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journal vs notebook

Journals vs. Notebooks: What's the Difference?

What are journals? What are notebooks? What's the difference between a journal vs notebook? Is there a difference? How can you tell the two apart?

All this and more today as we explore the definitions of journals and notebooks and how you can go about telling them apart in the wild (as well as which is ultimately best for you).

Well, what is the difference? It turns out that the definitions of a journal vs notebook are rather flimsy and leave a lot of room for interpretation, though it is more often the case that the latter is lined and the former is not.

What's a Notebook, then?

Put simply, a notebook is a book within which to keep your notes. For this reason, it is most often just a bundle of pages stuck together and packaged like so and marketed thus. Anyone describing 'just a notebook' will inevitably be describing this kind of vessel for information, no matter what size it may be or what it might be in the future.

The number of uses and sizes that a notebook might warrant and appear in are seemingly endless and very much at the whim of the manufacturers themselves. Take a look on Tumblr and you will see endless swathes of notebook pages captured on 35mm, featuring to-do lists, taking notes of passing swine, or some other creative project.

Ruled notebooks are a perfect blank canvas for capturing prosaic or poetic fancies, though notebooks are not only ruled. One of the key misconceptions when learning the difference between, say, a bullet journal and a notebook is that a notebook is lined and a journal is blank, and this couldn't be further from the truth.

A plain notebook offers unrestricted space within which to capture any flights of fancy you might take, regardless of whether they are prosaic, poetic, or altogether visual.

For another option, there are even grid notebooks, which are often the notebook of choice for product designers. Heck, there are even dot-grid notebooks that offer a balanced layout between the freeform freedom of a plain notebook and the gentle structure of grid notebooks and lined notebooks - hence why they are so often the preserve of bullet journalers.

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Tree of Life Journal (Lined)
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What's a Journal, then?

Well, funnily enough, a journal is actually a form of notebook. More specifically, a journal is a notebook with an intention in mind. So, you might consider a notebook the format within which a journal is then contained. While a notebook bears an endless number of possibilities for its uses, a journal is intended to be more focused on a specific thing.

This is likely why, after diary entries, journals are the central reason for buying a notebook, especially since there is no shortage of different types of journaling for different issues that you might like to specifically tackle.

The best and most important part about journaling is that you can personalize it any way you like. Thus, if you can't find a specific style of journal that you are after, you can just create your own journal, though there have never been so many journals for both men and women on the market!

A journal doesn't have to be focused on a specific theme, of course, and you might actually prefer to just use it for note-taking or recording a diary entry at the beginning or end of each day (the former in the form of a dream journal).

Of course, a journal really hits its stride when used for specific tasks and goals, so oil up that blank page, get to work, and start writing! One of the most important benefits of journaling that everyone will feel if they are doing it right is the art of checking in with oneself.

In a real quick rapid-fire world, the journal is a safe space that allows us to really check in with ourselves and make sure we know how we are doing, how we are feeling, and what we can do about it.

Which is Right for You?

Which of these options is right for will ultimately depend on your own personal preferences and the kind of thing you are looking for in a receptacle for ideas and information.

Those looking for a traveler's notebook, for example, don't necessarily need to use a notebook or a journal. They might instead prefer to use a scroll of parchment that they picked up along the way. This isn't the keenest solution for quick notes, especially since parchment begs the use of ink and quill, but it is arguably the most stylish.

Equally, those who are looking for a parenting journal might, rather than using a journal or notebook, opt to use a big whiteboard upon which they can brainstorm their ideas with a close-knit group of fellow parents who are also struggling with the conception of parenthood.

The choices really are as endless as you can conceive them to be. Notebooks offer total freedom and overall make a great companion for creative endeavors. They are an entirely blank canvas upon which you can write any flights of fancy that you might have, whether this be shopping lists, interesting phrases, outfit ideas, etc.

A journal, on the other hand, is better for those who have more of an idea of what they want to get out of their notebook and, ultimately, themselves. In this way, people are wont to compartmentalize their world into many notebooks, using each individual one to tackle one specific thing.

Though compartmentalizing yourself in this way is not obligatory, considering how wild and unpredictable the world is nowadays, it seems ever more like the easiest option for actually getting through it all in one piece.

Refillable Classic Journal (Lined)
Refillable Classic Journal (Lined)
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Physical Characteristics

If you are looking to discern a notebook or a journal apart from the outside cover, then you are sadly not in luck. Though the physical elements of notebooks and journals rarely differ, there are very minute details that you can look out for that, if ascertained correctly, can help you along on your path.

One such thing that a journal might have that a notebook usually doesn't is a lock and key. Of course, this is very much dependent on how personal the contents of a journal are - very often, a journaler will simply forego the use of such security devices, either because they trust those around them or because they are prepared to deal with the consequences.

A journal is a place that has the potential to hold intimate and private details, though, so it's no wonder why at least some journalers find comfort in adding this layer of security to their journals (even if, for the most part, it could be plied apart within a matter of seconds).

On the other hand, a notebook might feature subject dividers, an added detail that journals are often lacking (unless it is a bullet journal or something). This feature is primarily for helping the user to organize the content of their single notebook into different categories so that such a notebook can in effect contain multitudes.

For those who are considering journaling but are put off by the sheer number of journals needed to separately compartmentalize the various aspects of themselves, then this might be a healthy solution. Where you might otherwise need separate journals, here you can contain all of your different journals in one notebook, saving you money and hassle in changing between journals every single time.

Final Words

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to start your very own notebook and/or journal!

FAQs Journal vs Notebook


Technically, yes. Though everyone's definition of notebooks and journals tends to differ, the common guidance is that a journal is simply a notebook with a specific purpose in mind. So, where a notebook is a raw and empty set of sheets of paper brimming with infinite possibilities, a journal is geared toward tackling a specific facet of yourself. In this way, many people are inclined to compartmentalize themselves and their lives within the bound walls of a whole series of different journals, thereby solving the puzzle of themselves, collating their journalistic memoirs, and living to tell the tale!

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