Elements of a Journal to Consider

The contents of your personal book can vary with your purpose for journaling. No two writers or purposes are exactly the same.

Still, here are a few elements to consider using in your journal, if you do not already. Take what works for you and toss the remainder.


We have discussed different Types of Journals to Consider. In that essay, we mentioned the art journal and the commonplace book, among other types of journals with drawings or art in them.

Many set aside an entire journal for painting, sketching, etc. However, for this section we are considering art as an accessory to the words. Some will create a drawing of, say, the location where they are writing – a cafe, a train station – and incorporate prose in the left over spaces.

For those of use who are strictly writers and not artists, drawing in a journal might feel intimidating or forbidden. (Or even embarrassing because we are not Picasso.) We can join the fun as well. We can doodle. We can affix an image to a journal page and write about it. It would take exploring a new type of guided journal before yours truly felt comfortable drawing in a journal, but give it a try. It enhances the book, adds another layer, and catches the eye upon re-reading.


Adding a date to your entry can be useful, especially for those of us who re-read our journals or expect someone else to read them someday (such as with heirloom journals). The date dredges up lots of memories that the rest of the content does not. Dates give context and enrich the content.

Date Headers

Now that we have established that adding a date might be useful, let’s go one step farther. Date headers are an embellishment of the date on the page that can help your eyes see the start of your day’s entry with the greatest of ease. For example, drawing a box around the date might arrest your eye quickly. This is especially useful if you write more than one day’s journal entry on a page.

You can be even more creative than that and draw banners around the date or chevrons. The sky is the limit. We have discussed this before with examples here: Date Headers for Your Journals


In the back of your journal, you can preserve the last page or two for the index of your new journal. In alphabetical order, write a few topics that you think might come up in the journal, leaving space in between for other topics that will come to you later. You can mark the index with the topic and page number (or some use Topic + Date). Alternatively, you can leave the index blank until you have an entry.

After you write an entry, think about what topic or topics it represents and note that day’s entry in your index. For example, you have written about your birthday at a water-based theme park. This entry might be placed under “T” for “Theme Parks” and/or under “B” for “Birthdays.” Choose the topic you are most likely to look for to re-read the journal.

Note that some journals come with an alphabetized space for indexing, which can save you time.

If you have already completed journals and would like to do this, consider using the end papers to create an index.

Also note that digital journals solve this problem with the ability to keyword search.

Page Numbers

Page numbers are another wonderful addition if you plan to re-read your journal. They work well in concert with indexing and with tables of content.

Some journal writers write the page numbers on every page before writing an entry. Others do it afterwards or as they go along.

The top corner on the outer edge, near the fore edge of each page, is an eye-catching spot to place the page numbers. In any case, it is helpful to put them in the same or similar spot on each page for ease of finding them when you re-read. Use your pen to write them or use number stickers to make it even more noticeable among the handwriting.

Some journals are pre-printed with page numbers, which can save you the trouble of having to write them yourself.

Place/ Setting

Noting where you are when writing is another element of context that can enrich the journal if you plan to re-read the book. Doubly so, if you draw the place or take a picture of it and affix it to the journal.

For example, you penned an entry about feeling exhausted and tired; you decided to rest all day. You jotted down the place – Asbury Lake. Now, when you re-read that entry, you realize that you traveled 30 miles to get away from whatever stressed you. You allowed the quiet of the lake (with noisy, greedy geese) to help you to heal.

By noting the place and how it helped, this activity can be replicated some day if needed.

Special Spaces

People who use Bullet Journals sometimes add a special space to their personal book that they want to highlight regularly. Among the to-do lists and errands (for that is what a Bullet Journal is – a hand-drawn planner and calendar with bullet points), one might draw a square in the middle of the page called a “Gratitude Box,” forcing oneself to write at least one thing per day for which to be grateful.

Think about a theme that you might want to highlight each time you write and consider giving it a special space, perhaps even a header.

Table of Contents

A table of contents for your journal is another way to help you re-read your personal book. In fact, a table of contents can save you time in re-reading the journal since it is a summary of what you have written.

You set up the table of contents as any published book might do it – at the beginning of the journal. You preserve one or two pages in the front of a new journal. After you write your journal entry for the day, you can summarize that entry with a title or a word or two. Place that title (and preferable the date or page number) on the first page of the table of contents. Rinse and repeat.

Some journals come with pre-printed spaces for your table of contents, saving you the time of having to create the space yourself.

For completed journals that have no table of contents , you might consider using the end paper of your journal for the task.

Ultimately, your journal is your own and it works to serve your purpose. It is our job to Make Progress, Not Perfection, so fiddle around with how you organize your personal book and have fun with the journey.



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