What Is a Diary Study?

At a Glance

Diary studies are a type of longitudinal study in which participants create “diary entries” as points of data over a specified period of time. Diary entries can be audio, text, images, videos, or a combination of all.


Diary studies can provide valuable insight into how users behave and interact with their surroundings in their everyday lives. For example:

  • You may want to understand the first-time user experience throughout all stages of that experience—from when the user initially loads the software through the ensuing days and weeks of using (or not using) it.
  • You may want to understand the experience users have with the software by getting them to complete daily check-ins, in which they report their experience for each of those days.
  • You may want to understand different moments within the experience. For a car rental experience, for example, such moments would include reserving a car, as well as picking up and dropping off the car at a rental location.

How to conduct a diary study with UserTesting

Designing and running a diary study using UserTesting may be slightly different from what your team has done on its own. Historically, customers have engaged with UserTesting's Professional Services team to assist with these types of projects.

However, you can run a diary study on your own with UserTesting:

1. Define the flow of your test, including timeline and touchpoints. For example:

  • Pre-screen participants (Day -7): Find participants who are the best fit
  • Touchpoint 1 (Day 1): Live interview to understand background and experience
  • Touchpoint 2 (Day 2): Recorded test of first-time experience
  • Touchpoint 3 (Day 7): Recorded test of experience after one week
  • Touchpoint 4 (Day 14): Recorded test of experience after second week
  • Touchpoint 5 (Day 15): Live interview to follow up on their overall experience

2. Run an unmoderated test to identify participants for your study.

  • We call this “pre-screening” because you will select participants, based on their answers, to be included in your full diary study.
  • This step is important because diary studies require time and commitment from you and the individuals participating in your study, so you want to ensure you have the right people participating.

3. Create a saved panel of the people you are including in your test.

4. Using your saved panel, invite these specifically selected participants to the first test (touchpoint). Running this session as a Live Conversation can help you answer any questions people have about the overall process, helping the whole study run more smoothly.

5. On the appropriate days, send the next test (touchpoint).

  • These unmoderated tests can include specific questions and, if appropriate, a link to any tool you want people to use to complete their diaries (a Google Form, a Microsoft Office 365 document, etc.).
  • Tip: Schedule these tests so that you don’t have to manually launch them each day.

6. Conduct the final test (touchpoint). Similar to the first touchpoint, running this touchpoint as a Live Conversation will allow you to collect the most data and customize your questions to each of your participants’ experience during the study.

7. As a best practice, keep all the tests for your diary study in a folder, so that it is easy to look at them as a list on your Dashboard.

For a more detailed explanation of these steps, see our Running a Diary Study course, which includes an example test plan for a diary study.


Learn More

Need more information? Read these related articles.

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