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diary and journal

Diary vs. Journal: What's The Difference?

Finally looking to start the diary you always said you would? Or are you simply wanting to begin a journal? What exactly is the difference between a diary vs journal? What does this difference mean for you the user?

All this and more today as we explore the definitions of a diary and a journal, what makes each unique, as well as the many things that unite them in their shared mission.


If we were to look at the dictionary definitions of a diary vs journal, we would be struck reasonably swiftly by something that will help our investigation today.

The Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines a diary as a book in which you can write down the experiences you have each day, your private thoughts, etc.

Alternatively, a journal is defined as either a newspaper or magazine that deals with a particular subject or profession or a written record of the things you do, see, etc. every day.

Most notable here is the fact that while the dictionary definition for a diary is relatively simple and easy to map, that for a journal is rather multi-faceted and all-encompassing. The academic journal is not quite what we have in our sights today, though any journal can be academic if you think hard enough about it.

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We ought to already be able to see that there is considerable overlap between a personal journal and a personal diary. This is sometimes to the point that diary writing and journal writing are often combined into one outlet and very often confused with one another.

See how useful it can be to track data in this way, using the word diary and the word journal to follow their meanings as felt through the English language. This is often a great way to explore ideas, much as diaries and journals can be.


So, you should already be able to see that there is a considerable amount of overlap between the notions of diaries and journals. This is to the point where they are often believed to be synonyms of each other, where one word is used to refer to the other and vice versa.

What is actually more true is that the word is always a synonym for a journal, whereas the word journal is not necessarily a synonym for a diary as it does not always share that same meaning.

And this gets to the very heart of the difference between a diary and a journal, a diary can always correctly be referred to as a journal but a journal cannot always correctly be referred to as a diary.

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A diary will always be a format where a person keeps track of personal events, and their personal nature, even maintaining a food diary in a separate diary entry, preempted with the phrase 'dear diary'.

A journal also shares this definition though can also come to mean a magazine or newspaper that is written on a particular topic. Now, this can also record events and random thoughts, though these are much more focused, no matter how much of a benefit they might be to the writer's mental health.


There are a number of famous examples of each, so perhaps we would do best to test our new-found definitions of these words by placing them beside some famous examples.

Likely the most famous diary in the western world comes in the form of the diary by Anne Frank, titled Het Achterhuis. But is it a journal or is it a diary?

By our very own definition, this could easily be called a journal, though it has very often come to be referred to as a diary. Why is that? Well, it is the most literal daily log of personal experiences that there can be. So, the difference between a diary and a journal is that the former is often more personal. Right?

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Another famous example is The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, later adapted into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Is this a diary or is it a journal? Again, this is a diary in the very strictest sense of the word.

The published work itself is an edited collection of the diaries that Carroll kept between the ages of twelve and sixteen. The distinction seems, again, to come from the fact that these are inherently personal experiences, tracking his daily life, sexual experiences, high school basketball career, poetry, composition, and his addiction to heroin in great detail.

Now, the fact that there are a number of different forms of writing within would be cause enough to question it being labeled a diary. Is this not a journal instead? Well, the fact that these disparate formats are collated together and centered around Carroll is enough for the label of diary to hold fast. If, say, the focus was more on basketball or heroin, then maybe it would be considered more of a journal.

diary vs journal

Diary vs Journal: The Data

We can keep talking all day long about the definitions and effects of these words, but we could also just look at the raw data and come to our own conclusions.

Thankfully the Google Ngram viewer has democratized this kind of information and made it accessible to the people. What this tool allows users to do is to track the usage of a word through time, from around the present day all the way back to the implementation of the printed word.

By using this tool to track the comparative usage of the words journal vs diary, we can see that very often their usage shadows one another. In the past, the word diary has enjoyed far more usage, sure, but the word journal has also tracked the word diary in roughly the same shape.

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Nowadays, though, there is scarcely any competition as they are more or less on a level with each other. Though, with the advent of social media and the like, it is far less fashionable to keep a diary in writing and on paper.

At the turn of the century, the word journal towered over the word diary, and this is something that is not altogether dissimilar today. Specialist journals like the bullet journal and the gratitude journal have come about to scratch itches that social media cannot otherwise scratch.

The former seeks to make the process even faster for use by those in business for a more lubricated workflow or simply by those who wish to make the relationship between work and play more tangible. The latter, by contrast, responds to research by mental health experts that suggests expressing tangible gratitude for the things you have is inherently good for your own mental health.

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Last Words

So, there you have it! Hopefully, it has been at least somewhat illuminating to explore the differences and similarities between diaries and journals in this way and you are now feeling able to start one of your own.

FAQs Diary vs Journal


This can depend on your own specific circumstances, though now more than ever we might instead ask what the importance of such a distinction even is. The dictionary definitions of these two words are rather illuminating. While a diary is defined as a book in which you can write down the experiences you have each day, your private thoughts, etc, a journal is defined as either a newspaper or magazine that deals with a particular subject or profession or a written record of the things you do, see, etc. every day. Is this overlap not entirely interesting and suggestive of the inability of words to really say anything?

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