Diary studies are a form of user research that collect longitudinal, or longer-term, qualitative data from participants by asking them to complete entries in a diary which may include a series of prompts. Diary studies allow participants to complete entries at their own pace in a natural context without a researcher looking over their shoulder, and allow researchers to examine how participant attitudes and behavior evolve over a set time period.
Because diary studies rely on data self-reported by users, they are considered an attitudinal research method. Diary studies are considered a qualitative research method since they focus on the in-depth motivations and thought processes behind the user experience.
Forms of Diary Study
There are many different forms a diary study can take and ways to get creative with this research method.
In terms of timing, diary studies may use the following protocols:
- Interval-contingent protocol where participants report their experience at predetermined intervals (e.g. daily).
- Signal-contingent protocol where participants report their experience when prompted by a signaling device.
- Event-contingent protocol where participants report each time a specific event occurs.
Diaries might be recorded through a diary-specific tool like dscout or Indeemo, a multi-purpose survey or form tool like Google Forms, or even using pen and paper. Participants might be asked to include photos or drawings with their submissions, or other more creative prompts — it’s totally up to the researcher!
Because of the time investment required for diary studies and the potential for participant drop off, it’s a good practice to offer incentives or compensation at different stages of the study to keep participants engaged. Diary studies may be combined with or used as a warm-up for follow-up interviews to explore themes from specific participants in further depth.