"An intellectual journal is neither a diary nor a finished written paper."
—Steve Orvis, Professor of Government
Professors assign journals as a tool for students to become actively engaged with the course material. Students, however, often are resistant to keeping journals because they feel unsure about either the content or the purpose of the journal. Knowing some of the basic goals common to all journals should help you approach a journal writing assignment.
Common Goals of a Journal
- To encourage regular writing
- To make connections between class material, lectures, and personal observations
- To raise questions and issues that can fuel classroom discussions
- To generate ideas for future paper topics
- To provide a forum for inquiry, analysis, and evaluation of ideas
- Write regularly
- Try to make concrete connections between journal entries
- Link personal reactions to the class material
- Approach the exercise with the intention of being challenged
- Present your ideas in a coherent and thought-provoking manner
- Ignore basic rules of grammar and punctuation
- Write to fill pages; the process is more important than the product
- Wait until the last minute to make your entries
- Confuse your journal with a personal diary. Although this is your journal, the main focus should be on class assignments and their connections. Try not to focus too much on your personal feelings, such as whether or not you liked the book or the film. Instead concentrate on why your professor assigned the material.
- Simply summarize — analyze. Avoid describing what you have read. Ask probing questions: are the points well-argued? Does the writer come to a logical conclusion? What other issues should be considered?
Take your journal seriously. Keeping a journal helps develop writing, reading, analytical and critical skills that are necessary in all disciplines.
Faculty comments on the value of journal writing
"I'll be looking for evidence of thought and clarity of expression. The journal needn't be polished to gem-like lustre, but it should be coherent and, I hope, thought-provoking."
— Richard Decker, Professor of Computer Science
"Journals are ultimately very useful for developing good work habits by providing a venue and location for thinking through ideas in an ongoing and consistent way."
— Ella Gant, Professor of Art
by Molly Soule '97 & Andresse St. Rose '97
Double Entry Journal Assignment Example
This journal assignment is unique in its format. It suggests students divide their papers into two columns. The first column is for summary-oriented material such as key phrases, main ideas, important characters etc. The student then prints this information out and writes (in pencil or pen) reactions to the first column's information. This ‘dialectical' method, as the instructions call it, encourages students to spend more time with thinking critically about the text's ideas and concepts. Students can use this information for longer essays or class discussions.
T h e D o u b l e – E n t r y J o u r n a l
A double-entry journal takes the form of two vertical columns of text, one of which comments on the other. First, you’ll have to create a Word document in a specific format:
- Create a new document and click on “File”
- Click on “Page Setup…” (For Word 2007: “Page Layout” > “Margins” > “Custom Margins”)
- Change the right margin to 3.5”
- Save document as “dejournal” or “E238journal” (etc.) so that you can retrieve this document in the future instead of having to reformat again and again
Your journal will place critical reading alongside close reading. In the left-hand column, type a roughly one-page response that addresses the text’s main ideas, and key features such as important evidence. When you’re through, print this column of ideas and read them over, recording your own questions and reactions in the right-hand column with a pen or pencil. Pretend you’re writing a large paper, and you want to keep detailed notes so you can understand your ideas later. In fact, these notes are often very useful for larger projects you’ll do later.
This process is a slow-motion version of what your mind does all the time as it interacts with itself in a dialectic fashion, a word derived from the Greek for “art of debate.” Ann Berthoff writes in The Making of Meaning: “The reason for the double-entry format is that it provides a way for the student to conduct that ‘continuing audit of meaning’ that is at the heart of learning to read and write critically.” With the double-entry journal, you are creating a written record of your internal reading “debate” where you’ll make connections between the texts we read and your own experiences and ideas. By writing about your writing, you’ll be thinking about your thinking, and as a result you’ll become a stronger, more deliberate writer and thinker.