What is a Diary?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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A diary, or journal, is a permanent personal record that is kept of events, thoughts, and ideas associated with an individual. While some cultures think of diaries as being mainly a female pastime, the fact is that journaling or keeping a diary is an activity that people of both genders engage in regularly. Keeping a diary is an excellent means of documenting experiences and ideas that will have meaning later in life or possibly be of importance to the next generation.

In many instances, keeping a diary is something that people choose to do in secret. The thoughts and ideas that are captured in the text of a diary are often considered private and confidential. For that reason, people who do choose to keep a diary over a number of years may only choose to share certain parts of the recorded text with people they know and trust to maintain that confidence.

Lock diaries are one way that people sometimes choose to prevent anyone from reading confidential diary entries. Because the lock usually requires a key, it is difficult if not impossible to open the diary by any other method without leaving proof that the diary has been tampered with. For the most part, a diary with a lock is enough to deter most people from attempting to read the contents.


There is no one proper way to keep a diary. Some people choose to utilize a diary as a means of recording day to day events, sometimes noting experiences that were out of the ordinary. Other people choose to write in a diary only when something new and exciting occurs in their lives. While not a daily recitation of events, the diary does provide a means of preserving memories associated with important happenings, such as births, deaths, marriages, promotions and other experiences that are likely to be of importance even after many years have passed.

For some people, a diary is a form of therapy that may help the individual to get through a crisis. People who undergo a life-changing experience such as the death of a loved one or a divorce are sometimes urged by counselors to utilize a diary as a means of allowing pent up emotions to have some type of outlet. The ability to put down emotions and thoughts that are hard to share with another person in written form may help the individual to undergo a catharsis of sorts and begin to move along in the healing process.

While the process for keeping a diary once involved securing a private journal with blank pages waiting to be filled with text, that is no longer the case. With the advent of computers and various types of voice technology, people now choose to journal in a number of different mediums. A diary can be created using word processing software and saved as a file. One of the advantages of this approach is that it is possible to conduct a keyword search of the document in order to quickly locate any recorded thoughts or feelings connected with a given event or experience.

Audio diaries are also popular alternatives to the handwritten diary. With modern voice communications, it is possible to create an audio file that can be saved on a computer or some other electronic storage device like a CD-R. This approach can be especially exciting for families who maintain an ongoing history, as it means that later generations can hear about the experiences of their forebears in the actual voices of the people who had the experiences.


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Post 7

@bythewell-- I think that depends on what is written in the diary. Not everyone uses a diary for the same purpose. Some people write events, some thoughts and ideas, some people keep a diary just to write down their dreams.

I personally have a pocket diary that I use to jot down ideas and important information. Of course I go back and look at it frequently. It helps me brainstorm and build on ideas I already have. People in various professions use a diary for this purpose. For example, script writers like to keep a pocket diary because they may come across an incident that gives them an idea for a script.

Post 6

People like political leaders should always keep a diary because it could be important in the future. For example, we find out about many historical events through diaries that people had kept at the time. So a diary can be a historical artifact. It can tell us about that time frame, about people, about society, etc.

Many people don't write a diary with this in mind but it can serve this purpose.

Post 5

I don't keep a diary anymore but I did have one when I was a teenager. I would write in it everyday, usually about how my day went. I think it's a great way to relieve stress and think. I should keep one again.

Post 4

@croydon - I actually made a pact with myself that I was only going to write interesting things in my diary, so that I would be able to remember them when I was old, rather than just to pour out all my feelings (which are almost always boring to read about).

I guess the problem is that when my life is interesting I don't tend to have time to write in my diary. I always have good intentions and then I just trail off after a few entries.

Post 3

@bythewell - Honestly, I don't really read my diary again after I've written in it. Occasionally I'll glance through entries from a long time ago but they are almost always boring. I never write about interesting stuff, I only ever seem to write when I'm upset about something or feeling depressed but reading it again just makes me happy I don't feel that way anymore!

That's particularly true now that I have a digital diary on my tablet rather than a paper diary. I just basically use it as a form of therapy and if I wasn't such a packrat I think I'd basically be happy to delete it after I've written it.

So I think it depends on the kind of person. Probably the kind who tends to linger on their problems would do it anyway, whether they have a diary or not.

Post 2

I've heard that it can actually be harmful to keep a diary. There was a study I read a while ago where they claimed that people who kept a diary and read it over again would linger on past problems and it would actually make them more depressed.

I don't know if that's true for everyone, but I wouldn't take it for granted that keeping a diary book is automatically good for everyone.

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