Diary studies in the UX research process – what are they and what information can they provide to researchers? Read our article to find out when to use them and how to conduct and analyze them. In today’s article, we will present all the key features of the diary studies.
How to conduct a diary study? – table of contents:
What are diary studies?
A diary study is a research method used to collect qualitative data about the actions, behaviors, experiences and emotions of our users over time. Data is collected over an extended period, which can range from a few days to even a few months. During a set reporting period, study participants are asked to keep a diary and note down detailed information about the activities studied.
The context of the survey and the period of collecting diary data distinguish them from other common research methods in UX, such as surveys, in-depth interviews or usability tests. They are a cheaper version of field surveys, though they do not provide such rich and detailed observations. Still, they can become a valuable substitute.
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, the scope of the subject of a diary study ranges from very broad to highly targeted – typically focusing on one of the following subject areas:
- Product or Website – aims at investigating all interactions with the site over a given period,
- Behavior – focuses on collecting general information about user behavior (e.g. smartphone use),
- General activity – involves understanding how people perform general activities,
- Specific activity – includes analyzing the way people perform specific activities.
When to use diary studies?
Diary studies help to understand long-term user behaviors and experiences, such as:
- Habits – e.g., when do the subjects apply the product?
- User scenario – e.g., how (and to what extent) do users engage with the product? What are their main tasks?
- Attitudes and motivations – e.g., what motivates people to perform certain tasks? How do users feel? What do users think?
- Changes in behavior and perceptions – e.g., how loyal are customers over time? How do users perceive the brand?
- Customer journeys – e.g., what is the typical customer (user) journey through the product (site, application) when interacting with different channels and devices?
How to conduct diary studies?
Journal surveys typically consist of five phases:
- Planning and preparation
- Pre-study brief
- Registration period
At this stage, we want to better understand we define the purpose of the study and the long-term behavior. During the preparatory phase, it is also necessary to define the schedule and select tools for participant data reporting and recruitment.
The second phase of the diary study involves taking time with the participants and preparing them for the study. It’s a good idea to schedule face-to-face meetings or a phone call individually with each participant to discuss the study and its details. Discuss the tools that participants will use and make sure everyone is familiar with how to use them. Also, don’t forget to answer any questions and address any concerns participants may have. This is a very important stage that will affect the subsequent smooth conduct of the survey.
To support effective activity recording, provide a simple survey structure. Specify as precisely as possible what information is to be recorded by participants. Create clear and detailed logging instructions. Show your subjects sample log entries to help them understand the level of detail required of them. Researchers usually apply these two popular techniques for collecting diary data from participants:
- On-the-spot recording – the simplest method of data collection in diary studies. Participants are asked to record information about relevant activities immediately in the situation in which they occur.
- The snippet technique – another popular method of recording activities, whereby participants record only brief snippets of information about activities as they occur. Then, at the end of each day or when they find the time, they elaborate on each snippet with additional details of the activity. This two-step technique ensures that relevant information is captured on the spot before it is forgotten, but without requiring participants to provide extensive details – which can be unnatural in some situations.
Once the research is complete, evaluate all the information provided by the participants for usability. Schedule interviews to discuss the diaries with them in detail. During the interview, ask questions that allow you to uncover the details needed to complete the story and clarify the issues involved if necessary. Ask the participant for feedback on their experience of participating in the study so you can improve your processes in the future.
Because diary research takes place over a long period, it generates a very large amount of qualitative data. After completing the research process, review your research questions and objectives, and then analyze the insights you collected to find answers. Evaluate the behaviors studied – how they change over time, what influences them, etc. You may find it helpful to prepare a customer journey map – which will illustrate the path of the customer journey and allow you to understand certain things from the user’s point of view.
Remember that diary research is only one part of the entire UX research process. The best solution commonly applied is to go for several different research methods – both qualitative and quantitative – to understand the users, their certain trends, behaviors, motivations and problems. Diary research provides a more in-depth understanding of their feelings and emotions toward our product. Though it may require more time and effort than other methods, we believe it’s worth it as you will gather invaluable up-to-date data about customers’ behavior and attitudes.
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