For today’s post I a present a “UX mini-lesson” on how to conduct diary studies. We will cover the value of longitudinal data sets, and strategies to maximize the quality and number of diary entries from your participants.

What are Diary Studies defines a diary study as…

“Research method that involves providing participants with the materials and structure to record daily events, tasks and perceptions around a given subject in order to gain insight into their behavior and needs over time.”

The main benefit of diary studies is that they provide longitudinal data. That is, they can help you answer questions about user behavior and feelings over-time. This means, diary studies can help you answer questions like:

The other benefit to diary studies is that they don’t require a researcher to present to gather the data directly. There are other research methods, like contextual inquiries and ethnographies that can also help you gather longitudinal data, but they require the researcher to be present. For this reason, many people find diary studies to be less invasive than other methods. You can use diary studies to gather data about more private or intimate settings where a researcher’s presence would be awkward (ie. the home, bathroom, bedroom, etc.)

How to conduct a diary study

Diary studies can run anywhere from a weekend to several months long. And once a diary study is underway, there is very little opportunity to make adjustments. So you will want to take a lot of time to construct the study, prepare materials, and make sure your participants are ready. Here are the basic steps of conducting a diary study:

  1. Fully articulate the goals of the study. This will help you determine exactly what kind of data you’ll need to gather.
  2. Carefully construct your diary prompts and materials. This can be in the form of daily SMS messages, surveys, or paper forms.
  3. Run a pilot study on a few friends. Make sure they answer your diary prompts in the way you intended.
  4. Carefully recruit participants. Make sure they understand exactly what is expected of them and how to respond to the diary prompts.
  5. Check in with your participants regularly. You’ll also want to schedule a wrap-up interview at the end of the study to get their thoughts and impressions.
  6. Analyze the data. Diary studies can produce a lot of data, so you’ll want to leave plenty of time for this.

As with any type of research method, there are some potential risks. Here are some caveats to consider:


A diary study tool can be as cheap as an online survey that you share with your participants. Or it can be as expensive as a full-on research suite that handles recruitment, reminders, and data analysis. Here are a few of the diary study tools I have found to be effective:

More Reading

Here are some more articles to help you get started with diary studies:


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