Your college composition instructor may ask you to keep a journal to help you engage with material discussed in class. By writing informally about assigned readings and course concepts, you can process the information and learn to apply it as needed. Keeping a journal can be an effective way to improve your skills and brainstorm topics for future papers if you think critically, write regular entries and relate to the material.


In general, an English composition journal is meant to help you process readings or course material in an organized way. It is not a diary for your private thoughts; entries should be organized and are often graded as informal papers. Although personal experiences and reactions can be valuable as a starting point, avoid focusing solely on your own thoughts. Instead, keep the focus on what you have learned from the topic or reading assignment.


Your instructor will most likely give you a list of due dates for journal entries. While you might be tempted to do these assignments at the last minute or not put forth much effort, take them seriously and give thoughtful responses. Carefully read or review the material to which you are responding and then think about what ideas you would most like to write about. Leave time after you've finished the entry to review it and correct any glaring grammatical errors.

Critical Thinking

Your journal entries will be most successful if you engage with the concept or reading assignment on a specific, critical level. It isn't enough to say that you liked something or found it useful; examine the text carefully for clear reasons why you reacted this way. Quote short, memorable passages as a means of supporting your ideas and thinking about why the assignment is important to this class's goals. Consider how what you've learned will make you a better writer.

Further Development

Because journal entries are exploratory in nature, periodically rereading them may lead you to topics for larger essays. Coming up with a topic for a paper can result in writer's block or anxiety, but looking back through your informal writing can lead you to an area of interest you might pursue further. Writing frequently and taking your journal seriously can pay off by providing you with a paper subject you will be eager to research and write more about.