Notebooks vs journals with a stack of journals in the background
Journals vs Notebooks: What’s the Difference?

When people find out I publish and sell notebooks and journals, I usually get the same response: “Isn’t everything digital now?” Yes, there are plenty of options for digital planners and accessories these days for those who need something digital, but there are many people who still prefer a pen and paper. Once I explain the benefits of writing by hand (and throw in that I also sell adult coloring books), they seem to come around. 

But after we get deeper into the conversation, a common second question is, “What’s the difference between a notebook vs a journal?”

As a general rule, journals are used for personal writing and notebooks are used for organization. Journals are often used to write about intimate and private matters such as feelings, self-reflection and other topics too sensitive to share with others. Notebooks, however, are used for more general purposes. People tend to use notebooks for school, work, or organizational purposes (think to-do lists, goals, etc.).

Notebook vs Journal

Different Uses

Journals are about writing for yourself, and there are a lot of benefits to journaling. They are convenient conduits for feelings and emotions, and they can help with processing your feelings. They allow the writer to express their inner thoughts without the risk of judgment or embarrassment.

Effective journal writing is more of a private matter in which intimacy and privacy are of high importance. 

Notebooks are often used for organizing and planning. Unlike journals, notebooks can be more public and are used in environments such as work or school. They are used for creating lists, setting goals, and keeping track of things. Whereas journals embody inner dialogue, notebooks are about getting things done.

Physical Characteristics

While the physical characteristics of notebooks vs journals rarely differ much, there are some common elements you may see in one but not the other. An element a journal may have that is rare in notebooks is a lock and key. This added security helps give a sense of privacy and may help the author feel more secure in putting intimate thoughts down on paper. You’ll almost never see a lock and key included with a notebook.

A stack of journals on a table

Elements sometimes included in notebooks, but rarely in journals, are subject dividers. This is a helpful feature for organizing content and allowing a single notebook to be used for multiple purposes. Students and teachers often seek this feature out intentionally. Another physical element that may hint at the intended function of a book is page numbers. You’re more likely to see page numbers in a notebook, whereas a journal may include slots to enter a date.

Because the differences between notebooks vs journals are subtle and somewhat arbitrary, there is plenty of confusion about the topic. Similarly, there’s often confusion about other books such as diaries, logs, and bullet journals. 

Journal vs Diary

While journal and diary are synonyms, there is a subtle difference between their uses. Diaries are typically used to document events from a more factual vantage point. They are not as strongly associated with the ideas of introspection and self-reflection. To some, writing in a diary is a way to record the events of their lives — not a tool for personal growth and development.

In reality, most people who use a diary probably include some reflection and introspection in their writings (even if it’s done unconsciously). This reflection helps to shape and mold their feelings, opinions, and thoughts about the events they are writing about. 

In contrast, someone using a journal usually wants to record their feelings and thoughts about life or an event. If you’re interested in seeing how others have used their journals, then take a journey through the past by reading some famous journals that are now published.

Journal vs Log

A log is a record of events or daily occurrences as they happen (usually written in chronological order). Logbooks provide a record of events with even less introspection and reflection than you might find in a journal or diary.

With a log, the purpose and the intent of the writer are to document specific facts. Little, if any, thought is given to reflection. The writer is more concerned with accuracy than with drawing conclusions, making observations, or analyzing an event.

A journal entry, like a log entry, may be in chronological order. However, the purpose and intent are often to document personal experiences, ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

An open journal with a list

Journal vs Bullet Journal

A Bullet Journal, despite the name, more closely resembles a notebook or daily planner than it does a journal. Also referred to as dot grid or dotted journals, Bullet Journals use a grid of dots rather than the traditional lines found in many notebooks.

The name Bullet Journal is a trademarked term referring to a particular brand of dot grid notebooks. The makers of the Bullet Journal have created an entire system for using dot grid journals to take notes, make lists, and for planning.

Many users of dot grid journals turn them into planners. Using personalized layouts commonly referred to as “spreads,” these writers unleash their creativity with personalized layouts, gel pens, stickers, and washi tape.

Which Should You Use?

No matter where you land in the choice between notebooks vs journals, writing has many benefits. Journals provide multiple benefits, including stress relief, mindfulness and more. Notebooks help with creativity, organization, and learning. Notebooks are also great for learning and help with memory and retention.

Writing can be beneficial on many levels. It helps you develop your own writing voice, think better, and improve your critical thinking abilities. Whether you start writing in a journal or a notebook, you’ll soon experience these amazing benefits for yourself.

No matter why you need it, check out our collection of cute notebooks and journals at CN+J. Looking for something specific? Contact us today or consider designing your own notebook!

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