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Diary study templates

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Analyze participant entries from a diary study to understand user behavior and experiences, and to identify patterns and themes in the data.

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Last updated

10 April 2023

Reviewed by

Miroslav Damyanov

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Create actionable insights from your diary studies

If you’re looking for a useful and interesting way to uncover how your users feel about something and their behaviors over time, consider diary studies. 

There are several reasons to consider a diary study, such as it is more of a "hands-off" method for collecting data. Your users can do it from anywhere, which can be cost-effective. 

Of course, having the right template for your diary study is essential to its success. You can customize templates for multiple studies, allowing the researcher to create studies without starting from scratch each time.

What is a diary study?

Diary studies or user diaries are a way to study users' habits, behaviors, activities, and experiences of a product or service. You usually do this study toward the beginning or discovery stage of your research, and it can last for a specific period of time. The participants of a diary study keep a log or diary of their user experience for that time frame. It can last a few days or several weeks. 

Diary studies are a cost-effective alternative to field surveys or studies, where you bring participants to a site for observation. With diary studies, participants can record or log their experiences when and where they occur. Generally, diary studies are qualitative in nature and help you understand the users' experiences with day-to-day documentation.

Why should I run a diary study?

Since diary studies take place when a participant logs their experience, it can happen without a major disruption in their day—or yours. In fact, it can happen when they want to make a note about a thought or an issue when it happens. You can review the responses in real time or whenever it is convenient for you. This differs from field studies, as you don't have to arrange schedules, plan travel, or hire outside help to fulfill your on-site requirements. 

Some studies may require a study sample from a large geographic area. With a diary study, geographic location doesn’t limit you. In a global business environment, you are able to include representative participants from anywhere.

Diary studies also allow users to be more open and less likely to modify their thoughts and responses than when someone is watching them. Logging responses as the experience occurs also gives the participant a more intimate, self-discovering relationship with the study.

 Advantages of a diary study

There are various advantages to a diary study:

  • Cost-effective: Diary studies offer cost savings by being able to perform the studies at the participant’s location without additional expense of travel, moderators, and location rentals.

  • Habitual responses: Because of the data collection happening over time, respondents can record responses as they happen instead of having to remember what happened earlier in the day.

  • Behavior in natural environment: Diary studies also allow for testing to occur in a natural environment, that is the place where people use the product, revealing very real and intimate moments of someone’s daily life. 

Disadvantages of a diary study

As with any research, there are pros and cons to the methods. Though diary studies have the advantage of collecting data over a period of time, if the defined time is too lengthy, respondents either forget to complete it or don’t want to commit to the time it takes to do the study for that long. Further disadvantages include: 

  • Budget for incentives: Incentives for participants may eat into your study cost savings. This is particularly true if the study is lengthy or complex. For you to get a high success rate of completion, incentives will have to correspond to the time spent.

  • Measuring emotions and behaviors: Recording emotions and behaviors is great for some studies, but you may not get all the data you need without observing the respondents. It’s easy to veer off-course at times when a diary study allows emotional responses without moderation.

  • Keeping focus on the task: It’s important to keep your study focused on the task in order to get all the information you need without the participants giving answers they think you want. You must design diary studies to not only get complete data but to do so in a way that keeps respondents on point while giving them the opportunity for self-expression.

  • Bulk of data: You may gather lots of data! That’s great, but that also means lots of analysis. You may have to hire help to analyze the piles of data you receive.

Methodology 

In order for diary studies to be successful, there are some things that you should consider. If you need answers fast, diary studies may not be your method. If you have a short, yes or no study question, a diary study is not what you want. Or if you don’t have the staff or ability to staff for analysis, you may want to try something other than a diary study. But if you want to collect data over time, where the user is, and you want to work through logs for user activities, experiences, and behaviors, a diary study may be for you.  

Who are your participants?

Recruiting participants is an important step in setting up your diary study. Look for engaging, committed respondents. Ask straightforward and to-the-point screener questions. Offer an incentive that correlates to the size and length of the study. If the participant seems disengaged, uninterested, or uncommitted, move on. If your study is lengthy, expect some participants to drop out before it is complete, so recruit a few extras.

Introductions expectations

Once you’ve determined that the participants meet your qualifications, the recruitment process must include information to the participants on the amount of time and commitment that’s required. The best and most effective way is with one-to-one onboarding, where respondents are more likely to ask questions. Be firm about what you expect of participants. Go through the diary, so they are familiar with it, and if digital, check they can access it with their browser. Leave contact information in case issues or questions come up.

Feedback & follow up 

Check in on participants on a regular basis. Ask if they are having problems and if they are currently working on their diary study. Send them reminders. Call them. Whatever works for you. Your respondents are more likely to remain engaged and active if you send friendly reminders or follow-up calls.

Activities

You must be clear on what you expect for your diary study. The users should log the specific activities in the time frame you designate. Users should do logging, transmission of data, video, or any other required activities as close to real time as possible.  

Monitoring

You will have to monitor your participants. The amount of monitoring depends on the length and complexity of the study. If you see that a participant isn’t responsive or if you aren’t receiving feedback when requested, spend extra time to determine if the respondent is still active. Remind them a few days before the end of the survey so they can complete the study on time.

Analysis and wrap up

When the diary study is complete, remind participants to return diary study materials in a specified time frame. Participants should know that incentives are paid upon completion, which can help get data submitted.

Have a policy in place for following up on respondents that haven’t returned or finished the study. Determine the best way to follow up, either by phone or email. If someone does not complete the study, try to determine why and find out if there is a way to get them to finish.

Analysis, depending on the size of the study and the size of the sample, can be daunting. Expect to spend some time on analysis before sharing the insights. If there are incomplete or unclear entries, contact the respondent for clarity. Always send a thank you email or call to let the study participants know you appreciate their help.

Diary study templates

Setting up your diary study templates can be done in a number of ways. For some smaller studies, you can actually put together a diary and mail it to them. This may work for small, local diary studies, but most people won't want to write everything down and carry the diary with them.  

Then there’s the handwriting! Unclear handwriting can lead you to misread, misinterpret, or disregard diary entries.  

And then there’s the post office. Counting on speedy delivery or even getting respondents to put them in the mailbox just seems to welcome problems.

There is also online access like email, Facebook, or whatever platform your participants may be familiar with. This makes it easier for your users, but retrieving and sorting data can be excruciating.  

You can build your own digital diary study if you’re on a limited budget for research, but some researchers would rather use parameters that have already been defined.

There are tools that are used specifically for research that can make a diary study easier and increase your rate of success. These tools allow participants to log multimedia entries on their phones, making it more convenient for them. Data collection, sorting, and tagging provided by these tools make it easier for you.

Analyze participant entries from a diary study to understand user behavior and experiences, and to identify patterns and themes in the data.

Use template

FAQs

How many participants do you need for a diary study?

While some researchers say 10–15 respondents is optimal, the number of participants depends on the complexity and scope of the study. It’s always a good idea to recruit extra participants in case of drop-outs, particularly in long studies.

How long should a diary study be?

Diary studies can go on for a few days to several months. Each study is different and depends on the data needed and the nature of your study.

What is an example of a diary study method?

You can use diary methods to record user experiences either by using a diary, a video, or online or app-based entries. The user notes their experience, behaviors, and emotions when using a product or service. 

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