Dear Diary (Study)… How To Ensure You Get The Best Results

“Dear Diary,

How can I ensure I get the best results when conducting a diary study as part of a UX research project?”

Let’s start with a quick overview: diary studies are a research method used to gain qualitative insight into participants’ behaviour (and the context) over a period of time. During the study period, participants are asked to enter information about their activities in a log, diary or journal (online or off) – this is then analysed by the researcher at the end of the observation period.

There can be a risk when conducting diary studies; as a researcher, you have to trust that your participants have understood what’s required of them and that they’ll remain engaged throughout the project. However, when successful, the results produced can be incredibly insightful.

Recruit the Right Participants (Or Work With Someone Who Can)

Admittedly, this seems like a no-brainer regardless of your research technique. But with diary studies in particular – bearing in mind they require a relatively large time commitment – having participants who are really engaged with the product or service you’re testing is essential. You don’t want anyone lapsing or losing interest!

To find the “best” participants, consider working with a specialist third-party recruiter (like Bunnyfield) who has experience in finding high-quality, willing participants from all types of backgrounds and regions.

You Get What You Give

When working on diary studies, it’s very important to approach your participants in a friendly manner and be as supportive as possible throughout the project. A positive, professional relationship means you’re more likely to get high-quality data. If you’re difficult or aloof, your participants are likely to respond to requirements in the same way.

Brief and Debrief

Brief participants thoroughly about what’s required of them. Explain what the project is researching, how many posts/entries they are expected to create and in what format (written, video, etc.). This will increase the likelihood of getting good quality data from the start of the observation period. It’s best to do this by email (so they can refer back to it) as well as over the phone – this way, you’re able to run through what’s required in detail and answer any questions they might have before the study begins.

Additionally, it can be valuable to have a debrief call with each participant after the study has finished to ask outstanding questions and gather details on any topic(s) you think will help your analysis.

Use The Right Technology

It’s in your interest to make it as easy as possible for participants to record and share their experiences. So, whatever app or platform you choose, it should be unobtrusive and simple to use.

Make sure you use the appropriate software for the type of information you’re trying to gather. A smartphone or tablet app that’s been designed to capture data means that images, videos and comments can be uploaded anytime, anywhere, at your participants’ convenience.

Given the ubiquity of social media these days, it’s almost second nature for people to use an app to share their daily activities – another reason this approach works well.

Keep Your Objectives In Mind

Have a clear view of the behaviour(s) you want to analyse before you begin the study (i.e. have clear objectives in mind). Even a medium-sized study can provide over a thousand data points, so having a focus will help you gather the right data.

Halfway through the study, check that the project is delivering the data you need. This will give you an opportunity to add/change tasks or the type of questions you’re asking.

Question Everything

Keep asking ‘why?’!

If you’re ever unsure why participants are behaving in a certain way, make sure you ask for clarification. You’ll understand their motivations better and may also get some good quotes to boot.

Request Back-Up

Depending on the study, it may be necessary to observe behaviour round the clock. If this is the case, it’s well worth having two people work on the project to share the data-gathering responsibilities. A second perspective will also be very useful when analysing the (likely) huge amount of data you’ll have accumulated by the end of the study.

Tag Behaviours, Not Factoids

When noting observed behaviour, adding ‘tags’ to participants’ posts is a great way to label data during the study. When tagging, it’s important not to state just what the participants are doing. Ask yourself why they are doing it at that particular time and make that your tag. This means you’ll be tagging behaviours, which is the insight you’re looking for, rather than “factoids”.

Adding tags to each post also means you’ll be in a good position to analyse the data quickly and accurately at the end of the project.

We use diary studies to provide our clients with better insight into their customers’ behaviour. If it sounds like we might be able to help you, please get in touch.

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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