Skip main navigation

Different ways to journal

"Does my journal have to be on paper?"
In this article we explore the pros and cons of different journaling methods.

Reflective journals can take many shapes or forms: Choose one or several formats that work for you.

Written journals

Pencil on book with shallow focus photography.

When you mention keeping a journal, many people will think of hand-writing into a physical notebook or diary. In our busy digital world, it can be quite soothing to sit down and write on paper. The advantage of writing in a notebook is that you can write anywhere, anytime without the need for electricity or the internet.

There are many different types of notebooks available: Choose a size that meets your needs (will it fit into your bag or pocket?), a type of paper you enjoy writing on (colour of paper, with or without lines, smooth or rough paper), the kind of binding that allows you to open the journal in the way you want etc. Think about what type of pen or pencil you enjoy writing with – maybe you like to doodle while you reflect?

Another form of writing journals can be by using digital devices. There are several ways you can go about this: Typing, and hand-writing on a touchscreen device with a stylus, either offline saved on your device or saved in the cloud.

Many of us are so used to typing every day, we barely give it a thought. It allows us to ‘save trees’ as information is kept in a digital form, we can easily rearrange what we have written with simple ‘cut and paste’. Spell check, online dictionaries, images, hyperlinks – all these tools and many more can be useful as we journal on a digital device. While many of us carry smart devices with us wherever we go, if you save your journal ‘in the cloud’, you can access your content on multiple devices, provided you have electricity and internet access.

There has been research published, comparing note taking as a typed test and note taking by hand, using a stylus. If you are interested in finding out more about this, check out this article from 2016 The pen is mightier than the keyboard or The Design of Future Educational Interfaces by Sharon Oviatt, 2013.

Consider using any of the following tools:

Audio journals

A dictaphone from the 1990s, manufactured by Sony.

Many of us are familiar with dictaphones from TV series where doctors use them to record their notes for their assistant to transcribe. Today you don’t need a separate device and tape anymore to record your audio journal, most smartphones have this functionality built in. You can record your reflections in one or in several takes, and some programs and apps have a least limited edit functionality built in.

Audio files can be a great way to record your reflections, it is similar to speaking with a friend or mentor. You can but don’t have to transcribe them. Ideally you keep the recordings in one location such as inside a folder on your computer so you can refer back to them and track your progress on an issue, or check back on your earlier thoughts.


Vlog, also known as video blog or video log, is the practice of using video (with or without other media) to record your thoughts. You can see a prominent example of this used in James Cameron’s 2009 movie Avatar, where Jake Sully, a member of the Avatar team, records his experiences and reflections.

Similar to audio journals, smartphones have built in video recording capabilities. The visuals can add to your reflection, for example through your facial expressions and gestures. You can use film editing tools to add additional images and diagrams, or edit several clips together. As with the other methods, keep them collated in one space so you can refer back to them.

Visual notetaking

Visual notetaking can take many forms. One of these is referred to as Sketchnotes: a combination of illustrations, symbols, texts and structures.

A visual representation describing the definition of a sketchnote.

There are no right or wrong ways to sketchnote, but the key is to practise. If you are interested in learning more about sketchnoting, check out Sylvia Duckworth’s blog post Sketchnoting (or visual note-taking).

Keep journals private or share them?

This is really up to the individual: Some of us like to keep our thoughts, analysis, trials, success or failures private, others enjoy putting them out into a public space, invite others to contribute and to learn alongside them. If you like to share, consider using a blog, creating a podcast series or posting to social media.

A word of warning though, about the sharing of confidential information: In today’s connected world, it is easy to piece together where you work and what or who you refer to. Rather than generalise a reflection to the point where it becomes useless for you, maybe keep those reflections private.

Over to you

Have you used or are you currently using a journal? Which types of journaling might work for you, and why? What makes you avoid a particular journaling method? Do you have any tips and tricks to share with your peers?

Please use the comment section below to share your whakaaro | thoughts with us.

This article is from the free online

Best Practices for Culture and Heritage Education in Aotearoa New Zealand

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now