found our journaling website. We have lots of free journaling resources, including journaling prompts, that might be helpful along the way. You can find them here if you are interested: Happy journaling!

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Thanks for your article esp the prompts to change the language and freshen up what I usually write.

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wonderful article

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Thank you so much for this article! When I was in my deepest months I would always journal but then once I got better I stopped journaling. I really want to get back into it but instead of writing about the bad in my life, I am going to focus on the good.

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thank you for this article!

You’re welcome, Gwen. Thanks for reading.

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I love the ideas for making journaling more appealing in order to journal more consistently. Sometimes I get so caught up in the “should do’s” that I forget that there really are no rules!

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Very informative article on journaling! I’ve found journaling to be a wonderful practice for self-discovery and personal growth.

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How to start journaling for mental health: 7 tips and techniques


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Did you know one of the most powerful self-improvement activities  is right at your fingertips?

No, it’s not working out or having good sleep hygiene  (although these are great habits). It’s something even simpler — learning how to start journaling.

Although it’s been around for thousands of years, journaling is currently having a moment in the limelight. From self-help blogs to famous authors like Deepak Chopra, everyone is talking about the life-changing benefits of learning how to journal.

Despite its recent soar in popularity, this isn’t just a new-age self-help trend. If practiced consistently, it can transform your mental fitness , emotional well-being , and even physical well-being .

Let’s explore the importance of keeping a journal and how to incorporate this powerful habit into your daily life.


What is journaling?

Journaling involves writing down your thoughts and feelings as you navigate everyday life. Journaling can help you understand and work through your emotions, especially when you’re feeling anxious or sad. It can also help you grow, become more self-aware, and gain meaningful insights.

The beauty of journaling is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. It’s a deeply personal experience that can take many forms.

One day, journaling could look like a diary entry, similar to the ones you may have written when you were a teenager. The next day it can be a list of things that bring you joy or a list of goals you want to achieve .

Developing a journaling habit can help you work through your emotions, especially when you’re feeling anxious  or sad. It can also help you grow, become more self-aware , and gain meaningful insights.

For these reasons, journaling is one of the best self-improvement tools.

Having said that, it’ll come as no surprise that some of the most successful people in the world, including Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, and Arianna Huffington have kept journals throughout their lives.

5 types of journaling

Each person is different. You might want to use your journal to reflect on your behaviors, while your friend might want to keep track of their daily habits. Being clear about the intention of your journal will help inform the type you decide to start keeping.

Here are five common types of journaling to get you started:

1. Daily journaling

As the name suggests, this is a journal that you write in every day. The contents differs from other types of journaling, however, as you focus on sharing what you did and how you felt about it each day. 

This type of journaling can be helpful for individuals experiencing life changes or wanting to keep track of a period of their life. It can also be useful to kick off when starting a new job or career. Having a daily journal will be a great resource to look back on to see how far you’ve grown. It can also serve as a reference if you feel life is moving too quickly.

2. Visual journaling

When most people think about starting a journal, they think of writing. But visual journaling is mostly made up of images. Each entry uses drawings to tell your story. These can be simple line drawings, storyboards, comic strips, or stylized sketches. Experiment with different types of drawings to see which works best for you.

This type of journalism is good for individuals who do not enjoy writing or have difficulty expressing themselves with words. You might find language limiting and prefer a more visual representation of your journal entries.

3. Stream of consciousness/free writing journaling

Many writers use free writing as a warm-up before jumping into their novel or other long-form text. But it can be a useful tool for starting a journal, too. With stream-of-consciousness journaling, you write down thoughts as they flow through your mind. 

It can be difficult for your fingers to keep up with your brain, so don’t worry about your handwriting or spelling errors. The main goal here is to get the bulk of your conscious thoughts out so that you can unearth your deeper ideas and perspectives. You can start this kind of journal with an intention in mind or just jump in and see where it takes you.

4. Gratitude journaling

Studies show that gratitude is linked to happiness . Developing gratitude and a strong gratitude practice is shown to strengthen relationships and develop greater resilience in individuals. So starting to write a gratitude journal can be highly beneficial. Even adding a few bullets for things or people you are grateful for to your existing journal practice has benefits.

You can structure your gratitude journal in different ways. You can list the things you’re grateful for, weave them into a larger entry, or format them as short thank-you notes. You can then choose to keep these private or share them with others.

5. Bullet journaling

You may have seen a bullet journal and wondered how to use one. Instead of lines, they have evenly spaced dots to guide your entries. Bullet journals are highly customizable. They can be used to track everything from your mood to your daily steps. Or you can use one page as an agenda with bullets for reflections such as “one thing that made my day today” or “my intention for today.” You can also get creative with different colors and mediums to design your journal entries just the way you like.


Benefits of journaling

While the act of writing things down seems simple enough, the results are powerful. Here are just some of the benefits of keeping a journal.  

1. Improves mental well-being

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented stress and uncertainty  into our lives.

During this time, 4 in 10 adults in the US have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression .

One way to deal with intense emotions and uncertainty during difficult times is to find a healthy outlet for them in the form of a journal. Journaling is proven to have a positive effect on mental health and reduce the effects of anxiety and depression .

2. Strengthens the immune system and recovery time

You’ve likely heard the expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, it turns out journaling can have the same effect.

In a 2018 Cambridge study, participants were asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the most stressful or upsetting events in their lives .

Four months later, those who wrote about their experiences for 15 minutes a day reported fewer visits to the doctor and fewer sick days.

Not only is journaling linked to long-term decreases in health problems, but it also helps you heal faster. Another study found that expressive writing helped speed up wound healing in older adults .

3. Gives you a place to express gratitude

One of the best ways to express gratitude  is by keeping a gratitude journal and writing down things you’re thankful for. Gratitude is proven to activate areas of the brain that are connected to positive emotions .

Feeling grateful also overpowers negative emotions, boosts optimism, and makes you more compassionate .

4. Helps you work through challenges

Journaling is proven to help people heal past wounds and challenging experiences.

A recent Duke University study  asked participants who experienced a recent traumatic event to undergo a six-week writing ‘intervention.’ This consisted of various writing prompts, including expressive, poetic, transactional, and mindful journaling.

The study found that writing increased participants’ resilience and decreased stress .

5. Helps you set and accomplish goals

One of the most effective ways to achieve your goals  is to write them down.

Putting your goals on paper helps you visualize them more clearly. Visualization is a powerful technique  used by elite athletes and CEOs. It involves imagining that what you want to achieve is already yours.

In 2020, Dr. Gail Matthews from the Dominican University of California found that people who write down their goals have a higher chance of accomplishing them  when compared to those that don’t.

The importance of journaling

The only way to reap all the rewards that come with journaling is to be consistent. This means making journal entries a daily habit  rather than an occasional hobby.

Writing daily is a powerful way to do inner work . It can lead to insights and breakthroughs and help you process difficult emotions  and situations.

Learning how to write a journal is also a great mindfulness practice  because it helps you focus on the present moment. Being present without worrying about the past or future is a very calming and peaceful feeling that relaxes the mind and body.

The calming effects of daily journaling can also help treat emotional exhaustion . For example, incorporating 20 minutes of journaling into your nighttime routine can help you unload heavy feelings of stress  before bed.

We could spend all day talking about the many benefits of keeping a journal. But how do you start one?

The process is simple, yet looking at that first blank page of your notebook can feel daunting.

What to write in a journal

This is a personal decision, and it can change over time. You might start your journal to gain clarity about what career you want and then adapt it to include a goal strategy. 

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how you might want to use your own journal and what to write in it:

  • Personal or career goals
  • What you are grateful for
  • Quotes that inspire or motivate you
  • Reflections or revelations
  • Questions you hope to answer at a later date
  • Things you want to improve
  • Compliments to yourself
  • A long-term vision of where you want to be
  • Your activities and what you’ve done and experienced
  • Blockers or frustrations you’re struggling to overcome
  • What you eat in a day and how you feel afterward


How to start journaling (and make it a habit)

Starting a journal can seem intimidating at first. Like any other habit, it takes a while before it becomes a repetitive part of your lifestyle.

Here are some journaling tips to help you start and keep a journal.

1. Find the journaling techniques that work for you

Many people prefer keeping a paper journal because it helps them develop and express ideas more clearly. But putting pen to paper isn’t the only way to journal.

When you first begin writing, it’s important to find the method that works best for you.

You may find that the ease of using a laptop makes journaling more enjoyable for you. You also don’t have to limit yourself to one method.

Say you prefer handwriting, but you get a burst of inspiration during your morning commute on the subway. In that case, you can use the notes app on your phone to jot down your thoughts before you forget them.

2. Let go of judgments (write for your eyes only)

There’s no right or wrong way to journal. When you’re writing, it’s important to practice self-compassion  and leave your inner critic at the door . Journaling is a judgment-free zone.

Don’t worry about things like grammar or spelling. You’re writing for your eyes only, not for an audience.

When you’re self-critical or afraid someone will read your journal, you tend to censor yourself and be less authentic and honest .

3. Keep expectations realistic

When you first begin journaling, don’t expect to write pages upon pages filled with insightful thoughts.

Having unrealistic expectations can actually discourage you from continuing your journaling practice because you don’t immediately see progress.

Like any other habit, you need to set realistic goals and take baby steps in order to see results.

4. Create a writing routine

It’s easy to write on days when you’re feeling inspired and motivated . But what about when you’re not?

Creating a writing routine and scheduling journaling time can help you stay on track, even on days when you’re feeling uninspired.

For example, you can set time aside every morning after breakfast or every evening before bed, even if it’s just for five to ten minutes. This time blocking  method allows you to prioritize journaling and incorporate it into your schedule.

5. Journal about anything that comes to mind

When it comes to what you want to write about, the possibilities are limitless. You can write about your day, your thoughts and emotions, or something that inspired you.

You can also use it as an outlet to release heavy emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness . Putting these feelings down on paper can free you from having them lingering in your mind.

In her book “The Artist’s Way,” author Julia Cameron talks about one method that can help you journal if you’re not sure where to start. It’s called the ‘Morning Pages.’

Each day after you wake up, open your journal and start writing three pages filled with any thoughts that come to your mind.

This stream-of-consciousness writing has been therapeutic for those who have tried it. It's helped them process emotions, gain clarity, and unlock their creative side.

6. Use journal prompts

There will be days when you’re staring at your journal and thinking, "what should I write in my journal?"

Don’t fret — there are countless journaling prompts online that can help you overcome your writer’s block. Here’s a list of things to journal about on the days you feel blocked:

  • A list of things and people you're grateful for
  • A recent situation that challenged you
  • An (unsent) letter to someone in your life
  • Small things that bring you joy throughout the day
  • The best decision you’ve ever made  
  • Daily positive affirmations

7. Get creative

Don’t be afraid to express yourself and be creative. Journal writing isn’t just prose. It can be poetry, sketching, art, lyrics, or anything else that allows you to express yourself.  


How beginners can keep the habit

Learning how to start journaling is the easy part. It’s making it a daily habit that takes self-discipline.

But nobody said building good habits happens overnight.

If you stick to it, you’ll start to see the positive outcomes of journaling manifest in your personal and professional life. Use it as a tool for personal growth, self-discovery, relaxation, or visualization. There’s no right or wrong way to journal. Make it your own.

Ready to make a commitment to yourself? BetterUp offers personalized coaching to help you live a happier, more fulfilling life.

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Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

Write your way out of anxiety: 6 benefits of journaling

No magic in manifestation how writing helps turn dreams into reality, the best jobs for journalism graduates, how to start a manifestation journal: reach your goals through writing, the secret to finding your passion isn't looking, it's doing, journal your way to the future you want, reinventing yourself: 10 ways to realize your full potential, q&a with dr. judith mangelsdorf: germany's 1st positive psych professor, 10 simple ways to work on self-improvement, similar articles, gratitude: what is it and how can you practice being grateful, how to better yourself: 15 tips to improve yourself everyday, how to challenge yourself to start living your best life every day, beyond happiness: learn how to be content with life, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

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The Center for Journal Therapy

Writing in a Journal: A Short Course on Journal Writing for 2023

Do any of the following statements or questions sound like you?

  • “I don’t have time to write a journal!”
  • “I don’t know what to write about!”
  • “How do I get started?
  • “I’m a lousy writer!”

If so, then this short course on journal writing is for you! Here are five easy steps to get started with writing, eight suggestions for new journal writers, and 14 writing techniques for your journal.

How to Get Started with Journal Writing

It’s Easy to W.R.I.T.E.

Just try these five easy steps. You’ll be writing in no time!

W – What do you want to write about? What’s going on? How do you feel? What are you thinking about? What do you want? Name it.

R – Review or reflect on it. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Focus. You can start with “I feel…” or “I want…” or “I think…” or “Today….” or “Right now…” or “In this moment…”

I –  Investigate your thoughts and feelings. Start writing and keep writing. Follow the pen/keyboard. If you get stuck or run out of juice, close your eyes and re-center yourself. Re-read what you’ve already written and continue writing.

T – Time yourself. Write for 5-15 minutes. Write the start time and the projected end time at the top of the page. If you have an alarm/timer on your PDA or cell phone, set it.

E – Exit smart by re-reading what you’ve written and reflecting on it in a sentence or two: “As I read this, I notice—” or “I’m aware of—” or “I feel—”. Note any action steps to take.

In summary….it’s easy to W.R.I.T.E. ! W hat topic? R eview/reflect I nvestigate T ime yourself E xit smart

Looking for free journaling workshops?  Check out our on-demand courses including “ J is for Journal: A Short Course on Writing for Healing, Growth, and Change ,” with seven lessons containing a total of 68 writing prompts!

Eight Suggestions for New Journal Writers

1. protect your privacy..

Store your journal in its own special place so that the temptation for others to read is diminished. Ask for agreement with your housemates that your journal is private. Reserve the first page of any new journal for your name and phone number or e-mail address, along with a notice: This is my personal journal. Please do not read it without my permission. If none of that would stop whoever might read your journal, get a shredder. Find a creative way to protect your privacy, such as a new gmail or yahoo account, freshly passworded, from which to write yourself at that address. Or keep your journal on a flash drive. Make your privacy an intentional act.

2. Start with an entrance meditation.

Nearly every journal technique benefits from a few minutes of focused quieting. Use visualization, soft music, candles, deep breathing, stretches, whatever works for you.

3. Date every entry.

If you only establish one habit in your journal, let it be this one! Dating every entry allows you to chronologically reconstruct your journal by date. It also lets you hear the silence between your entries.

4. Keep (and re-read) what you write.

Often the writes that feel like throw-aways contain the seeds for future insight. Keep it, re-read it later, and surprise yourself with how much you knew that you didn’t know you knew!

5. Write quickly.

You can outsmart dreaded “journal block” by writing so fast that the Internal Critic and the Internal Censor can’t keep up. Keep your pen moving!

6. Start writing; keep writing.

Start with the present moment (“What’s going on?”) Or start with a feeling (“I’m so mad I could bust!”) Or start with a story (“Today the weirdest thing happened….”) Once you’ve started, don’t go back to edit or rewrite. And don’t think too much. Let it flow.

7. Tell yourself the truth.

Your own truth is not your enemy. Don’t try to talk yourself out of knowing what you know or feeling what you feel. Give yourself permission to tell the truth. Also give yourself permission to pace yourself. If the truth seems too bright or harsh, then slow it down.

8. Write naturally.

If there is one inviolate rule of journal writing, it is that there simply are no rules! Do what works. Don’t worry about what you’re not doing. Give yourself permission. Let yourself enjoy the process!

14 Writing Techniques for Your Journal

1. sentence stem..

A sentence-completion process. Fill in the blank with a word or phrase. May be very universal (Right now I feel———-) or highly customized to an individual’s immediate question, problem or interest.

Start with the beginning of a sentence:

  • Today I will—
  • Right now I feel—
  • The most important thing to do—
  • I want—
  • I need—-
  • What I wish I could say to you—
  • If only I could—
  • I wonder–

—and finish it with a word, a thought, the rest of the sentence.

Boom. You’re done.

2. Five-Minute Sprint .

A timed writing process designed to bring focus and intensity in short bursts. Excellent for those who are resistant or aversive to journal writing, or who are uncertain about how to start, or who state they do not have time to write journals.

It’s a two-step process that couldn’t be more simple:

  • Set the timer on your phone or kitchen stove. Stop writing when signaled!
  • Keep your pen or fingers moving the entire time. It’s only five minutes. It goes fast.

Ready? Set your timers–and WRITE! Start with this prompt: What’s going on?

3. Inventory.

An assessment of life balance in major areas of living (health, family, home, work, spiritual/religious, emotional well-being, etc.) Gives a quick picture of which life areas might need attention.

4. Structured Write.

A series of Sentence Stems grouped and sequenced to reveal consistently deepening layers of information and awareness.

structured write journal writing technique example

5. Clustering.

Visual free-association from a central word or phrase. Lines and circles connect key thoughts and associations to the central core. Work quickly to maximize results. A brief writing to synthesize findings may follow.

clustering example for journal writing technique

6. Lists of 100.

A list of 100 items, many of which will probably be repetitions, on a predetermined theme or topic. Repetition is an important part of the process. Topics can be about any current issue (for example: 100 Things I’m Sad About; 100 Things I Need or Want to Do; 100 Places I Would Like to See). At the end of the list, group the responses into themes and synthesize the information.

In this video, Kathleen Adams, Founder of the Center for Journal Therapy, shares what she likes about using short lists as a journaling technique.

7. Alphapoem.

Write the alphabet, A-Z, or any collection of letters, vertically down the side of a page. Then write a poem in which each successive line begins with the next letter. Excellent for groups as it promotes a high level of participation and sharing. Adolescents and reluctant writers respond well.

Check out this example of an Alphapoem:

An Alphapoem on Alphapoems   

by Kay Adams and Scribe (journal group members)                             

A nticipate a B lossoming of                                                          C reative                                                                          D elight!                                                                          E asy, really, once you                                                    F ind the rhythm and the pace.                                                      G ather up the thoughts you                                          H old secret in your heart.                                                I magine them                                                                            J ust drifting out, a                                                                    K aleidoscope of                                                                        L etters                                                                                              M aking words. N o rules to follow–except the O bvious one. P erhaps you’ll find a poet inside? Q uite likely! R ead your Alphapoems; you’ll find them S tartlingly T rue–an U nusual way to give V oice to the W himpers, wonderings, whys, wins. X hilerating feeling to find Y ou’ve reached the Z enith of the poem!

8. Captured Moments.

Vignettes capturing the sensations of a particularly meaningful or emotional experience. Written from the senses with strong descriptors. Captured Moments of beauty, joy, blessing, calm can add balance, hope and perspective to a challenging time.

9. Unsent Letters .

A metaphoric communication to another that is written with the specific intention that it will not be shared.

10. Character Sketch .

A written portrait of another person or of an aspect of the self. Can also be written about emotions by personifying an emotion and giving it a characterization – an appearance, a style of dress, a personality and temperament.

11. Dialogue.

A metaphoric conversation written in two voices. Anyone or anything is an appropriate dialogue partner. There is no constriction by time, space, physical reality or literal voice.

On the page, it looks like a script:

Me:  So how do I do this?

Dialogue Partner:  Just ask me a question, and I’ll respond.

Me:  Seems a little silly.

D.P.:  Just make it up! Write the next thing in your head.

You can write a dialogue with anyone or anything: Your Wise Self, your spouse/partner/child, your job, your body, your feelings, your dreams and desires – anything goes!

12. Perspectives .

An alteration in point of view that provides a different perspective on an event or situation. Through magical realism, we can jump time, compare alternative realities and walk a mile in another’s moccasins. The writer experiences a new dimension of time, place or voice.

  • A different time:  Using imagery, time-travel to a date in the near or distant past or future. Write that altered date at the top of the page. Imagine who you are, how you feel, what is different, how a problem got solved or an issue resolved. Write in the present tense, as if it were that time.
  • A different place:  When faced with a tough choice or decision, jump time and write Perspectives entries in the present tense as if you’d made each choice. One man, conflicted about applying to medical school or a psychology program, saw himself miserable as a psychiatrist and fully engaged as a psychotherapist working with veterans and their families. See what nudges forward from your subconscious mind!
  • A different voice:  Write in someone else’s “I” voice, in the present tense, as if that person were writing in a journal about you or a disagreement (argument, conflict, painful difference) the two of you are experiencing.
  • Another different voice:  Alter your own voice by writing in past tense, in the third-person voice (s/he, her/his), about your own experience. This pulls back the camera lens, puts you in the role of omniscient  narrator/compassionate witness and allows useful distance and objectivity. This is particularly helpful if you are working with difficult stories that can create intense emotional states.

13. Springboard.

A free-write with a prompt. Starting a free-write with the smallest structure of a question, thought or topic can focus and frame the writing session.

Here are some sample springboards:

  • What’s the next thing to do?
  • A year from today, I will ….
  • Why don’t I … ?
  • I’m sorry I didn’t….
  • What am I avoiding?
  • If I knew I would succeed, I would ….
  • I want to overcome….
  • Where am I going?
  • What do I want?
  • If I weren’t scared….
  • What’s the best thing? What’s the worst thing?

In this video, Kathleen Adams, Founder of the Center for Journal Therapy, talks about using props to get started with writing.

14. Free Writing.

Unboundaried, unstructured, unpaced narrative writing. Useful for creative flow or spontaneous writing sessions. Can be structured by adding a time limit or page limit.

(c) Kathleen Adams. All rights reserved. For reprint permission please email us .

Center for Journal Therapy

3440 youngfield st., #411 wheat ridge, co. 80033 phone: (303) 209-9599 contact us >>.

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How to Write a Journal Entry

Last Updated: October 5, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Nicolette Tura, MA and by wikiHow staff writer, Danielle Blinka, MA, MPA . Nicolette Tura is an Empowerment Expert based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a decade of experience creating change in various non-profits then went on to operate her own wellness business for 10 years. Most recently, she worked as a Therapy Associate to a chiropractic neurologist for 15 months working hands-on with patients, helping them heal from neurological disorders like concussions, long covid, migraines, and more. Nicolette guides groups and individuals on transformative meditation journeys and game-changing mindset management workshops and retreats on empowering everyone to keep expanding beyond past conditioning and self-limiting beliefs. Nicolette is a 500-hour Registered Yoga Teacher with a Psychology & Mindfulness Major, a NASM certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, and an expert in psychophysiology with experience in nervous system regulation and breath work. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master’s degree is Sociology from San Jose State University There are 16 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 2,742,822 times.

Keeping a journal allows you to record what’s happening in your life and to work through your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, you might write a journal for school to help you deepen your understanding of what you’re studying. Fortunately, writing a journal entry is a simple process. First, choose a topic to write about, like what's happening in your life. Then, write an opening for your entry and express your thoughts.

Choosing a Topic

Step 1 Write about what’s going on in your life.

  • This is a great way to help you document things you want to remember.
  • For instance, you might write about something funny that happened at lunch, scoring the winning goal in a soccer game, or a fight you had with your friend. The events can be positive or negative.

Step 2 Explore your emotions or how you feel about something.

  • Let’s say you’re feeling sad because you’re going through a breakup. You could write about how you feel and what you’ll miss about the relationship. This will help you release your feelings so you can start to feel better .

Step 3 Use a writing prompt if you aren’t sure what to write about.

  • Write about what you’d like to do this weekend.
  • Discuss a place you’d like to visit.
  • Pretend that you found a fantasy creature.
  • Write about something you want to change.
  • Write from the perspective of your favourite book or movie character.

Step 4 Record your reactions to readings and lectures in an academic journal.

  • A summary of a reading or lecture.
  • Your analysis of the course material.
  • Connections between topics you’ve studied.
  • Personal connections you made with the coursework.
  • Questions you have about the text or lecture.

Tip: Keep a journal for school focused on studying and analyzing your course material. For instance, you might summarize your coursework, record your reflections on it, and write down questions you have. Leave out how you feel about what you’re reading or studying.

Opening Your Journal Entry

Step 1 Read your assignment sheet if you’re keeping a journal for school.

  • Your instructor has assigned journaling to help you deepen your understanding of your coursework and to improve your writing skills . Following their instructions will help you best achieve these goals.

Step 2 Write the date at the top of your entry.

  • For instance, you might write, “July 24, 2019,” “07-24-19,” or “24 July 2019.”

Step 3 Include the location and time to provide context for what was happening.

  • For instance, you might write “Good Beans Coffee House,” “School,” “Paris,” or “My bedroom” for your location. For the time, you could write the actual time, such as “12:25 p.m.,” or the time of day, like “Early morning.”

Step 4 Start with an opening like “Dear Diary” or “Dear Self” if you prefer.

Tip: You usually don’t include a salutation when you’re writing a journal for school.

Expressing Yourself in a Personal Journal

Step 1 Don’t worry about grammar and spelling rules.

  • If mistakes really bother you, it’s okay to go back and correct them after you finish writing your journal entry.

Step 2 Be creative in how you write your posts if you like.

  • Turn a memory into a story.
  • Record what you dreamed last night.
  • Write a list, such as what you did that day or what you’re grateful for.
  • Doodle or paste pictures into your journal.
  • Record song lyrics or quotes that mean something to you.
  • Write your own lyrics or a poem.
  • Write in stream of consciousness.

Step 3 Use “I” to write your journal in the first person.

  • For instance, you’d write, “I went to lunch with Sari today,” not “Amy had lunch with Sari today.”

Step 4 Incorporate details that appeal to your 5 senses to make your post vivid.

  • For instance, let’s say you’re on vacation at the beach. You might include details like, “sea spray hitting my face,” “the smell of burning wood from bonfires on the beach,” “the taste of salt on my lips,” “the sun glinting off the surface of the water,” and “the shouts from other beach goers having fun.”

Step 5 Don’t worry about the length of your journal entries.

  • With journaling, it’s more important to write often than to write a lot.

Drafting an Academic Journal Entry

Step 1 Organize your thoughts to make them coherent.

  • If you’re telling a story, try to follow a narrative structure to give it a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Read over your journal entry before your submit it to check that it makes sense.

Step 2 Make sure you reach the required word count.

  • For handwritten journals, your instructor may require that you simply fill up a page. Make sure you know the exact requirements so you can do your assignment correctly.
  • If you’re struggling to think of something to write, make a mind map about the topic to help you brainstorm some new ideas.

Step 3 Use proper grammar like you would in an essay.

  • If you’re struggling with your grammar, visit your school’s writing center or ask your instructor about tutoring options. Additionally, you can find online programs that help you with grammar.

Step 4 Proofread your journal entry and correct any mistakes.

  • This is especially important if you’re keeping your journal as a graded assignment.
  • If you’re typing your journal entries in an online portal, there may be a spellcheck tool you can use. However, you should still proofread the entry to look for other errors.

Journal Entry Template

journal writing guidelines

Community Q&A

Community Answer

Video . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.

  • It’s best to write regularly so that journaling becomes a habit. To help you remember, write in your journal at the same time everyday. [19] X Research source Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 2
  • You can write about anything you want, so don’t feel like you can only write about how you feel. You might instead prefer to write about your daily accomplishments or what you enjoyed that day. Thanks Helpful 23 Not Helpful 3
  • While you can use a paper journal, there are journaling apps and websites you can try. Additionally, it’s okay to use a word processor like Google Docs or Microsoft Word for journaling. Thanks Helpful 14 Not Helpful 7

journal writing guidelines

  • Since your journal is private, prevent people from reading it by keeping it in a safe place. If it’s a digital journal, you might even password protect it. Thanks Helpful 23 Not Helpful 3

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About This Article

Nicolette Tura, MA

To write a journal entry, first find a quiet, comfortable spot where you won’t be disturbed. Take a moment to brainstorm what you want to write about. You can journal about anything, like your day, your dreams, work, school, friends, or an upcoming project. If you’re not sure, choose a writing prompt for your entry, like “What was your earliest childhood memory?” or “What is your biggest secret?” Open to a new page in your journal and write the date at the top. Then, start writing. Let your thoughts flow and don’t edit yourself. Write whatever comes to mind. It’s okay to be honest since nobody else will be reading what you write. Draw pictures if specific images come to mind while you’re writing. Try to journal for somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes every day. The more you journal, the easier it will become! Keep reading to learn how to write a journal entry for school! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Journal Guide

  • How To Start and Write a Journal

We keep a lot of things in our heads, but we put less down on paper. All those thoughts and ideas bouncing around can sometimes feel overwhelming. You have to-do lists, hopes, dreams, secrets, failures, love, loss, ups and downs. Ideas come and go, feelings pass. How do you remember all of them? How do you keep them organized? A great way to keep your thoughts organized and clear your mind is to write them down in a journal. Writing is a great exercise for anyone and by expressing yourself in a personal place is a wonderful way to stay sane. 

Starting a Journal

To start a journal, you just need to be willing to write. You don’t have to write well, you just need to want to do it. You don’t even need to decide what to write, you just need to let your words flow. Once you’ve decided you want to create a journal, here is a long list of instructions to guide you: 

Set up a schedule of when you play to write in your journal. You want to turn your writing into a habit, so create a schedule. Pick a time and the days of the week you will want to write and create a timely calendar reminder, so you don't forget. By scheduling the same times, journaling will become a natural and regular part of your agenda that you can look forward to. 

Screenshot of a modern calendaring application used to help schedule when you should journal.

Find the right space to write.  

When you’re writing, it is helpful to be in a space where you can focus and concentrate. A quiet room with no distractions works best. Allow yourself to focus on your writing, without any interruptions. Make sure you are able to sit upright and are comfortable. An office or a study room is always great.

A cozy and private desk space perfect for conentrating and focusing on journal writing.

Buy a physical journal or Sign-up for Penzu

Penzu is a digital journal that will allow you to write from any device. It will make your journal writing incredibly easy-to-use, accessible, organized and private. It will save all your work and date it for you, so you never need to remember. It is a great tool for writing anywhere and keeping your work in one place. 

Screenshot of the modern and sleek Penzu signup flow. Just enter your name, email, and password to get started.

Close your eyes and reflect on your day. 

You may not know what to write about and that’s okay. Your journal can be about anything you want. A good way to begin writing is to close your eyes and think about what you’re feeling. 

A woman meditates before recording her reflections into her journal.

Ask yourself questions.

What has happened that day? How did that make you feel? Are you excited about anything? Why? Reflect on the thoughts and feelings you’ve been having.

Woman standing in front of a cloud of question marks on a chalkboard.

Dive in and start writing.

It is easy to begin sentences with, “I feel,” or “I think,” or “I wonder.” Don’t feel pressured to stick to any particular form or topic. The beginning of your journal writing can just be an introduction to your thoughts at the time. This is your personal space, so you should feel comfortable writing. 

A pen rests on a blank pad of writing paper - perfect for sharing your reflections, thoughts, and feelings.

Time yourself.

Set a time for how long you want to write. Somewhere between 5-20 minutes is ideal, depending on how much you want to jot down. Setting a time will help you stay focused and stop you from getting carried away. It is easy to feel like you need to write down every detail and this will help prevent that. 

A hand holds a stopwatch ready to start the timer whenever it's time to start journaling.

Re-read your entry and add additional thoughts. 

A hand holds a pen over a full page of lined writing paper in a notebook.

10 Tips When Writing a Journal

Here are some tips to get started properly and consistently writing in your journal.

1. Set a schedule

As we mentioned earlier in the article, setting a schedule is a great first step. Decide how many times you want to write and set a schedule. Whether it be once a day, or once a week, decide on a time you want to write and don’t skip it. 

2. Keep it private

A journal is personal and should be a place you feel comfortable expressing yourself honestly and truthfully. Penzu keeps your journal safe and secure, with all your entries made private by default, only made available to share under your command. 

3. Meditate

Any journal entry will benefit from some moments of reflection before you begin writing. Before you start writing, go to a quiet place and focus on your breath for a few minutes. This is a wonderful exercise to clear your head and settle your thoughts . 


If you want your journal to be about something specific, brainstorm ideas to write about. You can write a bible journal , a dream journal , cooking, work, school, anything you want! Feel free to start writing down ideas of what you are interested in or feel you should be writing about. This is the perfect place to get your creative juices flowing. Check out this page for a list of all the different types of journals .

5.Date your entry

It is important to keep each journal entry dated, so you know when you wrote it. You will want to go back through your journal at some point and see when the entries of the topic you’re writing about were added. Also, it will be nice to see how you were feeling at different points in your life. Penzu automatically dates your entries for you, so you don’t have to worry about remembering to do it. 

6.Title your entry

If you can, try and title your entries. This will help you navigate your journal and keep your writings focused. You don’t need to title it before you start writing though. A great way to think of a title is after you’ve written, but it is something to keep in mind. 

7.Write naturally

When writing, don’t feel like you have to follow any form or structure. Just do what comes naturally. Follow your train of thought and see what kind of writing follows. 

8.Write quickly

Don’t let writer’s block get in your way. Just keep writing whatever comes to mind. It is always hard to stop and start again, so keeping writing. It doesn’t have to make sense. Don’t think too much about the words you are putting on the page. You can make sense of them later. 

9.Write honestly

Your journal is for your eyes only, so be honest. You don’t want to lie to yourself. Be real with your thoughts, feelings and opinions. Be as candid as you can. You want your journal to be an honest representation of yourself and the times you’re writing in. 

10. Have fun

Writing a journal should be an enjoyable experience. Have fun with your writing and take pleasure in it. Writing in your journal shouldn’t be a chore. It should be something you look forward to doing, so make it a fun exercise. 

8 Extra Tips For New Journal Writers

Writing a journal entry is different for everyone. We all write differently and about different things, so it is a different experience for everyone. We can help with pointing you in the right direction, whatever that direction may be. Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Think about what you want to write. 

Your journal doesn’t need to have a theme, but an easy way to start writing an entry is to think about what you want to write about. 

  • Do you want to write about that day’s events? 
  • Do you want to write about your plans for tomorrow?
  • Are you planning a trip?
  • Are you working on a project?
  • Are you in a new relationship?
  • Do you want to discuss your family?

Decide what you wish to discuss and go in that direction.

2. Try writing with a journaling prompt

If you are having trouble deciding on a topic, try writing personally and/or creatively to get you started. Here are some journaling prompts you could think about:

  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What is/was your favorite subject in school? Why?
  • Write a poem about your first romantic encounter.
  • What is your biggest secret?
  • Who is someone in your life that made a large impact on you? Why?

3. Plan ahead

Make sure you have a designated time to write. That way you can start thinking about what you want to write throughout the day and can prepare ideas. This will also get you looking forward to writing.

4. Practice

Write as much as possible. Writing will become easier you more you do it. Try and get into the habit of writing regularly and your entries will start coming to you naturally. 

5. Write letters

There are certainly times in your life where you wish you said something, or wish you didn't say something. Write about these moments. Think about writing letters that you will never send. They can be addressed to specific people or not, but they are great outlets for honest thoughts and make for compelling entries.

6. Try different perspectives

A helpful method of writing is to write from different perspectives. Pick a topic or event to write about and try writing in from someone else’s perspective, like a parent’s, a friend’s, or even an animal’s. It is healthy to think about things from different points of view. 

7. Add pictures

Pictures say a thousand words and can certainly inspire more. With Penzu you can import photos right into your entries, so feel free to add them throughout or just at the beginning to give you inspiration. You can talk about what is happening in the picture, the person that took it, what isn’t pictured, or just what it means to you. Think of it as giving the picture a long caption. 

8. Free write

Free writing is without direction, structure or motive. This means just take yourself to the page and go wild. Whenever an idea pops into your head, just write it down. It doesn't have to be cohesive or have a purpose. 

To Start Writing in a Journal With Penzu

Now that you’ve learned many tips of how to start and write in a journal, it’s time to get started with Penzu. Here’s how to get started:

  • Grab your phone, computer or tablet.
  • Make sure you are connected to WiFi.
  • Go to to create an account.
  • Enter your name, email and a password for your account.
  • Download the apps.
  • Log in and begin writing!

Writing journals is simple and easy! Download Penzu today and get let the words flow!

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The Write Practice

How to Write a Journal: 6 Tips to Get Started

by Pamela Hodges | 61 comments

Writers are collectors of ideas, and where do we keep them? On scraps of paper, napkins, the notes app of our phones, and sometimes in journals. But as anyone who's started a journal can attest, sometimes it's hard to begin and even harder to keep one going. So how do you write a journal? Let's look at some simple ways to start capturing ideas. 

How to Write a Journal: 6 Tips

There are a number of ways to capture ideas, from keeping a gratitude journal, to a reading journal, to a project journal. No matter what type of journal you keep, let me share with you some tips from my journaling experience for how to keep a journal.

4 Advantages of Keeping a Journal

Julia Cameron, acclaimed author of The Artist's Way and more recently a 6-week program outlined in a book called Write for Life, begins the writing and artistic life with a practice she calls morning pages. In essence, she suggests writing three pages each morning to explore ideas and life, and to clear the mind.

The benefits of journaling this way are numerous. Writers who establish regular journaling time may find it helps them clear their minds and explore new ideas.

There are many reasons why it is a good idea to keep a journal. I want to share four big reasons this daily habit may help you with your writing process and develop your writing skills.

1. Remember details

When I traveled to Europe in 1978, I kept a journal of my daily life. I have notes from the trip to Greece where I wiped out on a moped, weeded sugar beets on Kibbutz Reshafim in Israel, and hitchhiked through occupied territory in the south of Israel.

There were several details of my trip that I had completely forgotten until I re-read my personal journals.

December 16th, 1978 Walking to the orchard from the kibbutz the sun was so hot I stopped and just listened to the silence. (Walking I could hear stones crunch) I had to take off my sweater the  sun was so intense. 

Recording the details of your life can enrich your stories. One year when for The Spring Writing Contest at The Write Practice, I wrote a story about when the IRS called me to say I owed money.

In my first draft, I wrote that the amount they said I owed was, $638 dollars. After I had completed the first draft I went back to the notes I had written in my journal, and the correct amount was over six thousand dollars: $6,846.48 to be exact. Well, maybe there are some things we don't want to remember.

Thankfully, I didn't send the money. It wasn't the “real” IRS. But it was even better than a writing prompt for a story idea.

“People who keep journals have life twice.” —Jessamyn West

2. Find old friends

Keeping a journal can help you find old friends. One of the women I met on November 26th, 1978, wrote down her address. I found her on Facebook and just sent her a message. (Social media and Google can also help, but the journal did remind me of her name.)

We'll see if she responds to my Facebook message. It has been almost forty years since she lent me a pair of gloves when I scraped my hand on the pavement when I fell off my moped.

3. Help process feelings and ideas

When you keep thoughts in your head it can be hard to know how you think and feel. Writing down how you feel will help you process your emotions , as feelings become words, which can be then be edited.

That expressive writing can be therapeutic, but it can also help you flesh out characters later.

4. Preserve the writer's history

When you are dead and a famous writer, your journals will give your readers insight into your life, thoughts, and process.

You may never sell more than one hundred copies of your book, you may never publish your writing, or your journals may only be read by the mice that crawl through your basement. Or your journals will be read by zombies after the zombie apocalypse, sharing insight into your life and daily routines.

If you don't want anyone to read your journal, keep it in a locked box and swallow the key. (Please don't really swallow the key. It would be unpleasant to have to find it again, and you might choke.) Put the key in a safe spot, and then remember where you put it. 

6 Tips for How to Write a Journal

Now you know why journaling can be helpful. But how should you journal? It is very personal, and you should do what works best for you. But I will give you some tips to help you get started on a journaling practice.

1. Choose your kind of journal

You have several options for how to keep your journal.

A book, where you write with a pen or pencil onto paper:  Write in a book that is not so pretty you are afraid to write in it. Keep the size small enough you don't mind carrying it in your messenger bag, and big enough you can read your handwriting. Do not try journaling at night when the only paper you have on your bedside table is a bandaid. The next morning I couldn't read my writing on the band-aid, and the idea I wanted to journal was lost.

The advantage of pen to paper is you can write without having to be plugged into an electronic device. You don’t have to worry about a dead battery, and you can write even when the sun is bright or the airline makes you turn off your electronic devices.

The disadvantage to a paper journal is if you lose the journal and you didn’t make a copy of it, you have lost all of the writing. But either way, the journal writing helps you pay attention and record the moments of everyday life that will fade with time otherwise.

Software: There are several software applications on the market you can use to keep a digital journal. Be sure they sync to the cloud, as you don’t want to lose your entries because you fry your computer's hard-drive.

Journey and Day One can add photographs and text, and export all of your entries into a PDF. You can also journal in Google Docs,  Microsoft Word, or Scrivener and save your files to a cloud-based program that will keep your files safe if you lose your computer or pour water on your keyboard.

2. Date your entry

You think you will remember when it happened, but without a written date, you might forget. Make it a part of your journal writing routine to date the entry.

3. Tell the truth

The journal is a record of how you felt and what you did. Telling the truth will make you a reliable storyteller.

If you haven’t cleaned the seven litter boxes for a week, don’t write that you clean them every day simply because you want your readers one hundred years from now to think you had good habits. The beauty of journal writing is that you can record things honestly for yourself that you might not otherwise record or share. 

4. Write down details

Record details like the time, location, who you were with, and what you were wearing. Details will help bring the memory alive when you record using your five senses .

To this day, if I smell a certain kind of Japanese soup, I can remember vividly the day I flew to Korea to renew my Japanese visa, only to discover the Japanese embassy was closed for a traditional Japanese holiday.

5. Write down what you felt

What you were thinking? Were you mad? Sad? Happy? Write down why.

6. Write a lot or a little

A journal entry doesn’t have to be three pages long. It can be a few words that describe what happened, a few sentences about the highlight of your day, or it can be a short description of an event from your day, where you describe details to help you remember what happened. What time of day was it? What sound do you remember?

Your journal entry might be a drawing, a poem, or a list of words or cities you drove through. It is your journal, and you have the freedom to be creative.

You can use journal writing prompts or simply tap into a memory that floats into your mind. 

Bonus tip: How to write a journal entry

Aside from the date, you can write your journal entry in a number of ways. You can write stream-of-consciousness, you can use various art materials, or any form that speaks to you.  Try a list or a mix of writing and doodling, or even dialogue exchanges. 

The most important thing is just to take the journaling time and make a regular habit of it, even if it isn't on a daily basis. The words will show up when you do. 

When to Journal

There is no right or wrong time to write in a journal. Write when you will remember to do it. Do you always brush your teeth before you go to bed? Have writing in your journal be part of your bedtime routine. Perhaps put it on your bedside table, or beside your hammock, or on the floor beside your futon.

If you are a morning person, consider keeping your journal on the table where you drink your morning coffee, tea, water, milk, or orange juice.

These are only suggestions. You don’t have to write down your feelings or why you felt a certain way. I hate being told what to do. Even if it is a good idea. But I hope you'll give it a try and see if you find it unlocks your own writing. 

Do you write in a journal? Why is keeping a journal a valuable practice? Please tell us in the   comment s.  

Do you write in a journal? Do you think writing in a journal is a good idea for a writer, or a bad idea? Please tell us why in the comments .

Write for fifteen minutes about some aspect of your day as though you were writing in a journal. Your journal entry might be a drawing, a poem, a list of words, or a list of cities you drove through.

Please share your writing in the Pro Practice Workshop here and leave feedback on someone else’s practice today. We learn by writing and by reading.

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Pamela Hodges

Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at .

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Journal Manuscript Format: Author Instructions

journal writing guidelines

What is the manuscript format for journal submission?

Most journals require authors to format their paper according to very specific guidelines at initial submission (although the “ Your Paper Your Way ” concept has found its way into many scientific journals since its introduction in 2011). This often includes rules for font type, margin size, and number of panels allowed on a figure. The guidelines themselves can make the submission and peer review process lengthier and more arduous, especially when a manuscript is rejected and needs to be reformatted to fit a different journal style (even up to several times) until it is eventually published. 

However, the real problem for many authors is to first understand and clearly follow journal submission guidelines–not only because of language issues but because instructions can sometimes be confusing and even contradictory. Here, we look at the most important things to look out for when following journal guidelines and give tips on how to circumvent some of the common problems to make sure your manuscript is not rejected at first submission because it does not conform to the journal standards.

journal manuscript format, paragraph symbol

Will my manuscript be rejected if I don’t follow journal guidelines?

The short answer is “probably, yes.” Manuscripts can be rejected for technical reasons (e.g., inappropriate methodology or inaccurate conclusions) or editorial reasons. Even if you think your research question is brilliant, your findings groundbreaking, and the world absolutely needs to know about your work, an editor with too many submissions to choose from might just look at your manuscript and decide that it does not fit the usual scope of their journal or is not in line with the general format they expect (e.g., it is way too long) and reject it without even going into any further details. The best way to avoid risking a rejection due to such issues is to prepare every manuscript following general structure and formatting guidelines in your field before you even choose a journal to submit to. That usually means following the IMRD (or IMRaD) structure ( Introduction section , Methods section , Results section , and Discussion section ) when writing the first draft of your paper, which you can then adapt to whatever specific style requirements your target journal follows (e.g., regarding in-text citations and how many references to include ).

Table of Contents:

  • Find the Author Instructions

Aims & Scope 

  • Preparation Guidelines 
  • Submission Process
  • Common Ambiguities and Inconsistencies 
  • Presubmission Enquiries

Finding the Journal Manuscript Format

You find the journal submission guidelines on the homepage of your target journal – usually under a tab with a name containing the words “author,” “instructions,” guidelines,” or a combination of these terms. Sometimes you must first find a page titled “Publish” or “Submit” or “Contribute” (as opposed to “About,” “Content,” “Current Issue,” or “Archive”) that then leads to a site titled “For Authors” (as opposed to “For Referees” or “For Reviewers”). If you don’t see any link to author instructions at first glance, never assume that there are no specific guidelines to follow. They are somewhere. If you are lost, use the site search function or search for “[ your target journal] author guidelines” on Google.

The next step is to make sure that your paper matches the “aims and scope” of the target journal. If you do not find a statement on aims and scopes or the “purpose” of the journal under the author instructions, then go back to the main site or use the search function. Matching the aims and scope of a journal means that your field of research is what the journal covers (e.g., don’t submit a paper on mouse behavior to a journal that only covers research on humans) and that your research question is relevant for the journal audience (e.g., basic researchers vs medical practitioners). Manuscripts being outside of the scope of the journal they are submitted to is one of the main reasons for desk rejection . 

Additionally, check that the journal publishes your manuscript type. If you submit a medical single case report to a journal that only publishes longer case series that include four or more patients as well as a literature review, you cannot expect the editor to make an exception for you. Reviews are also often not included in the types of articles many journals publish or if they are, they are subject to even more specific rules and guidelines (e.g., regarding search methodology, covered period, and amount of included literature. No matter how much you want your article to be published in a certain journal, not carefully checking such details or hoping that the editor will accept your manuscript anyway because of its relevance will most likely backfire. If you are unsure where to submit your manuscript to begin with, have a look at this article on how to find the right journal .

Preparation Guidelines

Now that you are sure your article is a good match for the journal you want it to be published in, go back to the instructions for authors and carefully check that your manuscript format is in line with the journal style regarding the following points:

Journal review processes can be single-blind or double-blind . That means that either the reviewers can see the authors’ names and affiliations but the authors don’t know who reviewed their manuscript (single-blind) or that even the reviewers don’t know who submitted the manuscript (double-blind). In the latter case, the title page needs to be separate from the rest of the manuscript (and is usually submitted as a separate file), and the manuscript cannot contain the names of institutions, institutional review boards, or authors. Also, make sure the corresponding author is clearly identified on the title page (but only there), so that the journal knows who will be responsible for communication at any point during the peer review process. 

If there is any confusion about the person in charge at initial submission or if the manuscript needs to be sent back and anonymized before it can be passed on to the reviewers, the editor might just not want to invest that extra time and effort and sort your manuscript out in favor of others that can be proceeded with quickly.

Manuscript length

You might have a lot to say and think that every paragraph and every piece of information in your manuscript is essential, but if the target journal has a specific limit when it comes to word count and/or numbers of tables, figures, and references, then submitting anyway in the hope that it won’t matter will often lead to a desk reject. If you are very lucky and the editor does think your work is interesting enough, you will be asked to make changes and submit again, so that your manuscript can be sent out for review. If you don’t want to cut down on information but don’t want to risk such back-and-forth or an outright rejection, then check if the journal allows you to submit “supplemental” files and reorganize your manuscript before submission.

Specific rules on journal manuscript structure

Some journals have very strict ideas about which details should be included in the manuscript and where. Even if these rules might seem a bit excessive, don’t expect the journal to change its rules just for you. For example, carefully check the guidelines to see whether the results or study design should or should not be included in the article title. Likewise, the introduction section can end with a brief summary of the results of your study or just with a summary of the research question and methodology – make sure you follow whatever the journal wants you to do. 

Another important part of the submission is including declarations/statements regarding funding, potential conflicts of interest, ethical compliance , and data availability . Check whether these have to go on the title page (especially if the manuscript has to be blinded) or if they have to be listed at the end of the main text. 

Tables and figures

Many journals prefer a manuscript text file with all figures and tables included at first submission, to facilitate the review process, even if they have to be resubmitted in a specific format and as separate files after acceptance. However, most journals insist on high-quality figures and tables (i.e., high resolution, clarity, and readability) and consistent (sometimes specific) labeling. Go through all the details on the submission guideline site and don’t skip over rules that seem too excessive to you (e.g., regarding font, font sizes, color schemes, or file formats) to save time. If the journal editor thinks your manuscript is too far away from the journal format or that you (the author) don’t seem to be willing to comply with the journal rules, that saved time can easily result in a rejection.

Text format

Many journals have clear rules on what font type, font size, margin size, and line spacing to use. While that might seem a bit picky, it takes no time to adapt these things if your manuscript is already in line with general journal article formatting rules. But make sure you also follow guidelines on what headers to use in the abstract and main text, on header capitalization (title case vs sentence case), and on whether to use page and (continuous or section-specific) line numbers. 

Other details you should not miss when going through the journal instructions are whether the target journal uses American or British spelling and punctuation, whether abbreviations need to be spelled out at first use or presented as a list before the main text, and what reference style the journal wants you to use.

Journal submission cover letter

Not all journals require a journal cover letter , but the ones that do usually have very clear ideas about what kind of statements (e.g., that the manuscript has not been published before) and what information (e.g., reviewer suggestions) it needs to contain. Remember that the cover letter is your chance to convince the editor that your manuscript is worthy of being published before they even dig deeper into the details of your work. Make sure to not only follow all format guidelines but also to write in a tone that follows academic writing style .

Journal Manuscript Submission Process

Now that your manuscript is in order and complies with all important rules and guidelines, you are almost ready to submit it–usually via the journal’s online portal. What you still might need to prepare are official forms that the journal provides on their website for you to download and fill in (e.g., authorship statements) and standardized checklists (e.g., for randomized clinical trials ( CONSORT ) or for systematic reviews and meta‐analyses ( PRISMA ) that might have to be added to your submission.

Don’t skip these just because you think it’s too much work and you’ll wait and see whether your manuscript will be reviewed first and submit them later if necessary. Editors want to see such checklists to make sure your work complies with all standard rules and guidelines BEFORE they consider investing their and the reviewers’ time into getting it published in their journal. 

Common ambiguities and inconsistencies

There are some common ambiguities or even inconsistencies in journal guidelines that can lead to confusion among authors who are trying to do everything right but end up not knowing which rules to follow. The reason for such inconsistencies is usually that the journal has added on more details to their original guidelines over time or combined guidelines for several sub-journals and never reviewed their instructions in a holistic way. If you come across such inconsistencies, don’t despair – just make a reasonable choice and either let the editor know (in the cover letter) that you were unsure or follow the general formatting rules for journal abstracts and wait for further instructions at a later stage of the review process. Or, if you come across some of the following inconsistencies, we have some advice for you.

Placement of statements

It happens fairly often that guidelines tell you to place Acknowledgments or the Funding statement onto the title page as well as at the end of the main text. Don’t add the same statements twice, and don’t just randomly split them up and put half on the title page and half at the end. First, check whether the journal review process is single-blind or double-blind: If the manuscript needs to be free of author names (and initials), locations, and names of institutions, then put all statements on the separate title page, because funding information and ethical statements usually contain such details.

If the manuscript does not need to be blinded, then simply decide on one location and keep the statements together, for simplicity. An editor will not reject your paper simply because of the placement of these declarations – but if your manuscript looks messy overall, the random placement or splitting up of statements can increase that impression.

Word count rules

It is not always clear if word count applies to the entire manuscript (including abstract and declarations) or just to the main text. If your manuscript is above the limit when you include everything and just below if you exclude some parts, then look up several articles in the most current issue of the target journal and check what rule the journal seems to apply in reality.

If you are still unsure, then address the issue in the cover letter and offer to reduce the word count if necessary. But note that this only applies if your manuscript length is close to the journal limit, whatever way you count. If your paper exceeds that limit by far, then don’t waste your and the editor’s time and either shorten your manuscript or choose a different journal that does not require such changes.

Reference style

Journals often explain their reference style in words but then provide an example of how to cite an article that is either ambiguous (e.g., regarding journal name abbreviations or the use of punctuation) or in direct contrast to the stated rules. If that is the case, then look up the current issue of the journal and use the reference lists you find in published articles as a guide.

No clear formatting guidelines

If the target journal does not tell you what fonts or line spacing to use, then opt for the simplest and most basic format that follows general standards. Times New Roman size 12, double spacing, no text justification, 1-inch margins, continuous page numbers, and half-inch paragraph indentations are a good basis to start from. If you then make sure that your structure (as well as paper heading rules and title capitalization rules ) and style (e.g., in-text citations ) are consistent, any necessary changes can easily be applied later in the review process.

Manuscript Presubmission Inquiries

If you have a specific target journal in mind but matching your manuscript to the journal format would require a lot of work and you are not sure if your chances at being published in that journal are high enough to warrant putting in all the effort, then you can also opt for a “presubmission inquiry.” Such a request consists of an email that, like a cover letter, explains why you think your work is relevant and should be published in the target journal, with a summary or abstract of your paper and all relevant information copied in or attached to the email.

Some journals mention this option in their guidelines and provide instructions on how to go about it, while many don’t. You can, however, always try to email the editor-in-chief with such inquiries, especially if you have a question about a particular issue (e.g., no previous article on your topic in the journal or methodology that is not commonly used in your field) that you worry might prevent your article from being published in the target journal. Even if you receive a negative response to such an inquiry, you will save a lot of time and can quickly proceed with a submission to another journal.

Ensuring correct English in your journal manuscript is just as important as ensuring accurate reporting of actions, information, and data. Get English editing services , including professional paper editing , for any research paper or article before submitting it to your target journal . And get a FREE grammar check on your drafted work at any time using the Wordvice AI Proofreader.


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