Guidelines For Keeping A Journal

I usually do my journal writing with pen and ink in lined paper notebooks. In fact, I keep several different journals, each in a different notebook: my personal/professional journal in a small (7 X 10) leather loose leaf; my teaching journal in an equally small cardboard loose leaf; my travel journal in an even smaller (5 X 7) spiral bound (carried in a tank bag on cross-country motorcycle trips). I always have the personal journal with me, in my book bag, to catch thoughts related to my everyday life or to think about professional projects now under way or in need of doing. It's the ease and portability I enjoy, always having with me a favorite fountain pen, preferring to do my journal writing in especially comfortable places—on a couch, under an apple tree, on my front porch.

However, I also do journal writing with my portable and desk top computers for more specific research projects that lead to writing projects. In these instances, I keep related files in a single folder/directory on

Guidelines for Keeping a Journal 51

my hard drive along with other notes about that project (and a backup copy on disk). By using the computer for deliberate acts of journal writing, I already have typed copy started that sometimes I import into documents I'm writing.

My own habits may serve as a preface to the following suggestions for keeping a journal. It really doesn't matter whether you use pen and paper or a computer, so long as you are able to write when you need to. The only real limitation of keeping a journal on a computer is that you may not have it when you need it—journal writing in class, for instance. What remains important is that you write as a way to reason. The following suggestions may help you keep your journal active:

1. If required to keep a journal for class, buy a loose-leaf notebook. Removable paper is an advantage if teachers want to see selected entries: you can hand some in without surrendering your whole notebook, or you can delete sensitive or trashy entries if the whole notebook is collected.

2. Divide your notebook into sections: one for class, another for more personal thoughts, and maybe another for a specific research project or even another class.

3. Date each entry. The dates of journal entries allow you (or instructors) to witness the evolution of your thoughts over time. I also add day of week, time of day, and weather—just to complete my record keeping. With a computer, if you open a new file for each entry, date and time are automatic.

4. Start each entry on a fresh page. Blank pages ask to be filled, and the more you write, the more you think. (The inevitable white spaces on half-filled pages also invite the taping in of clippings, notes, news items, and photos—making your journal something of a scrapbook as well.)

5. Write in your natural voice. Use the voice that's most comfortable; first person, contractions, and other easy language shortcuts. A journal is a place for capturing ideas in their rough and ready stages; worry about more careful language when you write to audiences other than yourself.

6. Experiment with writing at different times of day; notice how early-morning thought differs from late-evening thought.

7. Experiment with writing in different places; notice how in-class writing differs from library writing, and how both differ from writing at home or on the beach.

8. If asked to hand in your journal at the end of a semester, prepare it for public reading: delete unimportant entries; add titles for each entry; add page numbers; make a table of contents; star important entries; and write an introduction alerting a stranger to themes or ideas to look for. Preparing your journal in this way not only helps an instructor read it, it helps you remember what you wrote when.


1. For one week, focus on one dimension of journal writing that you normally ignore (e.g., observation of evaluations) and write as many entries that do this as you can. (And, of course, write a journal entry about the results.)

2. Keep a research log (separate from your normal class journal in some way) for three or four weeks about whatever subject interests you. Note there all of your preconceptions, hunches, theories, tentative conclusions, good leads, and false starts.


1. Keep a reading journal about one book you are currently reading. When you have finished, examine the pros and cons of writing while reading, including in your essay any passages from your actual journal that may support your case. (Append a sample of your journal to the end of this paper.)

2. Keep a journal for the duration of one research project or paper you are doing in another class. When the project or paper is finished, edit and write an introduction to this journal in which you explain its role in finishing the product. (Append the finished paper to the journal for reference.)


1. INDIVIDUAL: Locate in the library the published journal of somebody who interests you or was mentioned in this chapter. Write a report in which you explain how this person used the journal and speculate how it might have related to his or her work.

2. COLLABORATIVE: Interview some of your teachers or other working people in your community who keep a record or something like a journal. Find out why they keep it, how they use it, and how often they write in it. Put together a report for this class on the current use of this informal mode of writing in your community. Write about one suggestion here that strikes you as new and why you think it will be useful to you.

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  • annunziata
    How to write an academic journal for college?
    7 years ago
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    What to write about in college writing journal?
    7 years ago

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