Keeping a JOURNAL, as part of the learning process, is becoming a common assignment in many disciplines.  Whether in a science, social science, the humanities or a professional discipline, the main reason for journaling is to help develop reflective reasoning in oneself.  Journaling has many other benefits to students and teachers, alike.   Many people find the skills developed, like writing itself, are useful across the curriculum and in life beyond schooling.

Common Types of Journals
  • Personal Journal - diaries of thoughts, activities, emotional responses, records of daily life
  • Response Journal - response to a piece of literature; an event, series of events or experiences
  • Learning Logs - informal summaries of what has been learned; sometimes detailed accounts with knowledge and opinions specified
  • Dialogue Journal - space for two persons (two students, student and teacher, etc) comments about assignment, event, etc in response to one another
  • Double Entry Journal - space for the initial comments with adjacent space to comment again after reflection or a specified future time
  • Reading Journal - a place to summarize and respond to readings done for classes, personal and academic interest, paper or assignment preparation
  • Writer's Journal - a compendium of observations, thoughts, insights etc recorded over time in preparation for a project.  It may be in preparation for a class assignment or paper, a poem, piece of fiction or non-fiction or any other creation.

Journals may have components of several of these types and serve several purposes.

Instructions for Keeping a Journal

Journals become personal documents but many persons are uncertain how and where to begin.  A journal can be handwritten or electronic (word processed or even taped.)  The layout and content of a handwritten or word processed journal may vary with the particular purpose of the activity.  Three sample outlines and instructions follow.

Faculty may require or suggest some of the following.   If not, the journal writer should plan his/her journal.

  • Choose a format: e.g. small loose-leaf notebook, computer file, bound logbook, etc
  • Decide on divisions such as  academic, personal, readings
  • Date each entry
  • Write more than a few sentences in each entry
  • Write regularly, 3-4 times a week at least in a personal journal
  • Write at different times of day and night, especially when keeping a personal diary type journal
  • Index the journal periodically so you can find specific entries easily
Education Course Journal

Each journal entry should be for one day and be written on that day so details are fresh. Each entry should have the following parts.

A. Heading

  • Name:
  • Date:
  • Location:
  • Time spent:


B. Sequence of Events

Make a brief list of what happened. You should list a number of events, even those that seemed inconsequential at the time. They may become significant on a later day or on reflection as you write your analysis.


C. Select and expand on one or two events or episodes (sequence of events)

Pick those which have a wider or deeper meaning for you - ones which bother, or excite, or change or reinforce an opinion or idea.  Describe them in detail, trying to not only paint a word picture of the event but also your responses as they occurred.  Also include how others involved appeared to be responding to the situation.


D. Analysis

Why was this episode significant to you?  What did you accomplish?  What will you do next?  How were you changed by the experience?  What new questions do you have? What answers to earlier questions do you now have? Were any earlier event analyses altered by this experience?

Nursing Course Reflective Journal

Your journal entries should have four components in addition to the date, time, place.

  • 1. Identify a situation/experience that generated some interest or concern. (Example: interpersonal, ethical/moral, theory vs. practice issues). Describe it in a short paragraph.
  • 2. Next provide the details of the situation/experience. Include your reactions, thoughts and feelings.
  • 3  Analyze the meaning of this experience to you. Were others involved and what appeared to be their responses? Were you satisfied with your response and with that of others?
  • 4. Discuss how this situation/experience was significant to your clinical practice and self-awareness. What lessons were learned, or insights gained? Were your attitudes, values, behaviors or skills changed by this experience? How?  
Reading/Watching Assignment Journal

A reading journal has several basic parts and are often one to three pages long. You may not always have comments for each category and you may have other comments in addition.

  • 1. Complete citation of the book/journal article/video/film.
  • 2. Who is the writer/creator?  What is his/her position?
  • 3. Who is the intended audience?
  • 4. Summarize or abstract the content. What is the major issue?
  • 5. What is the point of view of the writer?  Is it factual, scientific or journalistic, a position paper, imaginary, etc?
  • 6. Comment on the most interesting/exciting/thought-provoking aspect of the reading.
  • 7. Comment on any unclear aspects.
  • 8. Comment on any contradictory passages or information which may be there.
  • 9. Where or how was the content linked to other assignments or to your project/paper?
  • 10. Comment on any debatable ideas or information.  Who might disagree.
  • 11. What was particularly useful to you personally or to the course assignments?
  • 12. Include any quotations from the reading which are useful or interesting.  Include page numbers.

Other possible components or comments in a journal of any kind may be:

  • goal or objective of the event before it is undertaken, especially if it is a course syllabus activity
  • any ethical dilemmas which occurred
  • what theories did you see supported or refuted?
  • if you keep a mixed journal, identify the entries by the type
  • describe the decision making process you used, if one was involved
  • what you might do differently if you were in this situation again?
  • what did I expect to happen?
  • I wonder what would have happened if.........
  • what unexpected happened
  • did any customs or social taboos become apparent?
  • were any power relationships apparent among the participants in the event?
Skills Acquired and Benefits of Journaling
  • To better be able to describe situations, events, relationships
  • To increase self awareness and the ability to analyze ones own feelings
  • To develop the ability to identify and "verbalize" one's existing and newly acquired knowledge
  • To synthesize and integrate information more succinctly
  • To assess, make judgments and evaluate events in one's life and educational activities
  • To develop new, additional or alternative perspectives on relationships, interactions and events
  • To personalize the educational experience (lab, clinical experience, practicum, discussion group) and know better what is being learned
  • To foster the establishment of linkages between theory, research, observations and experiences
  • To communicate with faculty what is being learned and to assess the value of particular experiences
  • Journaling becomes physical evidence of one's learning, growth and self awareness