Person standing on a sidewalk, writing in a notebook, wearing a camera around their neck

Diary Study

A Diary Study is a user-facilitated study in which participants track activities and routines that are relevant to the use (or potential use) of the product. This may include the devices used to access information, the reasons why they use specific apps or websites, when they use them, and stories about problems they encounter.

Because a Diary Study is self-reporting, user experience designers are free to conduct other research activities while waiting for participants to turn in their diaries. The study can be performed remotely, as well, since users can email results to researchers.


Schedule Time & Gather Materials

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Schedule Time:

  • Diary Keeping: 1 – 2 Weeks
  • Analysis per User: 2 – 3 Days
Gather Materials

Gather Materials:

  • Camera or phone with camera
  • Spreadsheet
  • Notebook & pens (or digital alternative)
    Users may provide their own materials, but have some available just in case.

Carry Out This Method

Person seated at desk is writing in a notebook
  1. Work with key stakeholders to prepare a list of questions you want participants to record in their diaries.
  2. Decide how long participants will need to keep their diaries, and how frequently entries should be made. Entry checkpoints may be 1-4 times daily, depending on study length and the level of detail needed.
  3. Recruit participants from within the target user base. Exchange contact information – ask them how they can best be contacted at checkpoint times, and let them know the best way to contact you with questions.
  4. Give each participant the list of questions to address in their entries. Tell them how often to write an entry, when the completed diary is due, and how to turn it in once they are finished.
  5. Initiate the Diary Study. At each checkpoint, remind participants via text or email to make a diary entry.
  6. Collect the diaries, verifying that they are complete.
  7. Read the diaries for comprehension. Contact participants for clarification.
  8. Record participants’ relevant behavior patterns in a spreadsheet. Examine the data for behavior patterns.
  9. Prepare a presentation. Use direct quotes and photos to illustrate attitudes, aptitudes and mental states during highlighted behaviors.
  10. Present to stakeholders and team members.

Try These Tips

  • Make certain participants agree to the checkpoint frequency prior to the start of the study.
  • Let participants know they can ask you questions at any time.
  • Because participants will have different writing aptitudes, consider providing entry examples illustrating style and content.
  • Because you have not observed the reported behavior patterns, consider verifying key findings through direct observation using one of the techniques described in the Practical UX Methods website.
  • Invite participants to attend your stakeholder presentation. Stakeholders may have questions and this will facilitate understanding.
  • Assume you will spend time interviewing participants to clarify entries.

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