General Journal in Accounting

Companies maintain accounts that help prepare financial statements. Usually, these accounts use the books of prime entry to track transactions. These may include various books, each of which has a specific purpose. The information from those books enables companies to record transactions in their general ledgers. One of the books of prime entry includes the general journal.

What is the General Journal in Accounting?

The general journal is a book of prime entry which helps record transactions that don’t relate to the other books. These transactions do not qualify for accounting in specialty journals, for example, purchase, sales, or cash journals. Excluding these transactions, the general journal includes only selected types of entries. For example, it may consist of depreciation, amortization, and accrual journal entries.

The general journal involves adjustment entries in most cases. For example, these may relate to year-end updates or modifications. Like the other books, the general journal is essential in the preparation process of financial statements. The information from this book, along with others, helps constitute the entries for the general ledgers. Another name used to describe it is the books of original entry.

Overall, the general journal is a part of a company’s accounting records and its financial systems. Most companies maintain specialty journals, including sales, cash, returns, and purchases journals. In some cases, companies may even have more of these journals. The general journal covers any transactions that do not fall into those journals.

How does a General Journal work?

The general journal consists of journal entries that do not fall under any of the specialty journals. In accounting, the term journal entry refers to a record of financial transactions. These entries have two sides, a debit, and a credit. When a transaction occurs, companies record it into their accounting system using journal entries.

The general journal also consists of various journal entries. Usually, it covers financial transactions such as opening balances, year-end adjustments, non-cash items, etc. When these transactions occur, they do not relate to any of the other books of prime entry. However, companies must still record them to include them in the accounting system. This process occurs through the general journal.

In the past, companies maintained a separate book to record these transactions. However, modern accounting systems organize all these books together. Any transactions that occur in these books also enter the general ledger. From there, this information ends up on the trial balance and, ultimately, the financial statements.

What is the format of General Journal?

There is no specific format or standard that companies must use to maintain the general journal. These records are a part of a company’s internal accounting systems. Despite that, the general journal must include essential information about financial transactions. This information must cover the following areas.

  • Date of the transaction.
  • Debit/credit accounts.
  • Debit/credit amounts.
  • A reference number.
  • A short description or memo describing the transaction.

The above information should cover the fundamental requirements for further processing. However, companies may cover more areas if they choose to do so. In practice, nonetheless, most general journals use a minimal format.


Companies maintain books of prime entry that record financial transactions. Usually, these books include specialty journals and a general journal. All financial transactions enter those journals. In most cases, the specialty journals may cover financial transactions. Any remaining items end up in the general journal. Usually, it includes transactions, such as depreciation, balance adjustments, year-end adjustments, non-cash entries, etc.

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