Diary studies can help you learn about how your users feel about something and their behavior over time, how they complete tasks, and can be a good remote alternative to field studies or ethnography.
If you're ready to get started, you can go ahead and start recruiting participants for your diary study. Your pre-loaded study is set for a week long diary study with 10 participants, but you can change the details as you need to. We’ve included a guide in this kit to help you create a diary study that helps you get the answers you need and templates for forms participants can use throughout the study.
Diary studies involve participants keeping a log or “diary” of their experiences over time. This can take many different forms, like participants filling out a form with short answer questions over different stages of a process or logging specific events as they happen. While the ways in which participants keep their diaries can change depending on what you want to learn, what stays the same is that a diary study helps you learn more about how participants do something over time.
Diary studies are a more hands-off and cost effective way to learn about the how and why of a users journey through a process. They are often an alternative to field or ethnographic study, which involves being on-site with participants for observation.
Diary studies can help you learn more about how users act in real-world situations with processes that take some time. They’re especially useful when you’re in the very beginning discovery phases of your product or project, as they can help you learn more about the process users currently use to solve a problem, or give you more insight into the specific pain points you need to solve for. They can also be especially useful at the end of a product’s development phase, to dig into the user experience and fine tune it.
We’ll help you with that. Our guide walks through an example diary study day-by-day. Because your diary study will ask very different questions and require different inputs depending on what you want to learn, the most important thing is to establish your research question before deciding how to launch your study.
Your research question should be specific, actionable and practical. Specific enough that you will know when you’ve found your answer, actionable in that you would be able to do something with what you learn from the study, and practical enough that you can reasonably run a study to learn the answer.
Diary studies can be anywhere from a few days to a few months. They follow participants over time, so the length can change depending on how long your process is. Keep in mind that the longer your diary study is, the more likely you are to have participants drop out or become unresponsive later in the study. Make your study as short as possible while still answering your research question fully. If you don’t really need that extra week of entries, cut it!
No matter how long your study is, it should start and end with a short interview. At the beginning of the study, you can use this time to tell the participant what is expected of them during the study, confirm any details you need, and establish a relationship with them so they feel comfortable reaching out with questions. At the end of the study, you may have questions about their entries, and it’s important to have time set aside to address those, thank the participant personally for their time and effort, and distribute their incentives.
Throughout the study, no matter the length, be sure to check in on participants regularly. This keeps them engaged with the study and offers them an opportunity to ask any questions they might have. Giving them this avenue is especially important, if they have a question about the study design they need to be able to ask you about it, instead of guessing and potentially providing you with inaccurate information.
For diary studies, you can talk to anyone, but in most cases you’ll want to talk to people outside of your customer pool. If you’re evaluating a new product or idea, you likely don’t have a customer pool to draw from, and if you’re evaluating an existing process, it’s good to learn about how new users may approach it.
However, if you’re evaluating a feature that requires previous experience with your product, it may be best to learn from existing customers. It all boils down to who can best answer your research question.
This is the real logistical issue with diary study management. Sending diaries to participants can be time-consuming and labor intensive, but there are ways to make it a little easier on yourself.
If your process has set times (ex. Form 1 gets sent on Day 1, Form 2 on Day 2, etc.) you can schedule your forms to send on specific dates at the beginning of your study. This makes it easy to do most of the management work at the beginning of your project, and dedicate your in-flight time to checking in on participants.
If your process involves tracking an activity over time (ex. Logging all your coffee shop transactions over a month), you can provide your participants with a log at the beginning of the study, and check in with them throughout the study.
However you choose to collect responses, test your solution with your team before sending it to participants. The real world can make things that seemed simple or self-explanatory when you were building it, complicated. Participants may not be as patient with bugs or issues as you are, and it’s important to create as seamless of an experience as possible to gather the best feedback.
The feedback you get from diary studies can be difficult to organize. If you use our template to send forms to your participants, the diary entries will be automatically added to an analysis spreadsheet. This makes it easier to spend time analyzing your feedback and less time organizing it.
Our analysis template uses Google Sheets to organize your feedback, and Sheets is a pretty good way to organize feedback for any diary study you may conduct. It’s a free, widely accessible tool that your whole team can use, even remotely. While it doesn’t have all the power of a dedicated research repository or diary study tool, it’s a good way to get started.