UX Diary Study: 5 Essential Tips For Conducing Better Studies

Looking for a better way to research your audience? Here we explore the diary study – a UX golden standard for customer insights

In the realm of user experience, there are many ways to go about understanding how users interact with a product or service. We can observe users in a lab setting, or track their interactions through analytics tools. But there’s another method that is often overlooked: diary studies.

Just as the name suggests, a diary study involves participants keeping a diary of their thoughts and experiences while using a product or service. It's almost like a personal journal, but with specific prompts to help researchers understand how users interact with the product.

Diary studies can be a great way to get insights into user behavior that wouldn’t be possible through other methods. They can also be more engaging for participants, and help build a rapport between researchers and participants.

Let's take a closer look at how you can conduct a successful diary study for in-depth insights into user behavior.

What is a Diary Study, Exactly?

Also referred to as a camera study, a diary study is a qualitative research method where participants are asked to document their thoughts and feelings about using a product or service over time. Unlike focus groups or interviews, diary studies allow researchers to track user behavior and attitudes over an extended period of time.

In the same way that a personal diary gives deep insights into a person's thoughts and feelings, diary studies can provide valuable insights into how users interact with a product or service. 

By asking participants to document their thoughts in a journal-like format, researchers can gain an understanding of how users interact with a product on a daily basis, as well as any problems or frustrations they may experience.

There are a few different methods researchers can use to gather data from diary study participants:

  • Open-ended prompts: Participants are asked to document their thoughts and feelings about using a product or service in an open-ended format. This allows researchers to gain a broad understanding of how users feel about the product.
  • Questionnaires: Participants are asked to answer specific questions about their use of the product or service, which can help researchers identify specific areas of concern.
  • Check-in calls: Researchers contact participants at regular intervals to ask them about their diary entries, and to get feedback on how they're using the product or service.

While some people view the diary study as a lazy or unstructured way to conduct research, done correctly, a diary study can provide valuable insights into user behavior and attitudes.

Who Should Use a Diary Study?

Diary studies are highly useful tools, but they won't suit every need. They're best for understanding how people use a product on their own, in their natural environment. If you want to understand how users interact with your product in a lab setting, or if you need precise quantitative data, diary studies may not be the best option.

The main uses for these studies include:

  • Observing the habits of your user base
  • Discovering pain points in the user experience, and their attitudes towards your product
  • Understanding the contexts in which your product is used
  • Gaining insights into the journey of a user, from discovery to abandonment
  • Spotting trends in user behavior

For example, imagine you are trying to decide on a product update for your food delivery app. You could use a diary study to see whether users are neglecting a certain feature, or whether they're struggling with a certain part of the process.

When You Should Use a Different UX Method

Keep in mind that a diary study is designed to collect qualitative and longitudinal data. If you're looking for something more specific or if you need to quantify your data, you might want to use a different UX method.

Some factors that could lead you to choose a different UX method include:

  • The product is used in a lab setting, rather than in the user's natural environment
  • The product is used for a short period of time or is only used once
  • The product is used by a very small number of people
  • You need precise quantitative data
  • The product is used by very different types of users

For instance, perhaps you are redesigning a sign-up process for a new website. If you're only interested in understanding how the sign-up process works for a limited number of users, you might want to use a different UX method. It is only focused on one element of the website, and not the entire user journey – so a diary study would be almost overcompensating.

Conducting a Successful Diary Study

Diary studies are perhaps one of the most low-maintenance and user-friendly forms of user research. Unlike other research methods that require in-person sessions or long surveys, diary studies can be conducted through a simple questionnaire or open-ended form that users can complete on their own time.

The benefits of diary studies are clear: they allow researchers to capture user behavior in the natural environment, over an extended period of time. But there's still the potential to waste time on this method if you don't plan it out effectively. So, where should you begin?

1. Understand Your Research Question and Scope

This is a crucial step to cover, and it'll also help you decide which type of UX test is the best method for your needs. Ask the following questions to clarify your research question and your scope:

  • What is your research goal?
  • What are you trying to learn from users?
  • What behaviors do you want to observe?
  • Who are the users you want to study?
  • What type of data do you need?
  • What's your budget?

After answering each question carefully, you'll be able to develop a plan for your diary study. Here's an example:

Say you're a web designer working on a new e-commerce site. Your research goal is to understand how users interact with the site's search bar and navigation menus. You want to learn what types of searches users conduct, where they click first, and how they interact with the results. You'll also want to know the average time users spend on the site.

2. Choose Your Format

Your next step is to decide the format of your diary study. There are two main types of diary studies:

  • Questionnaire-based: This type uses a structured questionnaire that users complete on their own time. The questions can be open-ended or closed, and they usually focus on specific behaviors or goals.
  • Open-ended form: This type is a simple form that users complete on their own time. It's less structured than a questionnaire, and it allows users to write about anything they want related to their experience using the product.

Both formats have their pros and cons, so you'll need to decide which is best for your research question and scope. For example, if you want to focus on a specific behavior or goal, a questionnaire-based study is the better option. But if you're interested in getting a broad overview of user behavior, an open-ended form is the better choice.

Another factor to consider is the platform. Do you want to issue a physical form or an online form? This is really down to preference – pen and paper are more cost-effective, but you won’t always be able to guarantee legibility. Collecting data online may also shorten the time it takes you to collate and analyze the responses. 

3. Create Your Questionnaire or Form

Your third step involves crafting the diary itself. This can be done in a few ways:

  • If you're using a questionnaire-based study, you'll need to write the questions yourself. Make sure they're clear and concise, and that they cover all of the behaviors or goals you want to observe.
  • If you're using an open-ended form, you'll need to come up with a list of topics for users to write about. These could be general topics like "How was your overall experience?" or specific questions related to your research goals.
  • You may also choose to leave no prompts at all, and simply ask that users write about their experience with the product. This option can be less structured, but it can also produce more varied and interesting results.

Creating a Questionnaire-Based Study

If you are writing a question-based diary study, remember that your questions should never be too prescriptive or leading. You want users to answer them honestly, without feeling like they're being forced to do so.

Here are some tips for writing effective questions:

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Make sure your questions cover all of the behaviors or goals you want to observe.
  • Avoid leading or suggestive questions.
  • Make sure the questions are easy to understand.

Here's an example of a question that might be used in a diary study:

"What tasks did you complete today?"

This question is clear and concise, and it covers the goal of understanding what tasks users complete on a daily basis.

Creating an Open-Ended Form

With an open-ended form, your goal is to generate as much data as possible from users. This data can be used to answer general questions about user behavior or to get a deeper understanding of specific behaviors or goals.

Here are some tips for creating an effective open-ended form:

  • Make sure the form is easy to complete and understand.
  • Include a variety of topics for users to write about.
  • Avoid leading questions or topics.
  • Provide enough structure to facilitate, but not direct, the user’s answers.

For instance, this topic might be included in an open-ended form:

"What did you think of the color scheme?"

This question is non-leading, and it allows users to write about their thoughts on the product's color scheme.

4. Choose Your Logging Style

Before handing the diary study out to users, you’ll need to decide exactly how you want them to complete your test. You’ve got a few options here. 

Option 1: Interval-Contingent Protocol

An interval-contingent protocol asks users to complete diary entries at fixed time intervals, rather than after specific events. For example, you might ask participants to complete an entry every morning, afternoon, and evening. This type of protocol is generally used for studies that are less time-sensitive, or when the researcher wants more frequent data points.

Option 2: Signal-Contingent Protocol

You might opt for a signal approach, which asks users to complete diary entries only after specific events. If you send a text message to a participant’s phone, for example, you could ask them to complete an entry in response to the text. Signal-contingent protocols are generally used when researchers want more precise data about user behavior.

Option 3: Event-Contingent Protocol

The third option is the event-contingent protocol in which users complete diary entries after specific events, such as using a new feature or visiting a particular website. You would consider this option if you want to learn about users’ experiences in a specific context.

Remember also to decide on a duration. Diary studies can go for days, weeks, months – whichever length works best for your goal or research question.

Once you’ve decided on the type of protocol, it’s important to create clear instructions for participants. Tell them exactly when and how they should complete diary entries. This will help to ensure that your data is accurate and reliable.

5. Distribute the Questionnaire or Form

You've created your questionnaire or form, so now it's time to distribute it to your users. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Email the questionnaire or form to users.
  • Post the questionnaire or form on a website.
  • Send the questionnaire or form as a link in an email.
  • Put the questionnaire or form in a physical location, like a waiting room.

When distributing your questionnaire or form, make sure to include clear instructions on how to complete it. Also, be sure to remind users that they can take their time in completing the form, and that there is no rush – the last thing you want is hurried answers that aren’t accurate.

How To Recruit Your Participants

Let's step back for a minute and think about who you would like to participate in your diary study. The people you select will have a big impact on the success of your study – from the quality of the data you collect to how much work you have to do in the follow-up phase.

Ideally, your participants should be:

  • Representative of your target audience. Aim to recruit participants who match your target user profile in terms of demographics (age, gender, occupation, etc.), as well as in terms of their technology experience and how they use your product.
  • Engaged users. Find people who are already using your product and are happy with it – they're more likely to be willing to spend time recording their thoughts and feelings about using the product.
  • Willing to provide feedback. Make sure your participants are open to providing feedback and want to help improve the product. This is especially important if you're looking for comments on specific design issues.
  • Available for follow-up. You'll need to contact your participants after the study is over to collect their diary data and get feedback on the process. Choose people who are easy to reach and willing to answer your questions.

Now that you know who you're looking for, how do you go about recruiting them? One way is to post a recruitment message on your company's website or blog, or on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. You can also use online recruiting services like Craigslist, Indeed, or Simply Hired.

Another option is to reach out to your existing user base. If you have a mailing list, send out an email inviting people to participate. You can also try contacting people who have recently contacted your support team or left comments on your blog or social media pages.

Whatever recruitment method you choose, make sure you explain the study in detail and let potential participants know what's in it for them. For example, you could offer a free T-shirt or a $10 Amazon gift card as a thank-you for participating.

Conducting Simple Research Online

If you're looking at the instructions outlined here and feeling overwhelmed, it is likely because there are so many factors to think about. Not only do you need to plan and create a study, but you also need to find participants and analyze the data. 

At Respondent, we know it isn't a walk in the park. We've helped researchers with their studies for years, and have learned a lot about what works (and what doesn't.) Our tools and connections make research simple – all you need to do is post your project, and we'll help you with the rest.


A diary study is one of the best methods for gaining an understanding of how a user interacts with your product or service over time. By asking users to document their thoughts and experiences in a diary, you can gain insights that would be difficult to obtain through other research methods.

When planning a diary study, it is important to think about the goals of the study and the types of information you hope to gain. You should also create a study protocol that outlines the tasks and questions that will be asked of participants, as well as the format in which the diaries will be collected and analyzed.

 Recruiting participants can be a challenge, but there are many ways to find interested users. We at Respondent make it our business to simplify your research process, so reach out if you're interested in a smooth-sailing UX research experience.


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