How to Utilize Diary Studies for Comprehensive User Insights

Diary Studies with PlaybookUX
Diary studies are a log of habits, behaviors, and activities that a person documents throughout a period of time. It is a qualitative, longitudinal study that can be any length of time – from a couple of days to months. The time frame depends on what you are investigating. It is helpful to gather information about the participant over a period of time so you can understand their day-to-day experiences for quality user insights. 

Preparing for Diary Studies 

Before beginning, you should recruit and screen qualified participants. We outline the many methods of recruiting and screening participants (learn more here and here). Determine how long you will conduct the diary study. Make sure it is long enough to capture the behavior you’d like to observe. Some behaviors are daily, others are weekly or monthly. For example, if you would like to observe someone’s breakfast routine, you’ll only need a few days. However, If you’re looking to observe a quarterly accounting reporting processes, you’ll need to run a longer study. Next, figure out which materials you want from your participants. You can decide between video recordings, audio notes, writing and photos. Having different artifacts will give you the full picture. 

A diary study is typically conducted following a moderated interview, contextual inquiry or ethnographic study for the best user insights.

During the Diary Study  

During the study, you should send reminder emails to the participants to see if any questions come up. Assuming you are collecting written responses via Google Docs, make sure to check on it to ensure completeness. If you have asked participants to send images or video recordings, send a reminder email to make sure they’re capturing them in their daily routines.

After the Diary Study 

After the final diary log, ask your participants to send their logs and artifacts. Depending on the length of the study, it may take a while to synthesize the notes. Diary studies are complex since you will have a lot of logs to sort through. Your goal is to synthesize and find patterns in the participant’s daily behaviors.

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Following your review, hold a debrief session with the participants to ask them the clarify any points of confusion or elaborate on any gaps in their notes. UX research synthesis is extremely important to uncovering valuable user insights.

Advantages of a Diary Study 

Diary studies are advantageous over moderated and unmoderated studies when you’re asking someone to recall details about their day-to-day. Since participants will be logging things throughout the day, they’ll be able to better remember details and give the researcher the full picture. Also, you’ll collect artifacts which will enhance the value of your user insights.

Limitations of a Diary Study 

As with any research, there are some downsides to keep in mind. Since diary studies are self-reported, they are prone to bias. Second, participants may report what they think you want to hear, rather than what they’re actually doing.

Asking participants to record more than 2-3 times per day can be a burden. However, if you make the incentive large enough, you should be able to find a group of participants that are willing to do so.

Lastly, it can be difficult to synthesize the diary studies since there is so much data in each study.

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