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Journaling can be done in several ways, and for several reasons.  People use it for learning, processing information from books, articles, and videos. People also use it for therapy, writing out memories, dreams, current events and feelings, or anything they want to record or process. It can be something they can look back on to find patterns, or look for changes.

Below are several ideas that you can consider. However, you are encouraged to explore ideas beyond what you see here. Do what works for you, and feel free to try different approaches later.


When people think of journaling, most thing of freewriting passages from a paragraph to multiple passages.  This is one great way to journal. However, you have other options.

Bullet point journals are popular because they are easier to do with little time, and you don’t have to worry about crafting interesting sentences. Jotting down ideas, or organizing ideas into maps and lists, can be a fun and freeing way to journal.

Images can also be included. This could be creating charts and mind-maps, sketching out ideas of actual images of what you see, or even a picture you affix onto the journal page. Some people might opt for a purely visual journal.

Writing prompts can help people get started with writing. Prompts can be questions posed in an article, book, or video. Those completing therapy workbooks with writing and art prompts can use these for their journal. The PTSD Workbook by Dr. Mary Beth Williams includes ideas for both writing and art.

Dream processing includes writing descriptions of your dreams and how you felt about them. It can also include drawing or painting about them, or using other media to represent your dream.

Which option do you choose? How about any and all of them? You don’t have to do the same thing for each entry. Do what feels best at the moment.


Active Reading & Journaling

You might enjoy reading a book from cover to cover without doing anything else with it. However, when reading a book to learn from it, sometimes it helps to engage in active reading strategies. A journal can be part of this process.

Annotations can be written in the book itself, or in a journal (or both!).  You can highlight and underline text in the book, and write in the margins; you can also jot down direct quotes in a journal.

Sometimes you find categories of the things that interest you; you can start listing key words and, in your journal, noting the page numbers you might want to revisit. Bookmarks such as sticky-tabs can also help you find these key words. You might even use a color-code system with a different color for each category.

Asking questions and mulling over those answers is one of the most common things you might find yourself doing. Questions could be wondering what the author means, or noting conflicting information (with that same author’s writing, or with another author).  The resource might have questions for you to consider, and these are great for journal prompts.

Two-Column Journaling (Response Journaling) is where you draw a vertical line down the center of the page. On one side you list the direct quote or paraphrased idea (or key word). On the other side, you give your thoughts, feelings, reactions, questions, etc. You can also expand upon the idea later as you learn more.


Physical Journals

Most people like to treat themselves to a physical journal. Everyone’s preferences vary, so spend some time thinking about what makes you happiest (or, what will you most likely write in).

Paper type can be lined and unlined, perhaps even graph or dot paper. Also, did you want a specific color of paper, or several colors? Does the texture of the paper matter to you?

The pens and pencils can also be important. Do you want a medium point pen with ink that flows smoothly? Fine point? Pencils? Monochrome, or multiple colors?

It might help you decide based on if you plan to journal only in words, or plan to include images such a mind-maps or sketches.

Binding also matters. Did you want to purchase a ready-made, bound notebook? Or did you want to use a 3-ring binder to include not only paper, but also things such as pouches and dividers?  Some people will want to have sections (e.g. learning, dream recording, memories, current events/feelings, etc.).

Regardless of the binding, remember that you can allow yourself to include entries that are scrapbook style, allowing you to grab any napkin, memo notepad, etc. to write on and then affix into your journal later.

There are pros and cons of having an artistic journal, but the main question is this: will you be willing to write in it freely? Without hesitation? Without extra effort getting in your way? Design your journal with the goal of actually using it!


Electronic Options

Ebooks often have annotation and bookmarking options, as well as sharing options. You can post them to an online journal, or in an app such as Evernote.  Evernote can be used to collect articles, store links to resources, write up notes, and more. Even if it isn’t part of your journal, you might want to check it out as a resource.

Scrivener can be used to gather research and organize entries and ideas. Scrivener is designed for writing books and screenplays, so this tool can be good if you are thinking of creating an organized book later.


Getting Started

Remember: do what works for you, and feel free to change your approach, or to mix in several approaches.  The trick is getting started.

If you are overwhelmed by options, then go grab a cheap spiral bound notebook with the three-hole punch paper (in case you want to tear out pages and organize them differently later).  Grab the nearest writing utensil, and being.

On the first page list your favorite things; some things you would hope to do or have in the future; and your biggest fears or challenges.  You now have your first entry, as well a list of topics to consider writing about later.

Not consider reading an article, or reading at least one chapter in a book, or watching a video (or series of videos).  Write down the title of the item in your journal.  Then, during reading/viewing (or after you are done), jot down key ideas or quotes, or note questions you may have, or describe what you are feeling. Did you learn anything new? Were you reminded of something you might have heard before? Was anything surprising or had you stopping to think? Did you especially like or dislike any part of it?

Or Not. Journaling is fun and/or very useful for some people, but less so for others. If journaling isn’t for you, don’t worry about it! There are other ways to learn and process information and feelings. As stated a couple times already, do whatever works for you!


Learn More – Resources on Journaling

Bullet Journal – includes video on how to bullet journal.  Note that Moleskin and other brands of dot journals could be used for this, or you could modify the approach and use graph paper.

Bullet Journaling and Self Care – gives illustrated examples of using bullet journaling for self care.

How to Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide – The Lazy Genius Collective

Journaling in Therapy – Psychology Today

Ideas for Writing Therapy: Using a Pen and Paper to Enhance Personal Growth – Positive Psychology




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