Quick Questions—On Journaling for a Class

Question: I am writing a journal for one of my classes.  Normally when I write a journal I write as if I am speaking out loud or tell a story.  My instructor reviewed my journal and stated there was a problem with my diction becasue I an using descriptions of myself.  She suggested I check with the writing center on problems when using casual diction.  She noted that was the major problem with journal.  I have written journals before and never had this problem.  Can you clarify for me the problems she is refering to in regards to casual diction?

Response: Casual language is fine for many things, and I can see why you would approach a journal with that tone. Of course, if the professor says you’re writing too casually, then you must be writing too casually, so let’s look at ways to change that.

Diction refers to word choice, and since your professor specifically cited the diction, I am going to focus on ways to make writing sound less casual at the word level, and not the sentence or structural level. Avoiding contractions and slang will help your writing sound more academic. Compare the following two sentences:

I was gonna meet Jamie at the quickie-mart, but I realized I hadn’t cleaned the lint trap.

            I was on my way to meet Jamie at the convenience store when I realized that I had forgotten to clean the lint trap.

The second sentence is certainly less conversational, but the tone lends it an air of factuality. Slang and contractions connote a sense of “low-brow”, and replacing them is a quick step to sounding less casual. Another measure you can take involves a thesaurus. If, in reviewing your writing, you decide that certain words you’ve chosen are inappropriate, and can’t think of a suitably more academic word, look up your first word in a thesaurus. Before you use a word from the thesaurus, though, make sure you understand it. For that reason, I do not recommend using the thesaurus in Microsoft Word, as it makes replacing words almost too easy, and, if you’re not careful, you could pick words that are totally inappropriate.

I have put a helpful resource in the section below that might be helpful in replacing words. I don’t have a clear understanding of what your assignment was, so hopefully this broad overview is useful. Thanks again for sending your question in, and if you want or need more help (especially working with the specific assignment), I encourage you to schedule an appointment at the Writing Center, or utilize the “Feedback-by-email” feature.



Additional Resources:


This page has a lot of specific tips in making your writing more academic/less casual. It refers to the GED essay a couple of time, but that’s irrelevant to the purpose.

Virtually every day tutors at the writing center respond to “Quick Questions” asked by writers from the DePaul community. We will start posting on our blog the questions we receive along with the answers our tutors craft in response. Of course, the personal information of each questioner will be redacted. We hope you enjoy this new resource… you just might discover the answer to a question you have always wanted (or never thought) to ask!

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Mia Amélie says:

    I find it interesting that so many professors assign journals or reflections, but that their assumptions about what these journals should look like and do are so various. I also find it strange that professors often don’t take the extra moments to inform students how journals for class differ from diary entries, especially in their tone and objective. Journals often differ in intent from class to class: a journal for a creative writing class differing from one for a political science class, etc. That said, I feel that over all professors expect journals and reflection papers to carry an academic and critical tone without necessarily following one cohesive argument. That is, I usually approach reflection papers as I would a class discussion or an academic forum: with a scholarly voice but an open, exploratory, and non-conclusive objective. When you’re writing journals for class, try keeping the readings and lectures on hand so you can draw from them as you explore your personal experiences or consider current events. I find that having and incorporating the readings (quoting and citing them, even) into my class journals helps me to maintain a more formal tone and keep my entry focused.