Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Definition of Diaries

The best advice I ever got about keeping a diary came from my mother when I was eight years old. I’d just received my first diary – a small hardcover notebook with unicorns on it — and she said, ‘You can write anything you want in here. You don’t even need to worry about spelling. You’re the only person who’s meant to read this.’ That advice is at the heart of what keeping a diary is all about. Unlike other types of writing, a diary is generally not meant to be read by anyone else.

So, if nobody else is going to read it, then why write it? There are many reasons people keep a diary. For some, it’s a way to nurture their creativity. Writing in a diary can help spark new ideas or develop thoughts. For other people, keeping a diary is a way to stay emotionally healthy. Writing in a safe space can help you process past experiences. A diary is also a way of keeping a record of what happened and when. Others keep a diary of things that they’re thankful for, as a way to be more in tune with the good things in their life. And some people keep a diary as a way to improve themselves or follow through on changes they’re trying to make. You can keep a diary for any reason that interests you.

A diary can take many different forms. You can use a regular notebook. You can buy a specially designed diary, some of which even come with small padlocks on them. Or you can use your computer, choosing to save what you write on the hard drive or even the Internet.

But how do you keep a diary? If there are no rules, how do you know what to do? First off, there are no hard and fast rules to keeping a diary; there are conventions that many diary keepers follow. A convention is a way that something is usually done. Following conventions can make things easier, because you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, you can benefit from the experiences of other people.


One common convention when keeping a diary is to write the date at the top of each entry. Some people are very specific when writing the date, including the exact time of day that it is. Other people might simply write the month or year. The main idea here is that diaries are often organized chronologically by date.

Another convention that some people follow is to write to their diary as though it’s a living person or entity. For example, one very famous diary-keeper, Anne Frank, called her diary ‘Kitty.’ She began each diary entry by writing ‘Dear Kitty.’ In the novel, The Color Purple, the protagonist writes letters to God, and this collection of letters serve as a sort of diary for her.

Beyond those conventions, a diary can take on many different forms. For example, some people add doodles, artwork or even keepsakes into their diary entries. Other people, like the fictional protagonist in the novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, add numerical stats to their diary entries. You can do whatever helps you, the diary-keeper, get down the thoughts, emotions, ideas or events that you’re trying to capture.


What if you want to keep a diary, but don’t know what to write about? A lot of people feel this way at some point or another. It can be intimidating to look at a blank page! One strategy that works for some people is to use a prompt. The point behind a prompt is that it helps spark an idea, and then you’re free to take that idea in any direction you choose. Some prompts are sentence-starters. For example:

  • If I had a million dollars to spend in a single day, I would…
  • My biggest fear is…
  • I still can’t believe…

Other prompts take the form of questions. For example:

  • What’s a memory that you will always cherish?
  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What do you hope you’re doing in ten years?

Prompts can also take the form of art or photography. For example, you could look at a picture from a magazine, and use that to spark your imagination. You can find prompts online, or you can buy a special diary that comes with prompts already in it.


Since most diaries are private, there are fewer examples of diary writing than there are of other types of writing. But there are some examples. Some diaries are published after the writer has died. Other people choose to share their diary. There are also many novels that are written in the format of a diary.

One very famous dairy that was published after the writer died is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank was a young, Jewish girl living in Holland when the Nazis invaded. Her family went into hiding, and her diary chronicles her experiences. Anne Frank’s family was eventually betrayed, and she died in a concentration camp. Her father, the only survivor of the family, later published her diary.

Another famous diary is that of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt, like many other presidents, kept a diary that chronicled his daily experiences. Other famous diaries include those by authors Lewis Carroll and Virginia Woolf.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Diary
FDR Diary

You can also learn about diaries by reading fictional examples of diaries. Novels, like Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Color Purple, both use a diary format.

Lesson Summary

There are many reasons that people keep diaries. Regardless of the reason that inspires you, one of the joys of keeping a diary is that there are no hard and fast rules you need to follow. You can write in your diary in whatever way works best for you! While there are no hard and fast rules to keeping a diary, there are conventions that many diary keepers follow. A convention is a way that something is usually done.

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