What is journal writing?

There seem to be as many reasons to keep a journal as there are journal writers. For example, according to Wikipedia "Diaries are highly varied, from business notations, to listings of weather and daily personal events, to inner explorations of the human psyche, to expressions of one's deepest self, to records of thoughts and ideas".

Yes, indeed! And I will not even get into the distinction between journal, diary, workbook and similar types of written records. But in order for you to know what to expect from this website (and what not) and from the iwrite.4.life journal writing software we sell, I'll try to explain our view of journal writing.

Let's start with my own working definition of a journal as an organized record of information to be reused. Now we'll have a look at the components of this definition:

  • Record
  • Organization
  • Information
  • Reuse

Record

I didn't say written record because you may choose other ways of recording like a spoken record or drawings or sketches. However, if you didn't record any written information, you'd probably run into difficulties with organization and reuse. I think it is important though that whatever medium you choose to record your journal, to not let the tool limit you to a single type of record. For many applications you will get the most out of a journal by combining written information with other types of information like images and maybe even sound bites or video clips.

Organization

If you recorded what's of interest to you on scraps of paper and put them all in a shoe box this wouldn't qualify as a journal because it lacks organization. You could of course work with a whole collection of boxes, label them each with a category and sort your paper scraps into the boxes. That's actually a perfect way for storing physical objects that you cannot reasonably convert into bits and bytes. Think of maps, brochures, flyers, and trinkets that you brought from your last vacation and that you want to keep as a kind of travel journal.

But you will sure have a much easier time organizing your journal if you can keep it electronically stored to begin with. What you have to sacrifice is the joy of writing with a nice pen on good paper in a nicely bound diary. But you cannot have both (unless you keep different journals for different purposes): Painless organization and the aesthetic pleasure of working with physical objects.

Information

But why would you want to keep everything neatly organized in the first place? Maybe you don't have to. If you derive the benefit of journal writing mostly from the process of writing as opposed to from stored solutions you can refer back to later, then organization may not be so much of an issue. You may only review what you wrote occasionally and either read sequentially or browse randomly.

On the other hand, the data in your journal needs to be well organized if you'll ever want to use it to search for solutions to problems. There are many definitions what information is but the one that I like most is "information is the answer to a question". If you don't have a question, a journal is just a meaningless pile of data. This data may turn into information if it can provide the answer to your question. But for an answer to be found in a reasonable amount of time requires the data to be organized. To a certain degree, you have to anticipate what kind of questions will be asked because there is no general organizational principle that is equally well suited to all conceivable questions.

What you bring to the party as a writer is just this: you anticipate how you will look for information in the future and make sure that you classify what you write accordingly. You label the boxes.

What iwrite.4.life brings to the party as a journal writing tool are two levels of labeling called Topics and InfoTypes: You can put boxes inside boxes. The inner box contains all the things you want stored but they don't all have to be of a single type because iwrite.4.life also uses the concept of ItemTypes.

Here I'll drift off into some geek speak but just a little. Maybe the single most important improvement of iwrite.4.life over its predecessor i*write is its plugin architecture. i*write, like most typical journal writing tools, knew just a single type of item: a kind of word processing document. iwrite.4.life, on the other hand, is completely open as to the type of item you put into the inner box. It can be a simple text editor document (the standard), a word processing document with advanced formatting and layout or even something completely different, like a form on which you record your daily food intake or your workout session.

As of this writing, only the text editing and word processing plugins have been finished but others, like the ones mentioned above, are already under development.

Reuse

Reuse and organization of data are really just two sides of the same coin. The easier and quicker it is to find the right answer the more likely it is that you'll be able to turn the data in your journal into information. I said above that it is the writer's job to anticipate the kind of questions that will be asked in the future and to create an appropriate structure for it.

That is true but not the whole picture. We know that chronological data is much more accessible if we have a visual representation of the distribution of the data over time. We also know from practical experience that we often remember a phrase that we believe is part of what we're looking for.

In other words, although we cannot possibly know the questions a journal author will ask in the future we can be sure that she will need to have an at-a-glance overview of when journal entries were made. She will also need a very good full-text search capability, allowing for synonym and antonym search, being able to deal with misspelled words and doing all of this in a split second.